Thursday, August 28, 2008

Secondary Trouble in Poly/Mono Land

Recently someone wrote to an e-mail group I'm on describing a difficult relationship situation she's in. She has a poly partner whose wife is monogamous. She believed the wife to be consenting, but it turns out that her relationship with the husband is creating drama in an already rocky marital relationship. To make matters worse, it's an LDR (long distance relationship.)

I felt a lot of sympathy reading her story. It's very difficult being involved with someone who's married and whose marriage isn't in good shape. I was once there myself, and since that time I have placed a high priority on determining the health of the other relationships of anyone with whom I'm thinking of getting involved. Same for the relationships my primary gets into, since discord in such relationships can have what I refer to as the ripple effect. If my sweetie and his sweetie are in crisis because of conflict in *her* other relationship over his and her relationship, it may affect my sweetie's mood, the amount of emotional energy he has available for me, etc.

From what I heard in her story, there were two primary issues - (1) the dysfunction in her poly partner's marriage, and (2) her partner's wife's tendency to try to control the husband's secondary relationship. These can be and likely are related, of course, but they are also issues that must be dealt with separately as much as possible.

Obviously the girlfriend is limited in what she can do about how the husband and wife relate to each other other than offer support and encouragement without taking sides (more on that below). But she has more power to affect her relationship with the wife.

I was in a primary relationship with a man who also had another love to whom he was very close. She and I just didn't click, but what we did agree on was that we wanted him to be happy and that we both needed to respect each other's place in his life in order for that to happen. She, too, was a committed poly person, which made coming to that understanding easier.

I recommended that the poly girlfriend invite her guy's wife to lunch if she could manage to travel to their area or at least to have a telephone conversation. Barring that, she could at least write her a letter. Face to face is always best, as it's a lot less easy to villify the other person or make mistaken assumptions about their meaning, since we can ask for clarification right there on the spot. But if the wife isn't willing, she could still communicate with the wife by e-mail.

As an aside, I pointed out that it's important to talk with the poly boyfriend/husband before proceeding so as to make sure the timing is optimal. It wouldn't be good to begin this process when the wife is having a bad day.

Whatever the means of communication, it could go a long way to express and affirm respect for the marital relationship, good wishes for its wellbeing, and commitment not to do anything to interfere with or undermine it. This would be the right place to ask for the same in return. The girlfriend could also invite the wife to share, if wife is willing, what she fears, and the girlfriend could ask how she can help the wife to feel more comfortable with her presence in the poly husband's life. If the girlfriend can do this with sincerity and patience, she may be able to make some progress with the wife. And because husband and wife are having problems with their relationship, the poly girlfriend could also commit specifically not to take sides in their conflict, to offer her support when and as appropriate, and to pledge to stay out of it beyond that.

I recommended that the girlfriend tell wife that she hopes to develop a sense of trust between them. This is accomplished first with words, and then by backing them up with behavior that demonstrates sincerity, integrity and trustworthiness.

Girlfriend may have to be the one to take the high road on all this if she is willing. Hopefully wife can/will rise to the occasion and do the same. It may not go perfectly, and there may be missteps along the way that require respectful, patient, heartfelt communication and forgiveness, but tenacity and a will to make it work on the girlfriend's part without crowding wife too much may well eventually make girlfriend's presence in husband's life not much of an issue for the wife.

These recommendations were made only to the extent that girlfriend can implement them with honesty and sincerity, of course. Only she knows what she can and can't authentically offer to her poly boyfriend's wife.

No comments: