Monday, 22 March 2010

When is a Veto not a Veto?

Following on from my previous post, Just Say No, it has to be acknowledged that there comes a point in many poly relationships where it becomes impossible to give up one partner in favour of another. This is because the relationship has changed: the person you were considering a potential partner is no longer potential, but an actual partner. You have become a dyad in your own right and are too deeply entwined in each other’s lives and consciousness to separate on the say-so of a pre-existing partner.

This is not so likely to happen in less emotionally intense relationships, such as a friends-with-benefits situation, but it may well be a problem in a full-blown romantic relationship. In some cases the point of no return may come a lot sooner than any of the participants expect. You just can’t tell when someone you meet casually might turn out to be a romantic thunderbolt. Franklin Veaux has written a very interesting post on the topic of game-changing events in poly relationships here. Ideally, of course, everybody in the relationship loves everybody else, even if it is purely platonic between some partners, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Does this happen often? Well, I know of three cases online and one IRL in the last 6 months. And I only keep up with two of the many English language poly forums and a few poly blogs, so there are probably many more out there. And it has happened to me, in the dim and distant past, when I was one arm of a V.

When your partner is in love with someone you have absolutely nothing in common with, and that feeling is returned, it can seem as though there are only two options. 1) Grit your teeth and bear it while having as little to do with the new partner as possible and working towards the downfall of the relationship. 2) Demand that your partner instantly end the relationship for your sake, despite all the pain, drama and long-term resentment that would engender. Neither of these is a good option.

So how on earth can a relationship survive such a situation intact and happy? Assuming a situation in which one man has two female partners (example only –genders or sexuality doesn’t matter) one longstanding and one relatively new, the best possible scenario goes as follows.

The Man
When the issue first raises its head:

• Back peddles a bit on the new relationship in terms of time
• Explains to the new partner that he loves her and wants to spend time with her, but that, although he will continue to see her regularly, he will have to see a bit less of her for a while, because they need to make sure that his pre-existing partner feels secure about their relationship
• Keeps in regular contact with the new partner and makes sure that she knows he loves her
Initially and Long term:
• Makes a point of spending quality time with his pre-existing partner and new partner, individually and together
• Shows and tells his pre-existing partner in every way possible that, even though he has a new shiny toy, she is still indispensible and utterly necessary for his happiness. If this is not true, he should not say it, but should instead take a deep, hard look at his pre-existing relationship and try to work out why it is not true, and whether he values this relationship enough
• Shows and tells his new partner in every way possible that, even though he still loves his pre-existing partner deeply, she is still indispensible and utterly necessary for his happiness. Again, if this is not true, he should not say it but should try to work out why it is not true, and whether he values this relationship enough to continue to pursue it
• Makes a point of making up for any additional work or responsibility his pre-existing partner will have as a result of him spending time with his new partner. She might, for example, be alone with the children more often while he is out. In this case, he might make sure that he does extra housework or cooking before he goes out, so that she has less to do while he is away.
• Ensures that all of his home responsibilities are met, regardless of his desire to spend more time with his new partner.
• May need to give up (temporarily at least) a hobby or pastime that currently occupies his spare time. Until this situation is resolved to everybody’s satisfaction, he has to accept that he has very little free time because he will need to get extra time from somewhere to meet the needs of both his partners. He may need to put this hobby on the back-burner indefinitely. If this is too difficult or is unacceptable to him, he needs to ask himself whether he values either of his relationships enough if he is not willing to do whatever it takes to make them work out successfully.

The New Partner
• Understands the pre-existing partner’s need for reassurance, so she co-operates with the time reduction
• Makes an effort (without being intrusive) to befriend the pre-existing partner and build a good relationship between them
• Takes the needs of the existing partner into consideration when making plans with the man

The Pre-existing Partner
• Should recognise that this relationship is something apart from her, in which she has no power to interfere. Her man and his new partner have built a relationship between them, and it would be terribly painful for both of them to lose it. At this point, their relationship has to stand or fall on its own merits. It would be very foolish to stand out against it, as it risks losing her partner’s trust that she wants what is best for him, and wants him to be happy. In any case, the knowledge that demanding an end to the relationship would cause pain should be enough to give her pause. Who would want to be the cause of so much pain?
• Will probably need much more attention and reassurance than before this relationship came up
• Will try to appreciate the efforts being made to reassure her and recognise them as an expression of her continuing importance in her man’s life, and of the respect that the new partner has for her and her relationship with their man
• Makes an effort to build a friendship with the new partner. They do not need to be best friends from the start, but they do need to have consideration for one another
• Takes the needs of the new partner into consideration when making plans with the man

All partners
• Should be completely honest and transparent about their feelings, their current plans and their hopes for the future. Lying and prevarication are never acceptable in this situation.
• Should ensure that their own needs (not wants, but needs) are being met, and should speak up (courteously!) when they are not
• Will negotiate arrangements such as outings all together to ensure that nobody’s needs are overlooked, and that nobody feels left out of the decision-making process. Personal commitments and obligations, such as child care, should never be considered optional in these arrangements.

