Starting the conversation - Differentiating between Adjustment and Coercion?

damama

New member
Hi all - this is my first post on this site. Very grateful that this forum exists!

So I am a cis man currently in a het monogamous relationship with my partner of 4 years. Before we got together I had been reading the Ethical Slut and had gotten very curious and inspired about poly - hadn't really come into the identity or been actively practicing / seeing anyone. I fell very deeply for my partner when we met and for some time was like 'poly who?' -- i.e. kind of put my interest in poly on the backburner, was focused on her and our relationship. We were pretty sexually active for the first year or two, and things started to cool down. She's talked about identifying as demisexual and/or asexual generally (and that our honeymoon period was something of an anomaly for her). About a year and a half ago we had a conversation about poly that I initiated because we were having some issues with mismatched sex drives-- I had asked her how she would feel if we stopped having sex/being sexual, and with clarity and certainty she told me that it wouldn't bother her at all - it's not something that is essential for her in her life. I brought up the possibility of opening up our relationship so that I could get my needs met elsewhere - it was something that she expressed some kind of openness too, but also we were both under a lot of stress at the time and she had some difficult feelings come up -- it wouldn't have been a good time to make that transition.

Fast forward to now -- poly is something that I have been thinking about more and more -- especially since my father passed and I am in a more reflective space about how I want to be living my life and my truth. I've also been reading a lot (finished 'More Than Two' and am almost done with 'Opening Up'). It's been inspiring to read more about Poly/Mono relationships, which I didn't know much about until recently.

I feel like I am on the brink of initiating the conversation again -- and something that I'm feeling confused about is this: on the one hand, I've read about the process of opening up a relationship being... well... a process! And that there are sure to be big feelings and a lot of adjustment necessary. I've also read about the importance of the person who did not initiate the conversation not agreeing to opening up the relationship if it is something they are not totally on board with / something they are only doing to make their partner happy and that isn't actually feeling okay for them. I'm sure there is not a clear cut answer to this... but I'm having a lot of anxiety around differentiating between those two things. What is the difference between to-be-expected big and challenging feelings that might come up in response to a proposal to open things up and a self-sacrificing yielding to a request from a partner?

I think I am also looking for some general encouragement -- am feeling really nervous, and also more and more certain that this is something that I need to bring up, as it really feels like a part of my identity that has been gestating for a while and is starting to emerge...
 

icesong

Moderator
Staff member
Fast forward to now -- poly is something that I have been thinking about more and more -- especially since my father passed and I am in a more reflective space about how I want to be living my life and my truth. I've also been reading a lot (finished 'More Than Two' and am almost done with 'Opening Up'). It's been inspiring to read more about Poly/Mono relationships, which I didn't know much about until recently.
Another book that I'm more or less recommending to everyone that's more recent than the others you mention is PolySecure - both because I think it's a really great resource for non monogamous relationships in general but also, in your case in particular, might have some useful tools for *dealing* with the big feelings you mention in a possible transition.

I feel like I am on the brink of initiating the conversation again -- and something that I'm feeling confused about is this: on the one hand, I've read about the process of opening up a relationship being... well... a process! And that there are sure to be big feelings and a lot of adjustment necessary. I've also read about the importance of the person who did not initiate the conversation not agreeing to opening up the relationship if it is something they are not totally on board with / something they are only doing to make their partner happy and that isn't actually feeling okay for them. I'm sure there is not a clear cut answer to this... but I'm having a lot of anxiety around differentiating between those two things. What is the difference between to-be-expected big and challenging feelings that might come up in response to a proposal to open things up and a self-sacrificing yielding to a request from a partner?

