Boundary Dispute

hyperskeptic

New member
I've been documenting the rise and fall of my poly experience in a blog thread, but I'm now in need of some more direct advice and perspective, so I'm starting a new thread here.

My wife, "Vix", and I have been struggling with a sudden divergence in our interests and in our understanding of what our marriage is and means. She seems firmly committed to polyamory, and I am riding a pendulum that swings between a principled commitment of de facto monogamy and reluctant resignation to de facto monogamy.

Let me see if I can make a long story short. I have an opportunity to spend some time in the UK this summer; Vix and our two daughters will stay with me for much of the time I'm there, though she will be taking them to Europe a few weeks early to visit her boyfriend there - an American ex-pat I've dubbed "Doc" - before joining me in the UK. Vix and the girls will have to come back home a week before I do, so the girls can start school.

The issue concerns what happens next. Vix once expressed interest in going back to Europe to attend an event with Doc, but she would need to leave for Germany the day before I fly back from the UK, leaving the girls with unspecified friends for a day or two.

She mentioned this in passing; I took it as a speculative possibility, and the coincidence of dates never really reached my conscious awareness. The next thing I knew, it was a plan.

I am very unhappy about this plan. I am not willing to leave the girls in the care of friends while my wife and I are both traveling across the Atlantic - albeit in different directions.

I expressed my concerns to Vix, and she replied, simply: "You worry too much."

The conversation was actually more complicated than this, and some of the back-story I've set out in my blog came into play, how she had sacrificed and sacrificed for the family, etc.

I dropped it, at the time, but it really rankled. I felt disrespected, belittled . . . but, then, a sense of my own insignificance has been growing for months.

I finally began to realize that what I'd come up against is one of my own boundaries: The risk of anything really bad happening, either to us or to the girls, while Vix and I are crossing the Atlantic is fairly small, but it's still not a risk I find acceptable, not a risk I'm willing to take. As a matter of general principle, I have always assumed that one or both of us should be available to our daughters - at least reachable by phone and able to get to them quickly - for as long as they are dependent on us.

Already, with the complications introduced by polyamory, I've had to stretch the definition of what "available" means. There have been times that Vix has been out of town and I've had commitments at work while the girls are at home, but I could get to them within an hour, at need. That's about the limit of what I can accept.

Let me reiterate, this is a matter of principle for me, one that had been unstated simply because the issue never came up. I had assumed Vix and I were in agreement on this point . . . until now.

I tried to articulate all this to Vix today, and her response is basically the same: I worry to much, my fears are irrational, and her life has for too long been ruled by my fears.

I took this to mean she was not going to bend, that she would go ahead and fly off to Europe, in spite of my objections, because she wants to.

She insists she can try to meet me halfway. The problem is that the timing of my return is a matter of contractual obligation; I cannot change it except, I suppose, for some very serious reason. If she waits too long to leave for Europe, there will be no point in her going at all, since she'd miss too much of the event she wants to attend with Doc.

If she doesn't go, I'll then have to bear the burden of her disappointment and resentment.

So, we seem to be at an impasse.

My first inclination is to just shut up about it, let Vix do what she wants, and try not to seethe too much. Then, in the future, I'll try to avoid creating circumstances that would lead to such a forced choice. It's my boundary, my understanding of my responsibility to our children, so I should do what is necessary to make sure I can live up to it, whatever Vix does.

I don't know, though. Such a response seems self-defeating.

Am I completely out of my mind about all of this? How far should I go in insisting on what turns out to be an important boundary for me? How much of the responsibility for that boundary rests on me alone?

Is there any way out of this impasse that won't do further damage to a marriage that has already, over the past six months or so, had much of the life drained out of it?

As a postscript, Vix and I are now approaching the second anniversary of our decision to try polyamory. It's a decision I have come to regret . . . a little more than half the time.
 
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AnnabelMore

New member
On the one hand, I would say that when it comes to your kids, you shouldn't bend. That is a time to hold to a boundary.

On the other hand... how old are they? Have they never been to sleep-away camp? Would it really be such a big deal for them to be away from you both for a couple of days, or would it simply be part of the inevitable march towards greater independence that all children are on?
 

ThatGirlInGray

New member
Vix and the girls will have to come back home a week before I do, so the girls can start school.
Is this part set in stone? As a teacher, I can tell you that students miss school for a week or more due to family travels all the time. The girls' school likely has some sort of Independent Study they can do to make up the absences, if you're concerned about that, and even if they don't have a standard policy in place I'll bet something can be worked out since they'll be abroad.

