Questions on ethics and having tough conversations

Tinwen

Active member
So. I'm in a 3 years old relationship with Idealist, who's in an 11 years relationship with Meta.

Our trio was probably from the beginning never ever on the same page. Back then, Idealist+Meta agreed that he'll be looking for a submissive, but while he's kind of egalitarian and "conduct relationships however they unfold", she's got all those "protect the primary couple" ideas.
I came in without experience with polyamory and a very naive outlook that it's ok for me to get myself into a temporary relationship. I was terribly in love and thought the flame would eventually burn out - but it didn't.

For the first year or so I was willing to put myself second in many ways, I was treating Meta the way I imagined I'd like to be treated as the primary spouse - that is, with privilege, and more than that, taking on responsibility for protecting (real and imagined) boundaries of her that Idealist would tend to overstep, worrying about if I'm taking away too much time of his etc.

After that, I said screw that. I'm going to just ask for what I want, and see what he is and isn't willing to do. I'm not putting myself second to her, and while I'm accepting his boundaries, I'm not going to watch hers.
This shift was never communicated to her since at that point (and even prior) we had very little direct communication - and definitely not the level of trust and vulnerability to sort any of this out directly.

We've certainly overstepped her initial consent (to him having a submissive), probably already by falling in love (which could not be helped), so if anyone's going to say "this is not polyamory", you're right.

I still have some basic respect for her and their relationship, not trying to cowgirl him or step on her toes - most of the time. When I went into polyamory I thought my ethics was "ok, if I ever want her out of the picture, it's me who's gonna have to leave" - but since we had a two years history together until that feeling came up, it wasn't so easy. At that point, to "protect her", I would hurt me and hurt him - or at least that's my rationalization.

More time passing, we've grown rather close with Idealist, and my desire to live with someone and possibly have a family has grown. Idealist has been saying he's in for the long term all the time, it was me who couldn't imagine any workable agreement. Taking some couples therapy with Idealist this spring, we arrived at the conclusion that we could fathom staying together long term in some kind of two households next to each other. Idealist even seems possibly up to having kids (neither of us is sure) - so that would be a real shift towards co-primary right? Talking about a real possibility to stay together was such a relief for me.

So obviously we should talk with Meta about this kind of plans. Idealist says he spoke to her about possibly moving, with me moving next doors (which she apparently didn't oppose). And that she knows he's in with me for the long haul, so there's basically not much to talk about. But - there's more to this, right?

We're totally not on the same page. She thinks I'm his plaything and mistress and totally overstepping previously "agreed upon boundaries" (the ones I tried to guess the first year, the ones he never really internalized in the first place, remember?). While she doesn't have that much real power over my relationship, it bothers me (on the rare occasions I see her) when she puts it as "ah, well, he needs a sub". I'm not sure how to tell her that hey, there's so much more to this relationship and she'd better take it seriously.

Idealist thinks it should be me negotiating what I want with her - while I think it's totally him who should tell her they're not on the same page. But he doesn't see the problem with disrespect (doesn't see her thinking of me as just his sub as disrespectful).

So, I don't know. Which conversation to have? How to have it?
I'm very much afraid of the conflict here and I'm not even sure how to state clearly what I'm negotiating for.

Also, really, I think he's feeding her lies of omission, letting her think they're on the same page where they're not. I wonder how much of that he's doing with me - I think less, since I'm always pushing him to be clear.
This is a reddish flag, so yes, I can see intellectually that I have plenty of reasons to leave the relationship - but it still absolutely doesn't feel like what I want to do. Despite all the problems, I'm rather happy with him most of the time.

Since this is such a tough decision/situation to deal with, with a lot of potential for self-deception, I'd also like to look at the guidelines of ethics, beyond my petty and confusing wishes - if there are principles that apply, that is. Brainstorming on that is called for :eek:

We've overstepped her consent (although I don't think that not being on the same page about hierarchy and involving me was very ethical in the first place). Is this akin to cheating? If so, does that mean that I should leave after all - even if that might, in fact, not help their relationship? Is there any way to return to "ethical" ground after all of that?
 
