A Thank-You Letter To The People On The Other Side Of My Lovers

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

One of the things hardly anybody talks about in poly is when your lover comes to you, crying, because their other partner just hurt them.
Shit gets surreal, because it’s time for you to play therapist.  And you’re not in a mood to play therapist, because the woman you love is upset because someone who’s Not You has just done something spectacularly shitty.  Your initial instinct is not “Well, let’s try to figure out what s/he really meant” but to drive over and punch him (or her) in the face for being such a meaniepants.
But no.  Part of a good polyamorous relationship is supporting your partner in their other relationships.  So you take a deep breath, and sit down, and talk it through with them.
And it sucks.
Because you know, relationship talks aren’t fun ever.  But at least when they’re about what you’re doing, it’s got some kind of easy benefit to it: when this is done, we’ll be happier together.  Whereas relationship talks with your lover about her lover’s foibles are exasperating, because the best reward at this point for success is that she keeps staying with a partner you’re not even sure she should be dating.
Fixing other relationships is also a bit of a trigger for most folks.  Because yeah, you know she loves you.  But there’s something about seeing her so upset about this other lover that makes you realize exactly how much this other person means to her… And there’s always that little tickle of, “If she cares that much, how can she have room left for me?”
The temptation is to go, “Just dump him.”  But no.  Instead, you wind up doing that one thing that’s harder than anything else – being fair.  Trying to separate what s/he meant from what s/he actually said.  Getting past this initial shock of pain and anger to try to figure out whether the sin is forgivable.  Sifting through past actions to try to anticipate what comes next to see whether the future will be acceptable.
For a guy who, at this moment, you don’t like all that much.
And all the while you’re hoping you don’t have to lead a horse to water, because if this relationship is truly broken, and you say, “You need to dump them” and God forbid it works out, sometimes they remember that.  You’ve seen other poly relationships where “You told me to dump him/her!” became a battleground later on as proof that you don’t really care.
No, you need to be supportive.  Remind them that dumping is an option.  Perhaps a strong one, if it’s that bad.  And swallow back that worry that if worst comes to worse and you have to say, “Look, I can’t deal with all the uproar this guy in your life causes any more, you gotta choose between him or me,” that she’s willing to choose you.
But getting her to dump them is not your main goal.  Your main goal is making her happy, and in that moment you envy all those poly couples who have a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy where you never cross the streams, but that’s not you.  She shares all the relevant bits of her life with you, and you want her happy (which she is, when this other relationship is functioning properly), so you bite back the snarkier comments and talk her through things like a goddamned grownup.
You fix ALL the things.  And she goes off to talk with her other lover, and you lean back wondering whether you’ve done the right thing.
You have.  It’s an act of charity and love, expending your time and energy to help patch up her other relationships.  It’s an act of mature love that goes beyond the greediness of “This is mine” and into what I’d consider to be the true polyamory of not just tolerating your partner’s other lovers, but actively supporting and encouraging a fullness of life and love and happiness.
It ain’t easy, though.  I know; I’ve done it for Gini, and I’m sorry to say I’ve done that to other people when my own poly-intentions have slipped a bit, and Gini’s had to play psychiatrist for me more than once.
So this is my thank-you letter for everyone who pitches in when the other partners cause stress, the quiet support behind the curtain.  You’re why the good poly relationships work.  And you don’t get acknowledged nearly enough.

9 Comments

  1. jen
    Jan 26, 2012

    “And swallow back that worry that if worst comes to worse and you have to say, “Look, I can’t deal with all the uproar this guy in your life causes any more, you gotta choose between him or me,” that she’s willing to choose you.”
    I disagree here. If I can’t deal with the uproar, then *I* have to make the choice to end things on my end. I don’t think the ultimatum situation is fair. That’s my style, though.
    That being said, this is a wonderful essay about good things to keep in mind. <3

    • TheFerrett
      Jan 26, 2012

      It’s your style, and I disagree with it on the whole; while ultimatums aren’t fair, letting your partner know that this shit needs to stop or you’re leaving is something that people frequently forget to do. So I tell ’em.
      That’ s my style, though. 🙂

      • jen
        Jan 26, 2012

        We may actually totally agree on the fundamentals and just have a semantic difference here. The “warning shot” is one thing – this shit needs to stop or I’m leaving – that still means that you will be the one to act on the situation by leaving, as opposed to “you need to break up with one or the other of us” where you are forcing the person in the middle to choose a person and breakup with them.
        Does that difference make sense?

  2. Albreda
    Jan 26, 2012

    Can I SO shove this down the jumper of the next idiot who thinks poly is just lots of sex with lots of people or about indecision, or otherwise about their wet-dreams instead of peoples’ actual LIVES?
    Thanks for being a grown-up, and then writing about it!

    • TheFerrett
      Jan 27, 2012

      I’d be happy to have you shove it. Poly’s about the amory, since there are a ton of ways to get the poly.

  3. ben
    Jan 26, 2012

    Thank you so, so much for posting this. I’ve been in a poly relationship for five years now, and in all that time I’ve never seen anybody put this particular facet of that experience into words so perfectly. I can’t tell you how good it is to know that other people trying to be good partners are dealing with the same array of fears and concerns that I have.
    It’s been a particularly trying couple of weeks, and this could not possibly have come at a better time. So, thanks.

    • TheFerrett
      Jan 27, 2012

      I’m so glad it helped. Lemme know if there’s anything I can do for you.

  4. Shan
    Jan 26, 2012

    My DH had an issue with my OSO dating from a core conflict at the start of our relationship. Being him, he pretty much kept quiet — just supported me by reflecting my feelings and a lot of “hmm mnns” for _8 years_. Then when OSO and I did break up, _then_ I found out what he _really_ thought all along. And I was awed at his self-restraint…in a way I wish he’d shared, but I probably needed to work it out for myself.
    So yes, hurray, and what a great piece.

  5. Zeb
    Jan 27, 2012

    Beautifully written – thank you 🙂

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