#423 & #424: Relationships aren’t transitive.

Dear Captain Awkward

I’m currently in a happy poly relationship where me and this other individual are dating the same person (X) whom we both have a primary relationship with (the girl and I have a secondary relationship). X recently proposed to us but, for a very good reason, will officially marry Y (the other girl) and will marry both of us in a private joining of hands ceremony. While I love both of them very much marriage terrifies me and I can’t really articulate why. It’s more like a general feeling of no I don’t want to do that. The problem is I don’t feel like I can say anything to X because I don’t want to scare him away from marriage- it’s complicated but basically X didn’t want to get married again ever but outside circumstances have forced the issue and while I’m thrilled to hear he’ll marry Y I wasn’t thrilled to hear that it came with the added secondary wedding.

Thus how do I bring up the fact I don’t want a marriage ceremony even after saying yes because I was drinking and it was a shock and I didn’t want to ruin the moment? Also how do I bring up the fact that I’m holding out for someone I could see myself being married to as opposed to my current two partners whom I can see being with for the rest of our lives and being very good friends with but I frankly can’t guarantee that we will always be romanticly and/or sexually tied? Finally how do I get out of the secondary marragie without jeopardizing the first marrrage which is rather important that it happens? 

Uncertain about marriage

Dear Uncertain:

You actually seem very certain about marriage, in that you do not want it. Therefore, under no circumstances should you marry (even in a not-legally-binding fashion) anyone. Here is your script:

I really want you guys to get married and am happy for you and I love you both (all?). However, now that I’ve had a chance to sober up and think it through, I don’t want to participate in any kind of marriage ceremony of my own, and would like to stick with our current jam.”

You don’t actually have to give any reason beyond “I don’t want to.” Having a general feeling that you don’t want to get married IS a reason, nay, THE reason to not get married. “I can’t really explain why, but I know that I just don’t want to.” Marriage, outside of the legal status, means different things to different people. If this isn’t what marriage feels like or means to you, then don’t do it.

If somehow that jeopardizes the first marriage, that’s not your problem. X also gets to decide that he does not want to get married. If your withdrawal is enough to scare him off, then he maybe doesn’t actually want to get married. Which is a great reason to not get married.

Whatever health insurance/work visa/Green Card/spouse exemption from testifying in court/tax deduction reason that this marriage “needs” to happen, it can happen without you. If the others pressure you about this, and try to make it your fault or blame you if the whole thing falls apart, they are WAY out of line. You’re not stopping them from doing whatever they want to do, and if they don’t want to do it, then they must have some reservations of their own that weren’t created by you.

This is because relationships aren’t transitive! Isn’t the whole poly jam is that X and Y can have their relationship, and you and X can have your relationship, and you and Y can have your own kind of relationship, and you all get to define and negotiate your own boundaries for what that means and what you want to do? That means that YOU, Letter Writer, get to define YOUR own boundaries for what kind of relationship YOU want. Which means not marrying anyone you don’t want to marry. If something is not working for YOU, then it is not working, period.

The sooner you speak up and rip the bandaid off, the sooner they can go about planning their wedding, perhaps with you as celebrator-in-chief.

Dear Captain Awkward,

My partner left his wife a year ago. (We’re all polyamorous, and our relationship began with her blessing and permission.) She was emotionally and verbally abusive to him. I had lived with the two of them for many years, and I moved out when I finally recognized the abuse, and admitted to myself that the situation was not improving and not going to improve. It was one of my hardest decisions, and I felt I was abandoning my partner. I thought that when he recognized the abuse for himself and moved out (a year later), things would get better and he would cease contact with her. Instead, he spends time with her every week, because he wants to stay friends with her. And he admits this is at least partly out of fear of what she might do if he doesn’t. He also claims to be testing his ability to maintain boundaries with her, so that he doesn’t “get into a relationship like that again”.

This is hard enough, but he keeps pushing me to talk with her as well. He thinks I would somehow benefit from talking with her, despite the rage and outright hatred I feel towards this person. I accept his right to decide who he wants in his life and how. I accept that he doesn’t want to talk about the abuse, so most of our circle of friends doesn’t realize how bad things were, or why I want nothing to do with her. But damn I’m sick of being told that I need to learn forgiveness for a person who does unforgivable things.