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So one thing that pops up in your post, you say you don't have much communication with her directly, correct?

Yep I see lots of "she feels this..." "She wants x,y &z" ""she agreed to []". My question is how recent is this information and where is it from? Things your partner has told you? Things you infer?

You are not going to know you are on the same page until you have a conversation with her and hear it from her mouth. Maybe she is okay with this, it has been two years after all. Maybe she and your partner have renegotiated since your relationship with him has grown.

Or you can trust what he's telling you about his conversations with her.

That said I would definitely say it is his responsibility to negotiate with her, not yours. He is the hinge. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't hurt to have a conversation as the three of you to make it to talk about the future of where your relationships will be headed. Since it will involve changes for all involved.
 
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Tinwen

Active member
Yep I see lots of "she feels this..." "She wants x,y &z" ""she agreed to []". My question is how recent is this information and where is it from? Things your partner has told you? Things you infer?
Yes, I should certainly clarify. I would say we meet about once a month - typically in a common social setting. I was at their place today for practical reasons, and she had a blow up (understandably given circumstances I don't necessarily want to discuss). So specifically the phrase that I'm "totally overstepping agreed upon boundaries" is from an sms she sent today, which also contained an apology for her blow up. I'm pretty sure it was about the general relationship status, not necessarily todays specifics.
The last incident in a row where she was talking about me as just his sub was about 2 months ago at the poly meet-up.

So I do have some sporadic information, but there is certainly also a lot of guesswork going on from what my partner tells me, or what I read between the lines when I happen to observe their communication.
 
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GalaGirl

Well-known member
I'm sorry you struggle.

We've overstepped her consent (although I don't think that not being on the same page about hierarchy and involving me was very ethical in the first place). Is this akin to cheating? If so, does that mean that I should leave after all - even if that might, in fact, not help their relationship? Is there any way to return to "ethical" ground after all of that?

If he had an agreement that his other partner was supposed to be "sub only" and now it is not? It is on him to either renegotiate his agreements because they no longer fit, or break up with her because agreements cannot be renegotiated and what they each want is not compatible. (Ie: She's up for Open so long as his other partners are sub/play partners only, and he wants Open like Co-primary.)

If initially you were ok with primary-secondary? Now you want something else? Like "openly co-primary" and all he can offer you is "secretly co-primary while I let my other partner think it is something else?"

It's on you to decide if that's good enough offer to you or not.

We're totally not on the same page. She thinks I'm his plaything and mistress and totally overstepping previously "agreed upon boundaries" (the ones I tried to guess the first year, the ones he never really internalized in the first place, remember?). While she doesn't have that much real power over my relationship, it bothers me (on the rare occasions I see her) when she puts it as "ah, well, he needs a sub". I'm not sure how to tell her that hey, there's so much more to this relationship and she'd better take it seriously.

I think you could keep it simple and just speak your truth.

When she says ""ah, well, he needs a sub" and you do not like that?

You could say "Actually, I'm many things, not just his sub. I prefer to be called his partner (or whatever word you prefer.) Please call me that. Thank you."

And let her deal with how she feels about that.

Idealist thinks it should be me negotiating what I want with her - while I think it's totally him who should tell her they're not on the same page.

I think it is both.
  • You -- If you want her to call you something other than sub, it's your job to speak up. Not Idealist's job to tell her what you want to be called. You are the one there when it happens. It's on you to correct it.

  • Him -- if things have changed, and he's practicing co-primary model, and doing lies of omission and letting her believe he's practicing primary-secondary model? He is saying one thing and doing another. It's his job to set her straight so his words and actions match. You can ask him to do it.
    • If he doesn't? Then it falls on your shoulders to set her straight or bow out of this relationship.
      • So you straighten things up and make her aware. Then you aren't participating in a lie. Because by not speaking up but still participating here with him like this? Now YOU are doing lies of omission and leaving things out too. Helping to keep her in the dark. Frustrated with him maybe, but you are still leaving things out. So you speak your truth so YOU aren't lying.
      • Or you bow out. Then you aren't participating in a lie. You aren't in a relationship model that makes you uncomfortable any more, and you aren't helping him do lies of omission, and you don't have to be the one to clean anything up. Whether he keeps on lying to her or not no longer affects you.