It is vitally important that the two arms of the V (both women in this scenario) make an effort to get along with each other, to keep in contact and to spend time together, as it will make the situation easier for everybody concerned. It is very easy to resent a person who is an inconvenience in your life, especially if you never see or hear from them. Keeping in contact helps the women to remember that they are dealing with a real person, with her own thoughts and feelings, and this helps them to be more considerate of each other’s needs. It is less likely that either woman will say or do things that may hurt the other if they care about and like each other. Each woman is less likely, for instance, to think that she would be much happier living mono with their mutual partner, and to make a push for it.

Additionally, if both arms of the V are understanding and caring of each other, they will earn the gratitude and appreciation of the hinge and also of the other arm of the V. The poly partner who feels understood and supported is less likely to find mono an attractive option, and choose to dump one person in favour of another, or try to encourage their partner to dump a metamour.

It is critical for the arms of the V to communicate directly with one another rather than have all or most of the communication going through the hinge of the V. Indirect communication (e.g. via the hinge) is more likely to be mistaken, garbled or misrepresented than if it is direct. This often leads to needlessly hurt feelings and resentment. It also permits a lot of opportunities for emotional manipulation on all sides, intentional or unintentional. Communication via the hinge also puts a great deal of pressure on the hinge to negotiate, pacify and problem-solve between the arms of the V, which can be utterly exhausting.

Where possible, communicate face-to-face. If this is not possible, communicate by email, text, IM, phone and video link; video link and phone to be preferred over more impersonal means of communicating. However uncomfortable it may be to open up about your needs to the other arm of the V, it is totally worth it, and it does get easier with practice. Yes, it makes you vulnerable, but if the other arm of the V takes advantage of that, you know where you stand, and it is unlikely to endear them to your mutual hinge. The ultimate goal of all this is to build as close a friendship as possible between the two arms of the V, as this will make it easier all round, and may even lead to a very rewarding, if platonic, relationship between them.

It is impossible to over-state the importance of open, direct communication, of kindness and consideration and of complete transparency and honesty in any poly relationship, but they are particularly critical in a case such as this. Lying, prevarication, selfishness and wilful self-deception will lead to a lot of pain all round, and, almost inevitably, to disaster for the relationships.


  1. Where was you when I could of used you.

    Good stuff here. :-).

  2. About 6 years ago? Raising small children and too busy to draw breath! But it's a shame you didn't find what you needed at the time...

    Thank you for the compliment. :o)

  3. A good post. Thank you for this; it's helpful at the moment. :)

  4. Thank you for the comment, Polly. I'm glad the post is helpful. I'm rather late seeing this comment - life has been busy - but I hope things are working out well for you all.

  5. This post is INCREDIBLE!!! If you read my blog you know why I say this...
    I look forward to reading the rest of this blog, and thank you for your very insightful and helpful comment on mine...I replied to you there finally today if you want to read it. Thank you Thank you.

  6. Thank you, New#3. I'm glad my comment was helpful, and I hope you are feeling better.

  7. Given the situation I, (the pre-existing partner) have very recently found myself in, I feel like you wrote this personally for me, my husband, and his new partner. It's an old blog entry but I couldn't have read this at a better time, as I am meeting his new partner tomorrow for the first time. I will probably read it another 10 times before the meeting :) Thank you......

  8. I'm so glad you're finding it helpful, Kim. I hope your first meeting goes well for you all. Please do let us know! :)

  9. I enjoyed reading and sent it to my partner to read as well. Question is what happens when the two arms dont get along? What if they have tried but they dont like each other?

  10. Hello Andrea,

    Thanks for the comment, I am sure Deorccwen will comment eventually but I thought I would chime in and say, I would hope the two arms could at least be respectful of each other and understanding of each others needs to have time and love from their mutual partner. Being a good metamour is not necessarily about liking one another or being friends, it is about being respectful of the other persons needs.