I think the best analogy I've seen to that is this:
Now here’s where this gets tricky. In polyamory, there is some stuff that we may genuinely want that is, purely because of conditioning that we do want to shed, going to be uncomfortable and that we want to get okay with—and that won’t harm us if we do. I was eventually able to learn not just to accept, but to enjoy seeing my husband holding hands with his partner, or the look of bliss on his face when they kissed. And then there’s other stuff that’s really just not okay—that’s harmful or abusive. Stuff like lying. Keeping secrets. Triangulating your partners. Repeatedly springing decisions on someone that affect them, without their input, and gaslighting them when they complain. These are all things that happened to me—and for a long time, I thought it was my fault that it hurt. That I just needed to try harder. -
This was quoted by Eve Rickert in an article that you should really read the whole thing of, as it's sort of a ... counterpoint to More Than Two (there's been a LOT of background that's come out recently on that book and one of the authors, although I do think there's still value to be had in it, especially the parts that Eve wrote).

Just out of curiosity, do you see yourself opening from the point of view of just seeking outside sexual relationships, or something deeper? Even if the former, it's worth talking about what the latter would mean to both of you - feelings are, after all, kind of unpredictable, and it would suck to be surprised by your partner being ok with outside sex but not with outside romance.
 

icesong

Moderator
Staff member
Oh, and by the way welcome to the site!
 

Magdlyn

Moderator
Staff member
I am very sorry that your partner turned out to be asexual, despite the frequent sex you enjoyed in your first year with her! I am highly sexual and I won't pretend to understand asexual people... but I do know they exist. I haven't read much about them.

That said, mismatched libidos are a huge problem in monogamous relationships. One more book that will shed light on your issue, especially in regards to libidos, is Sex at Dawn, an anthropological and biological study of human sexuality, mating choices, with a comparison to our cousins, the great apes, as well. 10/10 would recommend!

Some people are asexual. I know that many women, myself included when I was younger, could feel much more horny on my fertile days, which was kind of horrible since I didn't want kids until I got to be 30. Once I hit perimenopause, my libido increased as my fertility decreased. My testosterone really came to the fore. Other women lose their sex drives when they get to be that age. It's a crap shoot. (Of course men's libidos can and do wax and wane as well.)

I find it very very disturbing when (for example) a woman bonds with a guy, partly through the joy of sex, and then stops wanting sex, and yet, won't "allow" him to seek it elsewhere. The polygyny of old was one work-around for this. Women were not supposed to be touched (among the Jews) while menstruating or while pregnant. So it was very convenient for a guy to have 2 or 3 wives! (Not so great for women who couldn't have more than one husband, but that's besides the point...)

I take it you don't have kids? That makes things simpler! I am sure you love your partner very much, and she fulfills you in many ways. "There's just this one thing..." The problem is, it's a huge thing! In our society, typically a woman loses status if her husband "strays." She is also challenged financially, if she is dependent on him. Even if the status and finance thing doesn't apply so much these days, in certain circles, it's hard to buck tradition! She has you by the balls, unless she consents to poly, or you do it behind her back, or you go from exclusive partners to friends, or exes. Sometimes someone who seems compatible for the first year or more can turn out to not really be compatible for the decades to come!

If you want her to joyfully consent, and she can't or won't, after some time of gentle encouragement, the only ethical thing to do is split. But some people would rather keep you, knowing that you are cheating, while pretending not to know! They tell themselves, boys will be boys. He'll get it out of his system. It's a phase. Obviously this has been an accepted thing for a long long time.
 

TinCup

Member
We were pretty sexually active for the first year or two, and things started to cool down. ... if we stopped having sex/being sexual, and with clarity and certainty she told me that it wouldn't bother her at all - it's not something that is essential for her in her life.
This isn't uncommon for ace-spectrum people.

Have you come across SPFA? You aren't alone.
 

GalaGirl

Well-known member
Welcome.

I guess I wonder this.

New relationship energy lasts about 6 mos to 2 years. You are past that point at 4 years in.

You are at the seven year itch point -- which is really 4 years. The point of of "NRE wore off. Reality has landed and been here a bit. So how compatible are we really? And for what kind of relationship?"