I want to continue being here for my partner and helping him heal. I’ve also recently recognized that when I lived with my partner and his wife, she was also emotionally and verbally abusive to me. This compounds my difficulty in dealing with the situation. My Team Me is very small, because most of our friends don’t know about/understand/recognize the abuse, and I don’t know how to talk with them without saying more than my partner wants known by our circle about what he went through. He doesn’t believe he’ll receive support because he is a man who was abused by a woman.

Any advice from you and the Awkward Army would be appreciated so much. I feel like I’m suffocating on secrets and expectations.

Can’t Forgive

Dear Can’t Forgive,

This is a rough situation. The good news is that relationships aren’t transitive. If your partner wants to unwisely carry on a relationship with his former abuser, that does not automatically obligate you to have a relationship with her, too. And if you need to reach out to a trusted friend or two and be honest about what happened to you, you are allowed to ask for that support from your friends. You can do that without disclosing your partner’s business. You are also allowed to seek friendships that do not touch on your partner at all.

Here is a script for your partner:

Partner, to be honest, I find it very troubling that you remain so entangled with your ex-wife, and I sincerely wish that you would cut off contact with her and let yourself heal and move on. But I also realize that is your decision, and that you are allowed to manage your relationship with her in whatever way you choose. But I absolutely draw the line at having any interaction with her myself. She abused me. I don’t forgive her. I don’t like her. I don’t want to know her anymore. So please do not ask me again to spend time with her, and please look into some counseling so that you have a safe place (that is not me) to discuss your interactions with her.

As for talking about it with friends, you can tell your partner:

Partner, I don’t want to spread your business around among the friend group, but I am not going to lie and pretend everything is great.”

With friends, you can say “Partner still sees his ex-wife sometimes. I prefer to avoid her entirely. I don’t think she treated either of us very well.” That’s honest and to the point. You don’t have to go into why if you don’t want to. But you don’t have to lie and pretend that everything is great and that you all want to hang out – I mean, they know he got divorced, right? They can fill in the blanks themselves that there was some reason for it.  And find SOMEONE you can talk to. This is eating you up.

I understand why people feel sensitive about revealing abuse they’ve suffered and worry that people won’t be supportive, so I would never pressure anyone to disclose if they are not comfortable. But shame & silence helps abusers cover up what they did, and you don’t have to conspire to keep this lady’s secrets when they affected you, too.


29 thoughts on “#423 & #424: Relationships aren’t transitive.

  1. Re: 423 LW:
    I’m not clear why X “has” to marry LW as well as Y – if there is some big reason he has to marry Y, fine, but if X wants to stay unmarried, even un”married” as the states would recognize it, then it seems like a perfect situation where LW can continue having the relationships with X and Y that s/he has now and X and Y can legally tie the knot and no one is coerced or locked into anything they don’t want. It’s sweet, I think, that X proposed to you both (LW and Y), and maybe he did so because he wants to assure LW that his feelings are unchanged. From what I have read in the poly literature, X can continue his relationship with LW without forcing LW into marriage.
    Did I miss something?

    Of course if LW feels weird about being an un-committed third wheel with two people for whom LW was previously a committed third wheel (on a tricycle), maybe they could reaffirm their love for LW during X and Y’s wedding, without making it a triple marriage.
    Just spitballing here.

    Re: 424 LW:
    100% agreement as always with the Captain. It’s this kind of drama that made me slip away from the poly pool before I got in too deeply. I wish everyone much luck and all the love they can handle.

  2. LW 1:

    First of all, no one can guarantee that they will be in love and have pantsfeelings for a lifetime. Please don’t hold yourself up to that high standard. Stephenie Meyer doesn’t make the rules (and thank god for that). I think it is fine to say ‘I didn’t want to ruin the moment. Now that I’ve sobered and thought about it some more, I don’t want to get married. But I’m so happy for you guys.’


    I’m glad you moved out! I think your partner is trying to make sense of things against all odds and he’s asking for your approval of the lies he tells himself to cope. He’s likely being spoon-fed abuse every day and it has warbled his idea of what is true.
    You can’t be there for him unless you take care of yourself first. That involves having no contact with your former abuser.

  3. Heh – I thought you didn’t do poly questions. 😛

    As a poly person, I’d just like to add that even in a V-style relationship there’s more than just the one-on-one thing. For example, I have a relationship with X and I have a relationship with Y and those are romantic relationships. I live with both of them. X and Y have a friendship that they need time to maintain (another relationship). And then there’s the IXY relationship, which is different than the IX or IY friendship or romantic relationship. it’s hard to quantify or describe, but it very definitely exists. I guess the closest I can come to describing it is as a family relationship, only everyone in the family is a non-sib adult.