If you CAN'T come back early and she WON'T leave later, then this is the compromise I'd make- have the girls miss the first week of school (a little disappointing for them, maybe, but it shouldn't be a huge deal) and come back with you. This could also possibly cut costs on plane tickets, if your wife stays as well and travels from the UK to Germany to see Doc and attend the event rather than going home and going BACK to Europe just days later.
 

LovingRadiance

Active member
I would go be with the girls and break my obligation. My commitment to my kids wouldn't allow for me and their other parents being an ocean away from them simultaneously-but its not my place to control my partners/their other larents. So, I would break my commitment to ANY other obligation in that circumstance and go my kids.
 

BreatheDeeply

New member
That's a real breakdown in communication on your wife's part. Someone once told me that the responsibility to get the message across lays with the communicator rather then the commnicatee (yes I know I'm taking liberty with grammar here). And it doesn't sound like your wife took the responsibility to address and clearly communicate a fairly serious issue. I can see why you'd feel the way you do.

Now that you have this dumped on you, the only thing that you can control is your reaction. First priorities first: the kids do need an accessible parent or guardian that you both trust to look after them. Independent of your anger at your wife, are the people that your kids are going to stay with acceptable to you? This is a judgement call. If you don't trust them, but your wife does, then you have to break your plans to cover her mistake. That sucks, and you certainly have every right to let her know how upset you are. It is a legitimate concern, regardless of her opinion about your fears (which could be legit, or could just be her way of justifying her actions).

Once this is all arranged with the kids, and the two of you get back home, you need to work out, in advance, what you're going to say to your wife so that she understands, clearly, that she needs to communicate with you much better. You deserve to be kept informed of all major issues regarding her plans with the children.

.
 

SchrodingersCat

Active member
On the other hand... how old are they? Have they never been to sleep-away camp? Would it really be such a big deal for them to be away from you both for a couple of days, or would it simply be part of the inevitable march towards greater independence that all children are on?

Sleep-away camps are one thing. Being away from your parents for a week is the point of the camp and all the kids are in the same boat. Also, they typically aren't on the other side of the ocean.

At any age, going back to school is a big deal. For a lot of kids, it's full of anxiety: new teacher, new classmates, sometimes an entirely new school. If they have a terrible first day, they'll want at least one parent to support them through it. If they have a great day, they'll want to share that too.

Is this part set in stone? As a teacher, I can tell you that students miss school for a week or more due to family travels all the time.

That was my first thought, too. It's only March, you can let the school know even right now what the situation is, and get copies of their first week of school work before you leave for the UK.

But that really only addresses this one specific situation. The real issue as I see it is your wife prioritizing her wants over her children's needs.

This isn't the first time she's done something like this, as I recall from a previous thread. She's not someone I would nominate for Mother of the Year, but there's not much you can do that at this point. You can't change her behaviour, all you can really do is let her know that you're disappointed with her choices and change your expectations going forwards. She's made it clear that she'll respect no boundaries but her own.
 

hyperskeptic

New member
Thank you all for your comments. They pull in different directions, which is as it should be.

(It's good, old-fashioned dialectic: achieving some clarity by a divergence of views.)

On the other hand... how old are they? Have they never been to sleep-away camp? Would it really be such a big deal for them to be away from you both for a couple of days, or would it simply be part of the inevitable march towards greater independence that all children are on?

My daughters are 13 and 10, and the 10-year-old has been increasingly freaked out by Vix's long absences. They are becoming more independent, and I have been expanding the extent to which I am willing to leave them on their own for periods of time.

Even so, I tend to agree with this response:

Sleep-away camps are one thing. Being away from your parents for a week is the point of the camp and all the kids are in the same boat. Also, they typically aren't on the other side of the ocean.

Vix and I would have had an agreement between us before sending either of the girls to a sleep-away camp, and I, at least, would want to be sure I was on the same continent at the time, and reachable by phone in an emergency.

At any age, going back to school is a big deal. For a lot of kids, it's full of anxiety: new teacher, new classmates, sometimes an entirely new school. If they have a terrible first day, they'll want at least one parent to support them through it. If they have a great day, they'll want to share that too.

----

That was my first thought, too. It's only March, you can let the school know even right now what the situation is, and get copies of their first week of school work before you leave for the UK.

Part of the issue is that my older daughter starts high school next year, and she has a boundary of her own: she will not miss the first week of high school. She is nervous and anxious and excited about the transition, and wants to immerse herself in it from the beginning.