So, I don't know. Which conversation to have? How to have it?
I'm very much afraid of the conflict here and I'm not even sure how to state clearly what I'm negotiating for.


  • Please refer to me as "Partner" in future. Thank you. (Or whatever other word you prefer.)

  • I keep wondering if we are all on the same page or if Idealist is telling you one thing and me another. Are you aware that Idealist and I are practicing a co-primary model? What are you and Idealist practicing? Could you be willing to have a conversation to sort all that out?

Also, really, I think he's feeding her lies of omission, letting her think they're on the same page where they're not. I wonder how much of that he's doing with me - I think less, since I'm always pushing him to be clear.

"Less lies" is still lies. All the more reason to have a group conversation.


This is a reddish flag, so yes, I can see intellectually that I have plenty of reasons to leave the relationship - but it still absolutely doesn't feel like what I want to do. Despite all the problems, I'm rather happy with him most of the time.

If lies of omissions/keeping her in the dark/lack of clarirty and forthrightness bugs you? You could shine some light on things and clear stuff up so this stuff isn't bugging you. Participate in your relationship. Not just go along for whatever ride.

If I were in your shoes viewing this from my personal ethics? If Idealist is talking about increasing commitments -- a big move, two next door homes, even children? And I am not sure if he does lies of omission to her and lies of omission to me? I'd sort that out BEFORE making any big life changes like that.

If he cannot be up front and honest about things changing over time (like he started thinking sub/primary-secondary and then changed his mind to more than sub/co-primary) with one partner? I'd wonder what he's keeping from me and question his integrity. I'd wonder if he's fit for fatherhood. I don't want to enter bigger commitments with someone who I have a lot of doubts about.

I would say "No, thanks. I'm not moving, making major financial changes in buying a home, and I'm not making babies until we have a conversation to clear the air and make sure all are on the same page. If we are not on the same page, or you avoid having this conversation but still want to entangle more? Not a good faith effort to me. So my answer is NO. I don't want to make those big life changes with you at this time."

To myself? I'd also be thinking " Good faith effort is one thing, half assed is another. Is what I am getting here half-assed? Am I outgrowing this relationship/him? Because I don't want half assed and I don't want to have to "carry" him. I'm not sure I want to continue. I may have to start thinking about bowing out."

My personal ethics tell me that I'm responsible for what I choose to get myself into. So if I'm getting myself into hinky sounding things? I'm going to want to straighten them up or bow out and not participate any more. Because both ways solve the hinky-ness for me. Just in different ways.

I don't know if that helps you figure out your personal ethics or not. I do encourage you to figure them out and then live up to what you value and try to be your best authentic self. Speak your truths. Don't shrink yourself.

Galagirl
 
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Tinwen

Active member
Thanks, Galagirl!
It will take some time to think about it all properly.

You could say "Actually, I'm many things, not just his sub. I prefer to be called his partner (or whatever word you prefer.) Please call me that. Thank you."
Let me now just react to the easiest part, which is still not that easy. Because it's not the label. It's about the tone, and the contents she's implying (or so I hear, I may be taking this too personally) by the label in the specific context. It's about the spoken or unspoken "just" as in "I'm the partner, she's just the sub". And I'm not even sure how much is her perception, and how much is a facade in front of others.
I'm not sure how to ask for specific behaviours if the issue is this fuzzy. Maybe changing the labels would indeed do the trick.

As for the commitments, I am not moving or having children yet - it's more like 'figuring out a vision to work towards' stage, looking at least two years down the road. Now it's time to have the conversations. But. Yeah, I am evaluating.
 
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kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
Hi Tinwen,

I'm not sure what counsel to give you here. Perhaps there are three stages to what I would suggest.