    Uncertain’s “secondary marriage” issue is sort of a real problem because the meta-relationship will feel strained if she bows out, and she will feel that strain. Her options, if the others stay hurt, are pretty much to go along with it, to let the other two marry and deal with the strain, or to leave them both and move on. The strain is not insurmountable, but it does exist. When your partner starts seeing someone else (just as when your mom has another child), you *are* in a relationship of some sorts with that person and how that meta-relationship (family) works out depends on how much effort and energy people invest in it. (Theoretically X could say “I don’t want to know anything about the other person you’re dating,” but even if that were the case, X’s partner’s life is affected by their other partners, so X would be affected, too.) Alternately, and preferably, they can willingly accept her decision.

    I dearly do hope that Uncertain’s partners respect and love her enough to accept her “I don’t want to marry,” marry each other, and everyone gets on with their lives happily. Her boyfriend probably feels like, in order to maintain balance in the relationship, he has to marry both of them, but if Uncertain lets him know that she will not feel lessened by not marrying him, it may make him less angsty about it.

    1. Well, these aren’t making “poly” sound like a good time, for sure. But messed-up situations are messed-up situations. 🙂

      I think the LW should risk “the strain.” FEEL THE STRAIN, Uncertain. Feel the strain.

      1. To be fair, though, most of the questions you have don’t make the relationship sound like a good time! However, happy secure poly folk don’t write in as much 🙂

        1. Absolutely fair! I get the “poly means you are always responsible for everyone’s feelings” and “poly means you never really break up with anyone” subset. 🙂

    2. As I interpret it, the ‘relationships aren’t transitive’ adage doesn’t mean that another person’s relationship to someone else doesn’t effect you, because it does, but that it doesn’t transfer to you. We have a lot of steps and halves in my family, so this makes a lot of sense to me because I have separate relationships with a lot of interconnected people, e.g. I vehemently dislike my (half)sister’s mother =/= I vehemently dislike my (half)sister.

      It’s true that their relationship will have some tangible results for me, e.g., spending the weekend at my sister’s house will involve seeing her mother. But I get to make that choice as part of my relationship with my sister, wholly separate from any questions about whether I want to have a relationship with her mother. It’s a different choice for each individual relationship, although being close to my sister will necessarily bring me closer (in proximity) to the people she chooses to have relationships with.

      1. Another thing “relationships aren’t transitive” means is that even if you want to be close to someone because they are your cousin’s roommate, or your boyfriend’s other girlfriend, it doesn’t come free. You have to do the usual friendship-building stuff, which takes time, and it doesn’t always work.

        Most people realize this in non-poly contexts, but there are people who reason from “I want my partners to get along” or “I want my partners to be close” to assuming that “I love both of these people, and they both love me, so it will all be easy, right?” But rarely in so many words, where the fallacy would be a little too obvious. Sometimes the only thing two people have in common is that they both like you.

    3. Her boyfriend probably feels like, in order to maintain balance in the relationship, he has to marry both of them, but if Uncertain lets him know that she will not feel lessened by not marrying him, it may make him less angsty about it.

      Yes! The beauty of poly is that it’s not constrained to rigid socialized expectations of what relationships “should” look like – in theory – that doesn’t necessarily mean that, in the real world, real people navigating the burden of social expectations successfully internalize that all the time. I think that there’s probably more than a little “supposed to” action going on on all sides here, and that’s completely normal and to be expected.

      Uncertain, follow your instincts. Be gentle with your loves, who may have a hard time processing the difference between “I felt put on the spot and now I’ve had time to think” and “I’m pulling away from this relationship,” and also between “I don’t want to be married” and “I don’t want to be married TO YOU.” Let them know that you’re committed to this relationship, and the most loving thing you can do for them right now is to trust YOURSELF and create a place for yourself within the larger relationship dynamic that feels safest and best, while supporting their desire to do the same.

      I sympathize, so much. I know that it’s very hurtful to my guy that I don’t want to get married again – not to him, not to anybody, ever. I want to be with him, but I do not want to be a Wife. Maybe someday I’ll change my mind, but I doubt it. Maybe someday he’ll decide it’s a dealbreaker, but I hope not. We keep talking about it, and right now, we seem to be okay, and I’d rather savor the right-now than worry about forever. Forever will take care of itself, one day at a time.