Some people are not even initially compatible. They don't make it to first date or beyond a few dates. Some who are initially compatible, are not DEEPLY compatible.

Maybe you have that here. NRE has been over. You have been living reality for while. And you have discovered a pretty big incompatibility -- mismatched sex drives. And the stuff you back burnered in the throes of NRE excitement? Have to bring them up and talk it out then, if you are seeking deeper compatibility. Can't pretend that the poly stuff isn't there for you. Poly or not poly can also be a dealbreaker for people.

Have the talk. Is she even into poly? Poly is not mean to be like a "poly band-aid" so you can keep going with her.

If she is into poly... what KIND? Because just being into poly doesn't mean you both like the same models and are automatically compatible to do poly together. Any more than people who are into monogamy are going to be automatically compatible to practice monogamy with each other.

If this relationship is best off as exes? Or exes and friends? Could break up and you move on to poly on your own. No trying to square peg / round hole here dragging things out.

I'm sure there is not a clear cut answer to this... but I'm having a lot of anxiety around differentiating between those two things. What is the difference between to-be-expected big and challenging feelings that might come up in response to a proposal to open things up and a self-sacrificing yielding to a request from a partner?

You seem to be asking "If I bring this up, how do I know my partner is really up for poly and being honest with me or just saying whatever to me?"

The "joyful yes" consent to participate is the difference to me. And after 4 years together, presumably you know you partner well enough to know when she's lying or speaking out of character or just "going along" with stuff she doesn't really want.

If after 4 years together you cannot tell? Then I guess I wonder why not. Four years is quite a while together.

If one is excited and looking forward to doing poly, and it's a joyful yes kind of consent? They are willing to undertake the challenge. They recognize restructuring foundational agreements is a big job. They pay that price of admission gladly because they REALLY want to go there.

They aren't saying whatever to avoid a break up because they are afraid of being alone.

They aren't saying whatever because they subscribe to the idea that "love" is something you have to "prove" so they do all this stuff to "prove" how much they love you even while doing their own self harm.

They don't subscribe to the idea that "love" is "sacrifice" so they give things up they really want in order to hang on to the loved one.

I think I am also looking for some general encouragement -- am feeling really nervous, and also more and more certain that this is something that I need to bring up, as it really feels like a part of my identity that has been gestating for a while and is starting to emerge...

Could be up front and honest.

If you cannot do that with a dating partner of 4 years... that kinda tells you something doesn't it?

I brought up the possibility of opening up our relationship so that I could get my needs met elsewhere - it was something that she expressed some kind of openness too, but also we were both under a lot of stress at the time and she had some difficult feelings come up -- it wouldn't have been a good time to make that transition.

Well, she seems wiling to discuss.

So now that the stressful time is past, bring it up again.

It's like remodeling a house. Nobody is going to start remodeling in the middle of a blizzard or hurricane! It's ok to wait for that time to pass.

So now that the stress has passed, revisit the conversation. After 4 years of dating both could put cards on the table PLAIN.

And if it turns out that you want poly and she does not? Accept, and move on.

Not everyone you date is gonna be deeply compatible or a long haul runner. That's kind of what dating is FOR. To sort out the compatible people.

Galagirl
 
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Polycurious_Adam

Active member
if it is something they are not totally on board with / something they are only doing to make their partner happy and that isn't actually feeling okay for them. I'm sure there is not a clear cut answer to this... but I'm having a lot of anxiety around differentiating between those two things. What is the difference between to-be-expected big and challenging feelings that might come up in response to a proposal to open things up and a self-sacrificing yielding to a request from a partner?

I've actually struggled a lot with this motivation grey area. In my situation, I'm the one new to poly, and I am frequently checking myself to make sure I'm not going along with poly out of a desire to please my partner. I know I want to make those decisions with my own happiness and fulfillment in mind, but I was in the 11-year habit of seeking happiness vicariously through my partner. Your partner may not know what her motivations are herself. It feels good to please someone you love - doesn't that count as being happy? I think not so much. It's easy to feel feelings, but it's hard to understand them sometimes.
 