In the first stage, you would have a dialog alone with yourself. In this dialog, you would try to decide exactly what you want. And I think that you are already doing this first stage. And perhaps the thing you want is to be recognized as a co-primary. But I don't know for sure, and maybe you are still trying to figure that out as well.

In the second stage, you would have a dialog just between you and Idealist. In this dialog, you would try to find out whether Idealist is willing to support you in what you want. For instance, if what you want is to be recognized as a co-primary, is he willing to do that? Is he willing to support you in that, during stage three? There's no point of telling Meta if he's not going to support you in doing so.

In the third stage, you would have a dialog with all three: you, Idealist, and Meta. In this dialog, you would say something on the order of, "Meta, I want to ask you if you would be willing to recognize me as a co-primary, not just a sub or a secondary. Would you be willing to do that?" Hopefully then the three of you could have a civil discussion about things, and try to figure out what it means for you to be a co-primary. Some of which you may have already thought out in stages one and two.

I am not sure if this is exactly what I would advise; I've been thinking about it off and on throughout the afternoon. You do seem to be in a bit of a tricky spot.

I hope this post helps some.
Sincerely,
Kevin T.
 

Shaya

New member
Hi Tinwen,

I get the sense that Idealist has been less than ideal as a hinge. Meta seems to feel her relationship is threatened by you and is reacting poorly. I see this coming out in two ways (probably more, but I'll discuss the two that stand out to me). Firstly, Meta demeaning your position in the hierarchy comes across as self-preservation to me. I'm certain she knows of your importance to Idealist. Calling you just the sub is a way to reinforce her own security in her relationship. Secondly, Idealist comes across as carefree and conflict avoidant at times, especially in his relationship with Meta. If he is downplaying the importance of his relationship with you in the presence of Meta, I can see Meta feeling like Idealist is hiding something from her and that can fuel Meta's insecurity. The deference you give to Meta, whilst being well-intentioned, can also fuel this insecurity because she's left wondering if the two of you do something different when she's not around.

I don't know if any of what I said is accurate. You understand my worldview and my lack of experience in these things. I feel that Meta has a lot of jealousy and insecurity issues to work through herself. I also feel that your love for Idealist may be painting him in a more positive light than he deserves. On the other hand, I certainly feel sympathy for him as he's certainly struggling to keep his two relationships and is probably making some difficult ethical choices to please one lover that rubs the other lover wrongly.

I think this opportunity to talk to Meta about a life changing decision can be a blessing in disguise.

Before discussing the blessing, I wanted to ask why neither you nor Idealist seem to want to talk to Meta about it? I think that as humans (especially those of us in intellectual professions), we tend to see the world as a series of logical choices when in actuality, I'm beginning to realise that many of my actions are driven by my emotions and I then find logic to rationalise the emotional choices I make. I suspect that neither of you are emotionally looking forward to talking to Meta about this (for obvious reasons) and are now framing the discussion around ethics or rationality to see who is logically the correct person to talk to Meta. I don't want to force my worldview on you Tinwen, since I may be wrong about this, but if you identify with this viewpoint, then I think acknowledging with Idealist that the biggest problem you and he have with deciding on who to talk to Meta is due to the emotional difficulty of the discussion will bring empathy to the table when one of you steps up to the challenge of talking to her. As it stands, I see the two of you arguing rationally about who should talk to her and then one of you grudgingly doing the talk whilst the other sits back to think, "that was an ethically sensible choice." The more loving approach I see is, "I'll go talk to her" with the other person saying, "That's emotionally difficult. Thank you, Darling. I'll be supporting you all the way."

It's a blessing in disguise because there is the potential now for you and Idealist to approach a tough situation together. Solid relationships can be built on doing tough things together.

I don't mean for it to be a lecture, Tinwen. But I do wish you good luck.

Kind thoughts,
Shaya. :)
 
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vinsanity0

Active member
My answer is going to be some rambling based on my personal experience, which may or may not apply to you.