      The sooner you speak up and rip the bandaid off, the sooner they can go about planning their wedding, perhaps with you as celebrator-in-chief.

      I just want to repeat this for truth, and with the added point that maybe a conversation about how you can happily be involved can be both a reassurance and a positive topic of conversation.

    4. “Her boyfriend probably feels like, in order to maintain balance in the relationship, he has to marry both of them, but if Uncertain lets him know that she will not feel lessened by not marrying him, it may make him less angsty about it.”

      Some people conflate treating different people in their relationships “fairly” with treating them “equally.” He may be making the assumption that he needs to marry you so that you’ll feel equal in the relationship going forward, but what he needs to do is focus on treating you fairly, and that includes listening to you when you explain why you don’t want/need to be married to him to continue in the relationship.

      1. Yes, this. My feel is that he didn’t want her to feel left out, so was looking for a way to “equalize” the relationship. Not a bad thing, but yeah, time to run with the Captain’s script!

  4. To the second letter writer, YES, please find a friend who isn’t part of your partner’s circle, or else seek out a therapist who is professionally bound not to discuss your stuff outside your visits. I understand and admire your desire to respect your partner’s privacy, but his ex also behaved badly toward YOU, and you absolutely have a right to talk about what you went through with someone you trust.

  5. Can’t Forgive —

    There’s a fine line between respecting a partner’s preference about disclosure and being pushed into a closet about your own life. I think that your partner’s preferences can control in a whole lot of situations but you still need an outlet, you still need a place to be heard, and you still need support. You are in a very difficult situation.

    So… I dunno, besides get therapy, and get an outside friend.

    But also, remember this: Your life is *yours*. Even as his life is his and he owns that, your life is *yours* and you get to decide who you talk to about your own stuff. So maybe you don’t talk about how she abused him in that house, but I think you can dang well talk about how she abused you!

    If you can get him into counseling too, I hope you do. I dearly hope he’s wrong about how people in your circles will react to him, as a male victim of abuse; I hope he can come to terms and come out. And also wow, I hope the two of you can face down whatever he fears she’ll do if he cuts contact for good and get ultimately free of her.

    But even if none of that works, wow, it breaks my heart that he wants you to make nice with this woman. He is so stuck, and you’re stuck there with him, and it’s so awful. I am so so sorry!

  6. I so feel for both of you!

    Can’t Forgive – For several years I was in a quad – and both my (now-ex) husband and my other guy’s wife were emotionally abusive, gaslighting, manipulative, backstabbing, generally destructive people. We went through two divorces in ten months, and landed in a perpendicular split – the exes are together, and so are we.

    Let me tell you, I adore this man to the ends of the earth, but his insistence on maintaining “friendly contact” with both the woman who abused him (and me!) AND THE MAN WHO ABUSED ME (and him!) make me froth at the mouth. Thankfully I have a best friend who is completely on board with my burn-it-all-never-look-back feeling about these relationships, and is happy to listen to me vent, as well as a completely new, hobby-based social circle who love and support us both and don’t know them at all. (I CANNOT RECOMMEND THIS APPROACH STRONGLY ENOUGH. Don’t lose your old friends, but make some new ones, together!) And he’s gradually moved from a position of “MUST STAY FRIENDS!” to “must be civil in public!” (Yay! There’s hope for your guy too!) So I feel better, generally, about the situation than you seem to, but it’s obviously not ideal.

    And the hardest thing – you don’t say this, but I’m going to indulge in a little projection here and suspect it’s happening for you too – the hardest thing is watching him engage, and get hurt, and engage, and get hurt, when he doesn’t have to. But here’s the thing: “he doesn’t have to”? That’s my POV. Not his. He still feels the need to try, and I have to respect that, even though it SUCKS, and it hurts me too. We’ve talked extensively about this, and we’ve made progress; he no longer pressures me to have any contact of any kind, and he’s increasingly open to talking to how each encounter is hurtful and how this moral-high-ground approach is maybe not the healthiest. I have faith that his understanding of what happened will continue to evolve over time.

    The Captain’s concise and precise script for friends is awesome, and one I use myself. And sometimes simply “We don’t stay in touch.” There are many ways to communicate “there were REASONS” without being TMI about it.