Magdlyn

Moderator
Staff member
I've actually struggled a lot with this motivation grey area. In my situation, I'm the one new to poly, and I am frequently checking myself to make sure I'm not going along with poly out of a desire to please my partner. I know I want to make those decisions with my own happiness and fulfillment in mind, but I was in the 11-year habit of seeking happiness vicariously through my partner. Your partner may not know what her motivations are herself. It feels good to please someone you love - doesn't that count as being happy? I think not so much. It's easy to feel feelings, but it's hard to understand them sometimes.
This is a good point, Adam, especially for people who were raised by parents who didn't allow them to express their emotions. Some parents even try to tell the kids what they are feeling: "No, you don't hate your sister, you love your sister!" I used to try to get my children to understand the nuances of their feelings: "You feel like you hate your sister?" "YEAH!" "You sound very angry/frustrated/upset." We'd dig into the real feeling (fear, envy, so on), and then even better, how to deal with the feeling, what to do, how to negotiate compromises, come up with a plan. My kids would get sick of me saying, "You have a problem; you need a plan." But it worked in the long run!

Of course, to survive, humans have had to learn how to occasionally repress their emotions. We can't all just be throwing temper tantrums whenever, like 2 year olds. But sometimes the emotions have to come out, be felt, and worked through, so we can move forward. There are better and worse ways to do this.
 

damama

New member
Another book that I'm more or less recommending to everyone that's more recent than the others you mention is PolySecure - both because I think it's a really great resource for non monogamous relationships in general but also, in your case in particular, might have some useful tools for *dealing* with the big feelings you mention in a possible transition.



I think the best analogy I've seen to that is this:

This was quoted by Eve Rickert in an article that you should really read the whole thing of, as it's sort of a ... counterpoint to More Than Two (there's been a LOT of background that's come out recently on that book and one of the authors, although I do think there's still value to be had in it, especially the parts that Eve wrote).

Just out of curiosity, do you see yourself opening from the point of view of just seeking outside sexual relationships, or something deeper? Even if the former, it's worth talking about what the latter would mean to both of you - feelings are, after all, kind of unpredictable, and it would suck to be surprised by your partner being ok with outside sex but not with outside romance.
Thanks for providing these resources - Eve Rickert's article and PolySecure. This article is very clarifying and is a solid reminder of the need to be both open and critical about the Poly writings I'm coming across. And the quote is super resonant for me, both around navigating my own relationship with pain and also being able to validate my partner in her feelings, while collaboratively checking in to see what is a growing edge and what is a 'check engine light'. As for the book, I am a counselor and am really looking forward to reading more about Poly through an attachment lens.

And thank so much for providing this info about Franklin. I take this kind of manipulation very seriously (I do community facilitation work with men around masculinity/power/boundaries as a preventative measure for this kind of behavior) and I definitely want to be informed about the ways folks are living (or not living) the values that they are writing about.

I appreciate you asking about sexual relationships / something deeper! That is a big point of reflection for me right now as well. Typically, sex and emotional connection are not separated for me. That's not to say that every person I've been sexual with is someone who I've wanted to or tried to establish an ongoing emotional commitment with -- but even the brief or one-night connections have had elements of emotional connection and care for me. I think hearing you ask that question brings up reflections for me on the separation of feeling and action. I'm a big feeler, I think my partner knows that, and I don't think I would be okay with a situation where I'm asked to not be involved with people who I develop love for. On the other hand, having agreements / boundaries that relate to concrete actions (i.e. where I spend time / have sex with partners, people being off limits if they are in proximity to our work/communities, etc) is something that I'd prefer to focus on.

GalaGirl -- I appreciate your directness!
Welcome.

I guess I wonder this.

New relationship energy lasts about 6 mos to 2 years. You are past that point at 4 years in.