BDSMers with vanilla partners can be in an awkward position. Most likely Meta agreed to an open relationship because she couldn't fill certain needs. That is going to cause her to be resentful. That is behind the passive-aggressive behavior of calling you "just a sub". It is very difficult for a vanilla person to get the connection in a D/s relationship.

I agree that it is up to Idealist to manage his own relationship. You just jumping in to "set her straight" will most likely have adverse effects. It would certainly put her on the defensive. At this point you should convey to Idealist your concerns and let him take care of it. If he does't seem to be getting your concerns, well that is a problem.

I see nothing wrong with correcting things she says to you face to face.

You guys have been together for 3 years. She knows you are there for the long haul at this point. Not all poly relationships are storybook perfect. Often there is a delicate balancing act. I wouldn't plan on walking out just yet, but I wouldn't escalate until I was sure she's not going to try and pull the plug on everything. Have you had THAT conversation with him yet?
 

Tinwen

Active member
Thank you so much, everybody :eek:

Shaya, I'm the conflict avoidant one, and I know this, and Idealist knows it, and we've talked about my insecurities with speaking to Meta more than once - trouble is when I ask for support on how to have the conversation he's of no real help, like, we're probably still not on the same what to talk about.
It didn't occur to me that in this case, he might be avoiding stuff too, but actually, it makes a lot of sense.

Kevin, yes, and I thought we were already getting to step 3 with the co-primary arrangement - but given I've written above it seems we have to go back to step 1 and 2.
Also, I thought there might be a step 3a where he tells her first (that he's viewing/wants to have the relationships more equal), because you know, conflict :eek: , and who do you want to tell you such things, your spouse, or your metamour?

But maybe I've accused him of omitting things, while he's waiting for me to be ready to have the conversation - which would kind of suck.

Vinsanity, thanks for the insights! (She's not vanilla, but the mismatch in needs holds.) From a practical point of view, I don't think she has the power or influence on him to pull a veto. If she had it - it's quite possible that she would have done it a long time ago (but I'm not sure of that, could be my paranoia).
 
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kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
I agree with the idea of having a step 3a.
 

breathemusic

Active member
If I were in your shoes and she said "well he needs a sub" in front of me, then I'd correct her right in that moment and say "I'm more than just his sub, I'm his partner, his lover, and someone who loves him very much and is loved by him very much. We have a relationship, not just a D/s dynamic. If that isn't ok with you, then that's something that you need to take up with him, but that is the relationship that has developed between us and I have no indications from him that he sees it any differently than I do." And if she takes issue with it after that.... direct her to HIM.

It's not really your job to correct the impressions that she's giving him.... but if she's making those statements to you, or in your presence, you certainly have every right to speak up for yourself and say "I don't appreciate being referred to that way." And anything after that, if she wants to talk boundaries, those boundaries are a discussion between the 2 of them, but clearly Idealist has never set those boundaries with you, so they're not HIS boundaries, regardless of what hers are.
 

GirlFromTexlahoma

New member
I think the issue of "who should talk to Meta" depends on what kind of relationship you want to have with her going forward.

When you think about living close by, do you envision having a friend - or -family type relationship with her? Negotiating schedules, finances, child care if applicable, directly with her? Or do you hope to keep things at a "friendly acquaintances" level, with idealist having those conversations with each of you seperately?

And what about Idealist - does he hope you guys will eventually talk about stuff one-on-one, is he happy to be the go-between? (Not discounting Meta's preferences here, either, just not sure if you would have a clue what those are!)

This seems like a good chance to either 1) practice relating with Meta more yourself, and see if it feels comfortable or 2) see if idealist is up to the challenge of being a hinge in two serious but separate long term relationships.
 

Marcus

Well-known member
So, I don't know. Which conversation to have? How to have it?
I'm very much afraid of the conflict here and I'm not even sure how to state clearly what I'm negotiating for.

Why negotiate? Just determine what it is that you want, the sort of arrangement you want with your partner, and tell him. Determine what is outside of what you will allow in your life (boundary), and tell him.