    1. Yeah, a flat, final, “We’re not talking anymore.” says that there are all KINDS of Reasons up in there. My standard for talking about my abusive(?) ex is “We’re not together anymore. It ended badly. + *slight pause* + TOPICCHANGE”. To this date, nobody has pressed me for any kinds of details. While he was never really integrated into my friendsgroup, I doubt that if he had been they would invite him to parties, either.

  7. Wow, Can’t Forgive, I read your letter and at first I had to ask “Did I write this??” Because yeah, I’ve been there – with the added complication that OH and I had a child together, and it was her that moved out, not us.

    It was bad enough though that for the sake of our child I had to say “This woman is toxic, and I will not expose my child to her any longer. If she comes back, I’m leaving.” This happened whilst the wife was out of the country; she didn’t know about my ultimatum, but for reasons of her own decided to stay there and didn’t come back.

    For his own reasons, OH has tried to stay friends with her, but I’ve made it quite cleare that whilst I know it would make his life easier were she and I to be on friendly terms, he has no right to demand I ever forgive her for what she did to all of us. She is not, nor ever will be, my friend, and I’ve made it quite clear I will not tolerate any friendly overtures from her towards me. She is out of my life (and more importantly, my child’s life) and as far as we’re concerned, she no longer exists. He’s pretty much given up on trying to tell me what’s going on in her life now as I’ve made it clear I have no interest. I’ve blocked her on FB and Twitter and pretty much everywhere else. I’ve made it clear I don’t want her buying gifts for our child (who hasn’t seen her in over 3 years now and so wouldn’t recognise who this woman is anyway), and should she visit this country again I won’t tolerate her in the house.

    Your partner can carry on a relationship with her if he wants, but you are not obliged to have any form of relationship with anyone you don’t want just because it would make life easier for him. If she reacts badly to that, tough – that’s not your monkey. Only one person gets to decide who you befriend – and that’s you. He gets to have the right to still have her in his life, but he does not get the right to inflict her on you. You have the right to protect yourself. Don’t back down on this. You have the right to your own sovereignty, and you have the right to have that respected.

  8. LW#2,
    I just wanted to add a note about forgiveness. I was abused by someone for several years, got out of that situation after much struggle, and have never seen them again. But after some years, I managed to forgive them, but I did it for me, not for them. Forgiving them helped me let go of the anger and mixed-up mess of feelings I was carrying around. But it didn’t mean I felt I let them back into my life, or even bothered to tell them.

    I think sometimes forgiveness is equated with everything reverts to Happy-Smiley Place Where Everyone Gets Along And Is Hunky Dorry, or something, and that’s not true. And I’m not certain forgiveness is the path to healing for everyone, I just know it was for me. But this is also something that maybe you could clarify to your partner – “maybe I will forgive your ex-wife someday, when I’m ready and on my own time, but that does not equate letting her back into my life.”

    1. I would say further to this, that I think it’s a fairly common experience for people who have been abused to desperately want to be friends with their abusers after the split, because they want to be the good person that forgives. And to be honest, when I was with my ex, I thought I had forgiven him every time he mistreated me. I acted like I had and I wiped the slate clean – and I believed I had.

      Then when we split, I thought our problem was trying to be in a relationship and we should get along much better as friends. For many months, I worked really hard at this, because I wanted to move on smoothly with my life and I felt I needed him to be okay so I didn’t feel guilty. Then, as this plan began to fail dramatically and I had began to talk to other people about stuff – other people who used words like “abuse” and “domestic violence” to refer to my experience – I felt that cutting things off, refusing to speak to him again, would be acknowledging my status as a “victim” (whatever that was) and I was really afraid of that.

      But gradually I realised that it was impossible to forgive my ex because I had never really faced what he had done. I was having PTSD at this time, which meant that various events which I had very neatly drawn a line under and managed – with horrifying success – to push from my mind for years (what I thought was forgiveness), suddenly came back to me in flashbacks and nightmares. And I was desperate to forgive him properly, if this meant I could move on with my life without all this mental disruption (especially as the PTSD was the one thorn in the side of a very much improved life).

      Instead, it was a good while after I left when I got really scared and then, to be honest, really terrifically angry. And then, very slowly, that anger wore off, but I’m not sure about forgiveness – it’s more, increasing indifference. Which will do me.

      Anyway, point is, as far as Can’t Forgive is concerned, it may be her chap hasn’t really forgiven anything, because he hasn’t yet accepted the abuse for everything it was. If others in his life don’t know about it, then that will reinforce things. It’s almost like it didn’t happen and it is most certainly like what happened wasn’t all that terrible.