You are at the seven year itch point -- which is really 4 years. The point of of "NRE wore off. Reality has landed and been here a bit. So how compatible are we really? And for what kind of relationship?"

Some people are not even initially compatible. They don't make it to first date or beyond a few dates. Some who are initially compatible, are not DEEPLY compatible.
These reflections are certainly important. I think part of what draws me to Poly in the first place is sort of a rejection of bar that monogamy sets for the depth of compatibility due to partners being expected to meet so many needs of one another.
Have the talk. Is she even into poly? Poly is not mean to be like a "poly band-aid" so you can keep going with her.

If she is into poly... what KIND? Because just being into poly doesn't mean you both like the same models and are automatically compatible to do poly together. Any more than people who are into monogamy are going to be automatically compatible to practice monogamy with each other.

If this relationship is best off as exes? Or exes and friends? Could break up and you move on to poly on your own. No trying to square peg / round hole here dragging things out.
I definitely don't see this as a 'band-aid' situation in the sense that I don't see poly as a solution to our problems - but rather a facet of my self that has been emerging for a long time (since before we got together, as we've been discussing). While the previous conversation in our relationship came up in response to our situation, she has also heard me talk about Poly before and the importance I place on the value of getting one's needs met by multiple relationships and not relying solely on one person to meet needs for intimacy. The way I've talked about it has been in a general way that applies to any relationship - mono or poly - but she is quite aware already that my beliefs about this are influenced by a Poly mindset.

As I mentioned before, I anticipate this being a Poly/Mono scenario, because she doesn't really express having interest in being sexual with me or anyone generally. She has brought up poly in general contexts, and has a brother who is Queer and has been in poly relationships that she talks about casually and supportively. If I expand the frame I'm thinking about it beyond sex, it does lead me to reflect on close friendships that she has with older men (from 40s up to 70s) many of whom she is aware have a deep emotional connection with her, for many of whom she has the sense that they experience their connection with her as romantic. These are friendships that I find very sweet (some of the men I've met), and fully support. In some ways, it feels like relative to normative het monogamous culture this support I have for her / the space she has to explore these connections feels like it has poly vibes (though we don't refer to it that way) and I think that if she were in a partnership with another man who didn't have the values I have, I could see these relationships bringing up a lot of jealously and tension. I'd like to name and acknowledge that in the conversation, but I also don't want to make it seem like it should be something remarkable that I'm not weird about those friendships, because those are relationships I think she should be entitled to regardless of whether we are mono or poly. The reason I bring it up is because of her being ace(ish) and I have the sense that in our relationship she already has leeway to engage in whatever forms of intimacy that she wants with others based on the non-sexual nature of her desires... does that make sense? If we were to make this transition and she were to desire sexual intimacy with someone else, I think it would be an unanticipated adjustment for me, but ultimately I would be fully committed to supporting her. As far as I go, I anticipate that she would want to transition slowly and would want to know as little as possible about my other connections (based on what she expressed before) -- and also that she might want to just establish that we wouldn't be sexual with one another at all -- which is something else she mentioned, and also something that I would be cool with -- very happy with our snuggles :)
You seem to be asking "If I bring this up, how do I know my partner is really up for poly and being honest with me or just saying whatever to me?"

The "joyful yes" consent to participate is the difference to me. And after 4 years together, presumably you know you partner well enough to know when she's lying or speaking out of character or just "going along" with stuff she doesn't really want.

If after 4 years together you cannot tell? Then I guess I wonder why not. Four years is quite a while together.

If one is excited and looking forward to doing poly, and it's a joyful yes kind of consent? They are willing to undertake the challenge. They recognize restructuring foundational agreements is a big job. They pay that price of admission gladly because they REALLY want to go there.

They aren't saying whatever to avoid a break up because they are afraid of being alone.

They aren't saying whatever because they subscribe to the idea that "love" is something you have to "prove" so they do all this stuff to "prove" how much they love you even while doing their own self harm.

