What If Your Partner’s Partner Is Trying To Break You Apart?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So you’ve opened up your relationship! You and your spouse are now officially Dating Other People. And you have only one fear:

What if your spouse’s new partner isn’t really polyamorous?

That happens, you know – there are people who are only tolerating your polyamory because it’s the only way they can get at their crush. And once they start quote-unquote “dating” your spouse, their whole goal becomes “Start trash-talking you and causing rifts between you and her until the inevitable divorce” – and then they can swoop in and scoop up your newly-single ex into a happily monogamous relationship.

Nobody really likes talking about it, but yeah. There are partners who basically exist only to be a disruption. And maybe they won’t be successful in getting you to break up, but it is pretty miserable, knowing your lover’s out there dating someone who a) totally disrespects you, and b) is waging a campaign to make you look like as much of an asshole as possible.

But the funny thing is how newly-polyamorous couples often face this threat: They vet the outside partner as much as possible.

Which is to say, they do a lot of screening and interviewing and vetoing, convinced that if they just interrogate their potential lovers’ lovers enough, they can firewall off these cowbird threats. And if they still don’t feel comfortable after all that, they drop a ton of rules to ensure that no outside threat can get out of control – no overnight sleepovers, strict monitoring of physical affections, restrictions on where you can go for dates.

I got sad news for you, my friend: The real threat is coming from inside the house.

Which is to say that yeah, it’s certainly good to do a little vetting before you first start dating, and I’m never going to say “no” to the idea that you should get to know your partner’s partners. (I myself run strictly on the “share a drink” rule – if I can’t feel comfortable alone at a bar with my sweetie’s sweetie, shooting the shit for twenty minutes or so, then it’s probably not a good relationship.)

Yet you know, the idea that you can map out the shape of a relationship with a stranger is kind of ludicrous, when you think about it. Most people can’t figure out where their romantic relationships are going to end up, let alone triangulating the entirety of a potential threat from some unknown stranger with your spouse. You can spend weeks, months, years scrutinizing someone and still get it wrong – particularly when the someone in question has every reason to put on a pleasant face until they can get to the real business of dating, and hence separating, your spouse and yourself.

But you know what the best asshole barrier in the world is?

Your spouse not being attracted to assholes.

Because yes, there certainly are relationships where one partner is dating someone who’s constantly griping about their other partner… But in most healthy relationships, a spouse wouldn’t feel good about spending time with someone who’s trash-talking someone who they theoretically love. A loving relationship might tolerate a grumble or two, but come the third time that evening where their date is going, “And you know what else your wife does that bothers me?”, they’re gonna say, “Thanks for playing, but… no.”

It’s kind of like a grift: You can’t con an innocent man, and you can’t lure away someone who wasn’t looking to be lured.

In truth, what happens in a fair amount of those “My spouse was lured away by another partner!”s is that you had some serious flaws in your relationship already, and your partner was secretly looking to leave, and someone else capitalized on those flaws. (As I’ve mentioned before, for no apparent reason I’ve ever been able to fathom, “Let’s go poly!” is all too often the Hail Mary of decaying relationships everywhere.) Sometimes those flaws are not at all apparent to you, and sometimes they’re as unfair as “I’m just not attracted to you any more.”

But if your relationship is truly crumbling, ruthlessly interrogating all the terrorists who might slip into your office building will do you no good if that skyscraper is already teetering in the breeze.

Which is why I suggest, gently, that if you’re worried about someone stealing your partner away from you, focus on the relationship you and your partner already have. Figure out ways to strengthen it. Is your sex life in the dumps? Break out the whipped cream. Are you afraid you’re drifting apart? Plan some activities you both enjoy, together. Emotionally distant? Get some intimacy back between you.

Don’t wall people out – add to your own foundations, bricklaying as much love as you can possibly have for each other, so when the New Relationship Energy bug comes along and your partner dates someone so new that this relationship seems effortless and pure, you’ll still have a partner who feels that blush of a strong and enduring love with you.

What keeps you together is not combating the outside world – it’s nurturing your inside world, ensuring that what bonds you is not a lack of opportunities, but rather an abundance of joy.

Which isn’t to say it’s gonna be easy. New poly’s always like lurching out onto a ship on a high sea, filled with occasional nausea-inducing drops and sudden rearrangements of your existing plans. It’s always gonna be a little scary.

But you don’t keep your ship afloat by machine-gunning the clouds to keep the storms away. You do it by patching up your little boat until it’s the best darn home you can possibly imagine.

I wish you luck.

(Inspired by a conversation with a friend, who I asked permission from before writing this. Also, if you liked this entry, please ponder pre-ordering my upcoming book Automatic Reload, which is basically James Bond equipped with faster-than-human cybernetic weaponry.)

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