      The point about that is to never feel bad for struggling to “forgive”. You have conscious control over what you do with your feelings, of course, but I’m not sure that, especially following prolonged abuse, you have too much conscious control over how you feel about that. Unfortunately, neither does your partner – wherever he is, he is where he is, and his feelings with evolve or not at their own pace. You’re both forced to allow the other to do what each of you feel you need to do. But there is the possibility that you are ahead of him in coming to terms with what happened.

      However, I’m totally with the Captain and others about the difference between your partner’s secrets and your own. Abusers tend to drum into their victims ideas about discretion, about not washing dirty laundry in public and so forth, and that’s very dangerous. The abuse that happened to you is your story, and you can do what you like about that – tell all your friends, put it on the internet, talk about it on national TV if you so choose. You can also tell no-one at all, but that is entirely up to you. These are dramatic and traumatic events that continue to effect your life, not the mysterious behaviour of your partner’s bowels whenever they eat sweet potatoes.

      TLDR: Forgiving abuse is very complicated and not a measure of a person’s virtue. Your own experience of abuse is not someone else’s private business.

      1. This: “Abusers tend to drum into their victims ideas about discretion, about not washing dirty laundry in public and so forth, and that’s very dangerous. The abuse that happened to you is your story, and you can do what you like about that – tell all your friends, put it on the internet, talk about it on national TV if you so choose. You can also tell no-one at all, but that is entirely up to you.”

        My ex would say I could not talk about him, it’s private = I cannot talk about me either since he was entwined in my life. It is a way to control you, period. When I talk about the abuse I suffered, he is a part of that and I can damn well talk about it to whomever I wish.

    2. I tend to define forgiveness as the emotional equivalent of a business writing off bad debt. In that it is a cessation of seeking redress rather than a return to trading / the previous relationship state.

      1. I really like this way of looking at it – I have a slightly different definition of forgiveness but I think the bad-debt model is a very useful way to look at some relationships. Thanks for sharing!

      2. I like that likeness 🙂 You’ll stop trying to get the money, but you also sure as hell won’t lend them any more.

    3. Yes to all of this. I was planning to say something similar re: “But damn I’m sick of being told that I need to learn forgiveness for a person who does unforgivable things.”

      A) Fact. Me too. And there is no need to forgive the unforgivable when you don’t want to.
      B) BUT–forgiveness can be very healing. But forgiveness does NOT mean you now have to play nice or even talk ever again. That part is teh bullshits.

      One of the most useful talks I have ever heard in my own life discussed this concept, and I will never forget its main points: “Forgiveness is letting go of the anger that you are entitled to.” (You have the right to keep being mad! But you’re giving that up *for you* to move on with *your* life and relationships.) and “Forgiveness does NOT require reconciliation. In fact, in some cases (like abuse), it is better to never reconcile.”

      I wish I had a link to the studies he discussed. But the gist was that survivors of abuse, rape, and incest were emotionally healthier, happier, and more successful in relationships (5? 10?) years later if they forgave their abusers but *did NOT reconcile* than if they either did not forgive or forgave and reconciled. In fact, I think the forgive-and-reconciled group was the worst off. I’ll see if I can google-find it later when I have more time.

  9. Oh, LW 2, I truly feel for you. It’s a tough situation; but I do want to give you this encouragement: Being someone who stands up for their own needs and sets clear boundaries means worlds to those who need to but are having a tough time doing it themselves. You can’t do it for them, but you can be their role-model.

    Be your Awesome Self and a better world will follow. One way or another, your partner will gain strength from you.

  10. Dear LW2:

    Everyone has already said lots of good stuff to you. I would just emphasize that even if your partner doesn’t want to talk about his relationship with your mutual ex or describe it as abusive, that doesn’t stop you from talking about your relationship with your mutual ex or describing it as abusive. If you want to–and you sure don’t have to–you can tell your friends, “I’m no longer interested in being in the same room as [ex], ever, because she emotionally and verbally abused me when I was living with her.”

    If your friends inquire as to your partner’s previous or current relationship with her, you have two options:

    1) Shrug and say, “You should ask [partner] about that. We’re different people and I don’t speak for him. I’m just letting you know where my personal boundaries are.” (I have found “I don’t speak for my partner(s), so please talk to them them directly” an invaluable tool in my polyamory toolbox.)