They don't subscribe to the idea that "love" is "sacrifice" so they give things up they really want in order to hang on to the loved one.
This is super helpful - thank you!
Could be up front and honest.

If you cannot do that with a dating partner of 4 years... that kinda tells you something doesn't it?
I'd say that has more to do with my challenges with conflict avoidance and codependency - which I have been working on for a long time, and I see this conversation as a solid growing edge for those things. I can definitely do it, just need to tap into my courage :)

I appreciate the other responses too, but I've gotta get to some other things in my day - may circle back later! <3 thanks all!
 

TinCup

Member
because of her being ace(ish) ..., I think it would be an unanticipated adjustment for me
Then anticipate it. I wasn't able to move forward for myself until I sat with the idea. <Why can you have sex with someone else and not me?> Ultimately it is about her being free to make her own choices. It hasn't happened but I feel comfortable that if it were to happen I have a foundational perspective on which to process any emotional weirdness that pops up.
 

damama

New member
Then anticipate it. I wasn't able to move forward for myself until I sat with the idea. <Why can you have sex with someone else and not me?> Ultimately it is about her being free to make her own choices. It hasn't happened but I feel comfortable that if it were to happen I have a foundational perspective on which to process any emotional weirdness that pops up.
Perhaps I misspoke - when I say it would be unanticipated it’s solely based on what she’s expressed and how she’s self identified up until this point. There isn’t ambiguity for me around my willingness to adjust to her desire for other sexual partners if things were to shift that way. I’m acknowledging that it would be a shift, that’s all.
 

kdt26417

Official Greeter
Staff member
Hello damama,

I think your main concern in this thread (adjustment or coercion) should be part of your discussion (about poly) with your partner. Make sure she knows you don't want her to do it (let you be poly) for you, if doing so hurts her or makes her unhappy, you only want her to do it if she can be happy and whole while doing it.

I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing to let your partner be poly *for* your partner. It's just bad if doing so damages you internally. If your partner feels forced into it, that's a bad thing. But it's okay for her to have some struggles if overall, she is enthused about the idea of poly and wants to incorporate it into her life. Like if it is an ideal that she aspires to. That is a good reason to accept poly, even if doing so is emotionally difficult sometimes. That's how I see it anyway.

I hope your talk with her goes well.
Sincerely,
Kevin T.
 

FallenAngelina

Well-known member
I had asked her how she would feel if we stopped having sex/being sexual, and with clarity and certainty she told me that it wouldn't bother her at all - it's not something that is essential for her in her life.
I'm curious to know how many partners she'd had before you. Does she have much experience on which to draw this conclusion? Sure, she could be asexual, but could also be simply mismatched with you sexually. It's very hard to recognize that the person you adore is someone you're just not drawn to sexually. It's heartbreaking and can take a very long time to reconcile, all the while still participating in the sexual activity. Just a thought.
 

damama

New member
I'm curious to know how many partners she'd had before you. Does she have much experience on which to draw this conclusion? Sure, she could be asexual, but could also be simply mismatched with you sexually. It's very hard to recognize that the person you adore is someone you're just not drawn to sexually. It's heartbreaking and can take a very long time to reconcile, all the while still participating in the sexual activity. Just a thought.
Thanks for this question, Fallen Angelina. I’m not her first partner, she has had regular sexual partners before with whom she described her sexual relationships as transactional, sex being something she was engaging in as an exchange for other needs she got met through those relationships. Early in our relationship she discussed having been celibate for a couple years before we met and that she was very content with that - and the convos in which she has talked about identifying as asexual predated the cooling off of our sex life/ were often not in the context of talking about our specific issues. Shes also told me that I’m the only person who has ever made her cum through vaginal sex - which she still does consistently the rare times that we do I’ve sex. I appreciate the question, but I don’t think it’s the case that it is about our chemistry.
 
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