I get that, and neither Vix nor I particularly wants to cross that particular boundary. It's bad enough that we'll be in the UK during orientation!
 
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hyperskeptic

New member
I would go be with the girls and break my obligation. My commitment to my kids wouldn't allow for me and their other parents being an ocean away from them simultaneously-but its not my place to control my partners/their other larents. So, I would break my commitment to ANY other obligation in that circumstance and go my kids.

This is a sign-on-the-dotted line kind of contractual obligation. It's an academic program that ends on date certain, and I have active responsibilities up through the day before I leave.

I suppose, if there were a crisis, I could break the obligation. But what, in all honesty, could I tell the program director about this situation?

"I need to go home early so my wife can go travelling with her boyfriend in Germany . . ."

I'm sure that would go over well.
 

hyperskeptic

New member
This isn't the first time she's done something like this, as I recall from a previous thread. She's not someone I would nominate for Mother of the Year, but there's not much you can do that at this point. You can't change her behaviour, all you can really do is let her know that you're disappointed with her choices and change your expectations going forwards. She's made it clear that she'll respect no boundaries but her own.

And I'm pretty sure I'm not Father of the Year, either.

I want to be careful not to be too hard on Vix in this. I told this story from my point of view, and probably left things out.

Suffice it to say she and I both need to improve our communication and, yes, I need to adjust my expectations.

I've been doing a lot of that kind of adjusting recently, and it's getting awfully chilly around here.
 

dingedheart

Well-known member
Have your daughters been informed of the plan ....who they will be staying with, split up or together, etc, and why ( meaning the event ) ? And how do they feel about it. Do they feel blown off by their mother in this specific case and or in the last 2 yrs.?
 

WhatHappened

Active member
And I'm pretty sure I'm not Father of the Year, either.

I want to be careful not to be too hard on Vix in this. I told this story from my point of view, and probably left things out.

Suffice it to say she and I both need to improve our communication and, yes, I need to adjust my expectations.

I've been doing a lot of that kind of adjusting recently, and it's getting awfully chilly around here.

While it's admirable to not want to heap all the blame on your wife, the fact remains, you have a legal obligation, and she is essentially forcing you to choose between being a responsible parent and honoring your legal obligations. And for what? To go to an 'event' with her boyfriend.

The fact remains, she seems, from what you write here, to be making it clear she will do exactly as she pleases with little concern for your feelings, obligations, or wishes, or for her own children.

To my mind, the only question here is, what are the pros and cons of ending this marriage? From where I'm sitting, it doesn't look like a marriage. Are you reaping any benefits from continuing the legal aspect of marriage? Are your children?
 

hyperskeptic

New member
Some Resolution . . .

Things have moved along quickly today, through a text conversation while I've been between things at work.

(I know text is not the best way to communicate, but it does allow a certain bluntness of expression that can be useful, sometimes.)

As it turns out, for all that Vix seemed to be taking a hard line on her travel plans, she had consulted (as it were) Doc, who agreed with her that she should show up when she can at the end of summer, but that she should put family first; if they miss the event in question, there is an event the following week.

(To be fair, the event in question is not just some arbitrary thing, but a kind of event that actually contributes to Vix development as a teacher of the activity in question. I'm being a little coy about this, because saying more might come close to blowing her cover.)

That wasn't the end of it, though, because it came across fairly clearly, even in text, that she was caving to what she saw as an arbitrary, almost neurotic fear on my part. That's what really rankled, from the first: the sense that she was viewing my concerns with contempt, brushing them off with a dismissive: "you worry too much."

I see this as a matter of basic responsibility regarding our children; I think it's a reasonable stance, not just neurotic fear.

She may finally have come around to acknowledging that what's at stake is not mere neurosis on my part but a disagreement on a matter of principle. We still have to figure out what to do about the divergence - more explicit communication about travel plans, making sure our various commitments end up on calendars to which the other has access, and so on.

I still have a lingering sense that she does not really like giving in to a boundary she regards as unreasonable. I've told her that, since it's my own understanding of my responsibilities that are at stake, I'll just try to be careful to avoid any further conflicts like that raised by going to the UK. If I think it's important for one of us to be available to the kids at all times, I'll just be sure I'm available whenever Vix is not.

She doesn't seem very happy with that, either, and suggests just communicating and negotiating, case-by-case.

I suppose that makes sense but, since my standards of responsibility to the children are more stringent than hers, wouldn't that just create more instances in which I'm imposing on her a standard with which she does not agree, more occasions for anger and resentment?
 