    2) Be a little more forthcoming and say, “When they were partners, I wasn’t comfortable with the dynamic between them or between [ex] and myself, so I moved out. [Partner] is working on building a healthy friendship with [ex] now, and I hope it’s possible for them to do that. I do not have any desire to be friends with her myself. [Partner] and I are different people with different boundaries.”

    If you like, you can reassure them that you’ve given your partner the go-ahead to keep hanging out with your ex and he’s not going behind your back or anything like that; you can also tell them that it’s hard for you sometimes that he’s still close with her. Every relationship has places where someone says “I consent to this but it’s hard for me” and hopefully they’ll understand that. But you get to draw your own boundaries, and they absolutely do not have to be where your partner’s are, any more than his have to be where yours are.

    If the situation remains uncomfortable for you, eventually you may have to sit your partner down and tell him just how hard it is on you that he is staying friends with your ex, because it means you’re exposed to her and to people talking about her a lot more than you want to be, and it restricts you from talking about things that were very hard for you. At that point it really becomes a question of how much your partner values and prioritizes your desire to feel safe and comfortable and able to talk honestly with your friends versus his desire to test his boundaries or his fear of how she’d retaliate if he cut off contact. That is a very hard conversation to have. It’s probably worth having anyway.

    Best of luck.

  11. LW2, there is some awesome advice here, but I am going to be a little harsher: Partner is borderline abusive. People who are abuse survivors can also be abusers (sometimes at the same time as they are being abused). Partner is trying to shame and guilt-trip you into making nice with Ex by saying that you need to “learn forgiveness” – as if the problem is that you have some kind of personality defect! Partner is continuing to have a relationship with Ex and is gaslighting you (and, sadly, probably himself) about it by claiming that it’s part of his healing process. Partner is silencing you and cutting you off from help from Team You by pretending that his choice to talk/not talk about Ex absolutely trumps YOUR choice to talk/not talk about ex.

    You say you need to be here for Partner and help him heal – is he doing you the same favor? Doesn’t sound like it.

    If you still want to stay with Partner I highly recommend following the wise advice above about setting boundaries with Partner and not allowing him to dictate to what extent you are allowed to talk about, and heal from, your abuse.

  12. LW1: At the time that my husband and I got married, he had another primary partner and the three of us lived together. She didn’t want to get married. So the two of us got married, and she was our woman of honor, and the three of us stayed together for several more years. I just wanted to let you know that this situation can work, and that your decision not to get married doesn’t have to ruin things for them.

    LW2: I’ve been in a relationship with someone who had an emotionally abusive primary partner. *Jedi hugs*, if you want them.

    I don’t blame you for being unhappy that he’s still spending time with her. I don’t buy that thing he says about “testing his ability to maintain boundaries with her, so that he doesn’t get into a relationship like that again.” The reality is that he’s still mired in “a relationship like that” to some degree for as long as he’s still spending time with her “at least partly out of fear of what she might do if he doesn’t.” (You don’t mention what he fears she might do, but in case it’s relevant, I will mention that calling emergency services is an option if she’s threatening self-harm.) So, yeah, he’d be better off limiting contact with her. At the end of the day, that’s a choice he has to make for himself, and you may find it helpful for your own peace of mind to let go of this decision that’s not in your control.

    As for forgiving her and letting go of your rage and hatred – that’s a personal choice, not something you owe anyone else, and it would probably be easier to do if you weren’t being pressured to spend time with the person who makes you ragey. (I kind of wonder if he’s pressuring you because she’s pressuring him. Either way, it’s not okay.) Refusing to have contact with her is a 100% appropriate boundary, regardless of whether or not you forgive her, just because you’re happier when she’s not around.

  13. LW1, I was in a poly marriage for 5 years where I wanted to be partnered but not “married” to X, but our Y really wanted to be married. I participated in our equivalent of the joining of hands ceremony X wants and I ended up regretting it. The word “married” made me feel trapped and unhappy, even though nothing else had changed. The text in the back of my head changed from “I stay because I want to and I love them” to “I stay because I’m married and I can’t leave now even if I want to”. Trust me – it’s worth it just to keep the peace. Take time to sit down with them and say “I love you both so much and I really want you to be happy and get married to each other. I want to support you at your wedding, but I don’t feel like it’s right for me to get married right now. I just can’t shake this feeling in the pit of my stomach that it’s not right. I don’t care about you any less than I did the day you proposed and I don’t want out of our relationships, but this is important to me. Please be understanding and support me in this.”

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