So You're A Couple Going Poly: Some Quick Advice

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

A friend of mine wrote to me the other day that one of her husband’s buddies had been flirting heavily with him, and she was… kinda okay with the idea. As was he. As was, after some investigation, the buddy.
“So what next?” she asked. And here, in a nutshell, is my advice on what to do when you’re a couple, opening up to poly.
(NOTE: This is written to the female partner of a male-female married couple, because that’s how I wrote the email, but really, the advice applies for all genders and sexualities.)
When you’ve got an untouchable couple at the center of things, I think it’s best to really set expectations as to what you want out of things. After all, your obvious goal is to keep you and your partner intact as a unit. If it comes down to you or her, at this stage, it’s almost certainly going to be you. So why hurt this friend (and your husband!) unnecessarily by being unclear about what’s cool with you?
The problem is, you don’t really know what’s okay yet. You’re not poly yet. Maybe you’ve read some books, but polyamory is like parenting in that you can read every book and still get whomped by unexpected emotions. Right now, you’re theoretically okay with your husband sleeping with some third party, and maybe even falling in love, but hypotheses are not data.
And so you’re going to have that uncomfortable conversation of, “Here’s what I think I’m comfortable with you guys doing, but it might be less than this if it really triggers me, or maybe a lot more if it turns out I’m unexpected awesome.”
You have to talk, really. It’s just not as super-helpful as you’d think, because realistically this is jumping into a pool to see how it feels.
But I’d definitely talk to him, to see what your husband wants. Is it romantic snuggles and candlelight? Single swinging? FWB? Or just the right to explore and find out what the hell it is he wants? Maybe you don’t even need to be poly, you just need to be swingers – which is easier. Less attachments generated.
Then, if that’s cool, probably let him go on a date or two with the buddy. Make it clear that these are no-sex dates (though maybe some smooching is cool, if your husband can restrain himself to your comfort zone). I mean, your husband and his buddy might not hit it off – maybe s/he smells funny – and there’s no sense in generating a Big Important Conversation if this is going to end up in a thanks-but-no-thanks situation.
Yet if all goes well, then, yeah, talk to the buddy with all of you at a sit-down dinner. Say, “Hey, we’re new at this, I’m totally cool with you sexing up my husband, but here are my concerns.”
Now, maybe, yeah, that sort of intense conversation may weird the buddy out. But my take is that if talking to you about what you guys need as a couple weirds them out that they skedaddly, then they really were NOT the right choice for you.
Because that sort of three-way communication is gonna come up. You’re married. And even if you weren’t married, the fact is that your husband’s known you for longer, and (assuming that you’re happily married) would more likely to weight your opinion even if there were no other mitigating factors. It’s an uneven relationship – and sure, that may not be fair, but the buddy needs to know that your emotions are part of this mixture. If that’s a dealbreaker, then it’s only fair to the buddy to give them this opportunity to move on.
(Which isn’t to say that you should use this as an excuse to be a monster – the buddy’s feelings should always be taken into account. If you’re the kind of person who’s going to take all of your insecurities out on the buddy, using them as a flashpoint to blame them for everything that’s currently wrong in your relationship with your husband, then… you probably shouldn’t try poly. Poly’s about getting your needs met, but it’s not about getting all your needs met.)
And then they start dating, and you hunker down for drama. I know you want the no-dramaness, but there’s rarely a time when you open up poly in an established relationship that at least a little drama is not generated. Maybe it’s not big drama, but you only really discover what makes your relationship unique to the two of you when you find someone nibbling at its edges. You’re probably going to find a couple of things that you thought were unique to your husband and you, and whoops, he doesn’t think that. And if you’re typical you’re going to fluctuate between “Wow, how bizarre, I feel no jealousy at all” and “I’m alone now, how sad,” and a newfound appreciation of your husband’s qualities now that other people are appreciating them and “Am I good enough?”
All that’s cool. It happens. And when you do that, you’ll be waist-deep in the poly pool and well on your way.

2 Comments

  1. ellixis
    Mar 7, 2014

    Your friend’s lucky to have such calm, sane advice to start out with. When my partner and I started out, we’d both been in other relationships at the time, so we thought it would be wise to discuss what we’d do if feelings for someone else happened again; we decided that theoretically we’d be pretty okay with that, and that we’d talk it out if it happened. It did, and we felt our way through this process, with excellent results (we’re a triad instead of a couple now), but it would have been comforting to have the process explained. So I guess I’m mostly trying to say thank you for being kind, experienced, articulate, and willing to share your knowledge. That’s cool of you.

  2. Jericka
    Mar 8, 2014

    I was widowed and dating when I ran into a cute guy in an open relationship. Nothing actually happened between us except talking, partly because his life hit a stressful bump, and I wasn’t into just jumping into bed with someone. His wife didn’t like the fact that we were talking so much, but, if I had just slept with him, I would not have been a threat in her mind. So, we parted ways after mostly just texting stuff about D&D campaigns…
    But, this set me up to be in a really excellent spot a couple months later when I met a poly guy on OKCupid. We had a 5 hour first date chatting, and then I made sure his wife was ok with me….and three years later we seem to all be doing great.
    Going poly is easier when you are doing it yourself, and with research and open eyes. Doing it as a couple I’d think would have an entire set of potholes that I didn’t have to worry about. (my situation could have had potholes too, just different ones. )

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