He does the same. Your relationship rests inside the overlap of what you and he both want, and outside of what neither of you will allow.

The fact that he has a relationship with someone else is irrelevant, or at most... it's his concern to deal with.
 

Tinwen

Active member
Hi all,
sorry for my non-responsiveness, I've had very little internet time last week.
I'm a little calmer now in accepting that yes, a (3-way) conversation is unavoidable - we may have an opportunity to set it up in 2 or 3 weeks (vacation time...). I'm still not sure how to go about it.
I think the issue of "who should talk to Meta" depends on what kind of relationship you want to have with her going forward....
This is actually a super useful and clear point of view, thank you very much for reminding me of it. Of course, all the trouble is that what I'd like is easier said than done :eek:
It would be like, really cool, if we could be sorting out the daily stuff and not get annoyed (or worse). But it hasn't been working so far. She's very extroverted, I can't handle conflict with her, so I've let Idealist be the go-between for schedule and stuff. I don't think he's thrilled, but he's gotten used to it.
But what we really do need going forward, especially if indeed children ever come to the mix, is a pretty high level of respect and trust. Amazingly, despite everything, I do still trust her with childcare - but what kind of influence she'll likely have delicately depends on the kind of relationship we'll have.
We can't have dishonesty, betrayal and old grudges in the mix, so I'm not messing with withholding information here.
 
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Tinwen

Active member
P.S.: I asked Idealist a few specific questions today, and I don't think anymore that he's omitting information on this topic. Communication is just messy (on all fronts).
 

Tinwen

Active member
Merry Christmas to everyone!
I thought I'd update on this situation. It's still a mess, but I'm learning some valuable lessons here.

So first, I must admit that a direct conversation with her was pretty much impossible for me due to my anxiety around it, so the situation stayed stuck for several months.
But we've finally met and talked a bit last week.
This was hugely facilitated by a big shift of focus on her part - she visited an intense workshop which helped her get more introspective, and since I can relate she specifically asked me to talk about some inner problems. That's a kind of conversation where I have solid ground under my feet, so I was glad to have this opportunity, and I feel really good for having been able to relate in that way.
The other factor was that I (also at a ws) came to the conclusion, that actually I, for me, do NOT need a three-way conversation about the future. I'm asking Idealist what he can give me and what he can't, and if he needs a three-way conversation to get more clear, he can prepare the topics to talk about and ask ME to participate.

So with this background we talked about some practicalities of the future. It was tense and weird and by no means all issues were addressed (some were actively avoided), but I still have kind of a good feeling about it. It seems Idealist has done some preparatory work over the course of the months, like he's had the conversations about future with her, and I (almost) believe she's come to terms with me being important now.

So I'm less scared of time with her being a disaster now, and I'm cautiously hopeful that addressing problems more directly will become possible in the future.

What I'm learning here is the following
1) It's a clear demonstration of the principle of one person getting healthier shifting the whole relationship dynamics. In this case, it was mainly HER self-discovery that allowed us to talk.
2) If problems can't be tackled directly, they have to be outgrown.
3) Theory is one thing, reality is messy. Sometimes things take time. It took him several months to talk about things bit by bit. This is indicative of their dynamics - I suppose it was the best approach.
4) I did see my anxiety as a hindrance of communication, but what I didn't see were their hindrances. I'm not solely guilty for the situation being stuck. In fact, maybe my anxiety around a direct conversation was partly warranted, as a conversation can't lead anywhere if the parties aren't ready to talk. If he had to spread it out in little bits maybe a huge conversation would be bad. I had a bit of a "guilty for not solving the situation" spiral, and I can better see it's pointlessness now.

Wish me luck and a good handle on my fears please :)
 
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starlight1

Member
Good luck Tinwen!
It may seem a lot like small things to you but it's add up to quite a big shift in the last few months. I'm so pleased for all three of you and I'm glad you're understanding more of what you need, and asking for it and letting go of what you cannot change.

Happy holidays if you are celebrating any at all. :)
 
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