SchrodingersCat

Active member
I still have a lingering sense that she does not really like giving in to a boundary she regards as unreasonable. I've told her that, since it's my own understanding of my responsibilities that are at stake, I'll just try to be careful to avoid any further conflicts like that raised by going to the UK. If I think it's important for one of us to be available to the kids at all times, I'll just be sure I'm available whenever Vix is not.

She doesn't seem very happy with that, either, and suggests just communicating and negotiating, case-by-case.

I suppose that makes sense but, since my standards of responsibility to the children are more stringent than hers, wouldn't that just create more instances in which I'm imposing on her a standard with which she does not agree, more occasions for anger and resentment?

Probably the most reliable solution is to think of yourself as a single parent and assume that whenever "one of us" has to be with the kids, it will be you. Then, if it turns out that she happens to be available once in a while, bonus for you.

While not as serious as child-rearing, that's pretty much the approach my husband and I take with household chores. I hate mowing the lawn, my husband hates laundry. I assume that I'm always going to be responsible for the laundry. If I come home and he happens to have washed a load, bonus. If not, no big surprise and no hard feelings. And while he's not thrilled about it, my husband has learned not to expect short grass when he comes home from working out of town. I've threatened that if he expects me to mow the lawn, I'll just dig it all up and plant wildflowers. Besides, my cats like to pretend they're lions on the African Savannah...
 
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hyperskeptic

New member
Probably the most reliable solution is to think of yourself as a single parent and assume that whenever "one of us" has to be with the kids, it will be you. Then, if it turns out that she happens to be available once in a while, bonus for you.

This is the conclusion I've slowly been coming around to. I've been a part-time single dad for nearly a year now, as Vix's travel - not just to Europe, but as part of her (a?)vocation - has ramped up. She is home more than she's not, at least for now, and she does a lot of the heavy lifting when she is home.

But, still, the times keep coming around when it all comes down to me, when I'm doing the single-parent juggling act.

It's hard to find words adequate to express the bleakness of this situation, especially given the sharp contrast with what went before. We certainly had our problems, as a monogamous couple, but we could almost finish one another's sentences when it came to making decisions about our life as a family.

If you'd asked, Vix would have trumpeted the virtues of attachment parenting during the early years, and I would avoid too much work-related travel, or even too much time at the office, so as not to put an excessive burden on her.

We seemed to be in sync, able to rely on one another without even expressing that reliance . . . but perhaps only because the matter never came up, and we never had occasion to articulate our underlying values and principles.

Now, we're at odds, and I can't rely on her the way I did. As I say, she does a lot of heavy lifting when she's home . . . but she's away more and more often, for one reason and another.

(Another part of the backstory is that the air in this city is killing her, slowly and surely, and she needs to spend what time she can in places where it's easier to breathe; the mountains of Germany are quite suitable for that purpose, as it happens.)

The net result is that, even when she's here, I find myself feeling isolated and numb.

We've been joking, between us, that the secret to happiness is lowered expectations. I suppose it's a kind of gallows humor, that.

Well, I can't seem to lower my expectations quickly enough to keep up.
 
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SchrodingersCat

Active member
That does sound very bleak when you put it that way. From your description,
you seem to be going through a grieving process. Many relationships have a natural lifespan. Is it possible your marriage is reaching its final days? Have you considered counselling to help cope with these changes?

I tend to agree that the secret to happiness lies in expectations, but I prefer the adjective "realistic." However, that can only take you so far. Sometimes you need to hit the reset button and try a whole new approach.
 

hyperskeptic

New member
That does sound very bleak when you put it that way. From your description, you seem to be going through a grieving process.

This is close to the mark. I think I'm in shock that the marriage I thought I had is gone . . . and not just gone: I think maybe it never was what I imagined it to be.

That's a hard thing to compass.

Many relationships have a natural lifespan. Is it possible your marriage is reaching its final days?

It's curious to me how quick people on this forum are to suggest pulling the plug on long-term relationships. This is the second such suggestion I received yesterday.

To be frank, it's one of the least admirable aspects of polyamory, and is the aspect of the would-be community here that makes me think monogamy might really be the better way to go.
 

BoringGuy

Banned
Wow, are you letting strangers on the internet do your thinking for you, or what? That last sentence was just hilarious.
 

GalaGirl

Well-known member
The net result is that, even when she's here, I find myself feeling isolated and numb.

Are you depressed? Is there emotional distance? :(
We've been joking, between us, that the secret to happiness is lowered expectations. I suppose it's a kind of gallows humor, that.

My happiness largely stems from high personal standards. Less players, but better quality of experience. To joke about your marriage doesn't sound respectful of the marriage to me. It seems like another step in emotional distancing to me. :(

Well, I can't seem to lower my expectations quickly enough to keep up.

Why lower your personal standard? How's THAT supposed you make you feel content and all your wants, needs, and limits met and respected?


I think I'm in shock that the marriage I thought I had is gone . . . and not just gone: I think maybe it never was what I imagined it to be. That's a hard thing to compass.

Yes. It is. I hope you both work on bridging the gap. Because if you start skirting toward the 4 horsemen, that's no good.

Galagirl :(
 

AnnabelMore

New member
This is close to the mark. I think I'm in shock that the marriage I thought I had is gone . . . and not just gone: I think maybe it never was what I imagined it to be.

That's a hard thing to compass.

...

It's curious to me how quick people on this forum are to suggest pulling the plug on long-term relationships. This is the second such suggestion I received yesterday.

To be frank, it's one of the least admirable aspects of polyamory, and is the aspect of the would-be community here that makes me think monogamy might really be the better way to go.

Interesting. I take the exact opposite view. I think it's a sad waste of our valuable lives when we spend them in relationships that are making both parties' lives worse, not better. I would by no means say that people ought to give up right away, especially when there are kids involved -- what an awful choice! -- but when someone's at the point you're at, when their partnership isn't what they thought it was, maybe never was, when they're feeling hurt, belittled, unhappy all the time, and not just for a brief bumpy period or around something that can be resolved with some hard conversations and compromise, but in an ongoing sustained way and around fundamental core values... well, I think splitting up is a very valid option to consider.

I know that I, personally, have stayed in relationships well after they should have ended. Leaving is *hard*. But in both the cases I'm thinking of, it was so much better for all involved once we could let go. I very much admire life-long partnerships, I just hate the fact that people sometimes feel that they have so much invested that they're trapped, that they can't walk away. I think that sort of feeling just hollows you out over time.

Treating partners as disposable and dropping them at the first problem is obviously no good at all. But neither is blindly clinging to something that's dragging you down. I think it's one of the greatest strengths of polyamory, that it helps you see that you can live and be loved without any one person.

My bf and I broke up recently, and even though I'd wanted to leave for some time, among other things holding me back, there actually was a scared part of me that kept asking "what if I don't ever find someone else who loves me this much?" But my relationship with my gf would then immediately pop to mind and help me remember that, no, that notion was ridiculous, I am loved and lovable beyond this one relationship. I'm grateful for the way that perspective allows me to be more clear-headed.

Fear is a terrible reason to stay with someone, so isn't it better to be free of that and stay or go -- hopefully stay, but with go as an option if necessary! -- on the merits of the connection?
 

hyperskeptic

New member
Are you depressed? Is there emotional distance?

Yes, I think so.

Vix and I had further discussions of this, and it came around in the end to my own despondency. I've been depressed and anxious at least since August, and more and more withdrawn into myself.

Stepping out of that, into the clear light of day, I can see there's still much substance, much that is good, in my relationship with Vix, for all that I struggle to adjust to everything that has changed about it.

We laugh about lowering expectations in part because it's an exaggeration. It may be our prior expectations of one another were unreasonably high, based more on wishful thinking or simple lack of conscious reflection than anything else. Lowering those expectations is likely to be good and healthy, up to a point.

This latest round, the gulf that seems to have opened between us on the question of our responsibilities to our daughters, came as an especially profound shock to me . . . but maybe just because I was already so sunk in despondency.

(I did make Vix laugh by quoting something from Douglas Adams, after observing that I seem to have dug myself into a hole: "Oh, dear. You seem to have fallen down a thirty-foot well. Are you all right?")

We have resolved to keep working on our relationship, and to puzzling over polyamory and its implications.

I have to say it really is a matter of adjusting my own expectations, and that the adjustment is generally downward. I can't keep having expectations of Vix that would bind her to a way of living that was stifling her, literally and figuratively.

It does mean I will have less of her time and attention, and that I will have to take on more responsibility for my own understanding of what it means to be a responsible parent.

At the moment, it also seems to mean I'll be spending more time alone, when Vix is away. My doubts about my own capacity to be polyamorous are deepening by the day. Whether that's just despondency, or my own inability to connect with people, or just an accident of my circumstances, I don't know. That's a matter for another thread, though - "Theory, Practice."

I just have to figure out how not to be depressed and anxious about all of it.
 
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