#740: Roles, evolution, and the risks and rewards of big honesty.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’ve been married to my husband for five years, and in a relationship with him for fifteen years.  About four years ago, we became poly with a friend. At the time, she was our roommate and had just separated from her fiancé. He was deeply immature, and she has an abusive family background. She had also been through a sexual assault. While we were helping her get through the assault, we became quite close, and discovered that we were both attracted to her. When we found that the attraction was mutual, we formed a closed poly triad with her.

In the last year, she has twice demanded to have absolute relationship equality to my marriage with my husband, despite our 15 years of history together. She has also stated that she wishes to have children with my husband – a condition I cannot accept under any circumstances. Because of this, and some other issues, she and I are no longer partners. However, my husband has depression and PTSD, and he cannot make a decision about what he wants from this situation (his preferred situation, that we go back to being a triad or at least a V, cannot happen because of her demands). 

She still lives with us, and she continues to state her intention to convince my husband to have children with her. For me, the ideal situation would be for them to break up and for her to move out. My husband’s depression is so severe right now, however, that he cannot decide what he wants (and has said so). The ongoing situation is putting a strain on our marriage and destroying the peace of our home life. However, if she left, he would have a PTSD meltdown because his PTSD was caused by behavior of hers before we even became a triad. She knows this, and has used it several times in the past several years to get her way when she wants something, usually something I am not comfortable with.

I have to live with her and she is passive-aggressive and combative. There are times that, no matter what I say, she has to contradict it.  I promised my husband I would try to support his relationship with her, but she tells me that the things I do in that direction are suspicious and remind her of an abusive parent. She and I had a long discussion the other day and during that conversation she told me that she refuses to be second to anyone. I have talked with several poly people about her demands. No one thinks they are reasonable, but because my husband does not know what he wants, I am living with the situation. My main goal is for him not to be hurt, however unlikely or even impossible that may be at this point.  Her goal is to be equal to me in his life, apparently even if he gets hurt in the process. I have not demanded that he throw her out for two reasons:  1) I don’t want to hurt him and 2) I don’t want him to trigger when she leaves, again because it would hurt him. 

I want my husband to be happy, but this situation is killing me.  I want us all to be happy, but I don’t see how the V she and he want (even though he still doesn’t know if he wants to have children with her at all and she is openly working toward that) is even possible.

A friend of mine who knows about the situation said that it reminds them of King Solomon with the two women fighting over the baby – that one woman is putting her needs over the baby’s and the other is putting the baby’s needs over hers. My goal is for him not to get harmed. Her goal seems to be to get her way.

I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.  My main fear is that if I demand that she leave that he will trigger horribly when she does and that he will resent me and leave me.  He has told me that absolutely won’t happen, but I cannot keep myself from being so frightened of the prospect. And, of course, the idea of him triggering (and getting hurt) is not pleasant either.  I’m also afraid that if I demand that she go that I will be selfish in doing that.  A friend of mine asked me what I would do if I had a secondary partner that demanded to be a primary partner and the comparison stunned me.

If you have any suggestions for how to handle this situation, I need to hear them.

At The End Of My Rope

Dear At The End of Your Rope:

I’m not sure I understand all the nuances and history here, especially around sentences like this: “However, if she left, he would have a PTSD meltdown because his PTSD was caused by behavior of hers before we even became a triad.” (Whatdid she do to him?)

Only some poly relationships run on a primary/secondary model, but even those that do don’t work like law firms where if you just bill enough time as Relationship Associate you will eventually be promoted to Full Partner. Still, it’s not outrageous to me that your partner might want to re-evaluate y’all’s arrangement, especially if she badly wants to have children and if she badly wants to raise those children with you and Husband. You knew Husband first, and you have the legal status of wife, but I don’t think Ms. Partner did anything wrong by raising the issue of “I know I started out as a secondary partner here, but I’d like that to evolve now as I plan for the longer term.” It seems that her wishes really caught you off guard, and that you thought boundaries and expectations were well-established, but relationships do change and the initial ask is not out of bounds.

Where it falls apart is in refusing to acknowledge that one possible answer to “I want _____. Do you also want _____?” is “No, sorry, I don’t.” Her wishes deserve(d) real consideration and a discussion, but ultimately you each have decision-making power here and her wants don’t override yours. She didn’t write to me, so it’s not like I can say “Dear Partner, I’m so sorry that this isn’t working out as you planned, but once you speak from the heart about what you want and are told ‘no,’ and once you are resorting to threats and bullying to try to keep someone in a relationship with you, it’s time to GO. Free yourself up to find someone who wants to be your primary partner and who wants to raise a family with you, and trust that solitude is a better answer than holding others hostage to desires they don’t share.

Your husband didn’t write to me, either, so I can’t tell him that a) depression sucks, and I’m sorry b) PTSD sucks, and I’m sorry c) when you indefinitely delay or defer making a difficult choice you are choosing the status quo. If the idea of having and raising children with your his partner is totally off the table, he should tell her instead of stringing her along. If he is open to the idea of having children with her and trying to work out a long-term relationship, he should tell you “Partner isn’t going anywhere, I love her, and we are going to talk about having a baby.” No doubt mental health concerns are legitimately clouding his decision-making abilities, but I can’t help seeing a situation where he is abdicating in favor of the womenfolk reaching some agreement between them without him having to exert any effort or possibly be the “bad guy” who disappoints anyone. He is putting you in the position of having to constantly work things out with  be subjected to constant friction from someone that you yourself broke up with because the threat of a possible PTSD reaction is constantly hanging over you.

Letter Writer, you are here with us. Let’s talk.

The King Solomon example is about a baby. The baby couldn’t make decisions, so Solomon had to. Your husband is not a baby. I think you should stop talking in terms of what he can do/can withstand and talk instead about what he is choosing or not choosing to do. Remind yourself that he has agency here, even if it feels limited. That’s not just for your husband. “I have to live with her…”Can you re-examine this “have to”? “Husband, I know you are still deciding what you want to do. I have decided that I can’t live like this, so I am going to stay with (friend/family) member while you decide (or while Partner moves out.)” You don’t have to do anything. Right now you are choosing to stay in the house. Partner is choosing not to move out and to keep pursuing motherhood. Husband is choosing not to decide yet. Keep adjusting your language to emphasize choice, and see where it leaves you.

Is your husband treating his depression and PTSD? If you want to help him, do what you can to point him toward mental health care. He could tell a therapist “I may be about to end an important relationship, and I’m worried about possible PTSD reactions” and that therapist can help him plan a self-care regimen to weather the storm. Avoiding something you need to do indefinitely because you’re worried about possible PTSD is a symptom of PTSD, not a strategy to treat or manage PTSD. Plus “I will probably have a PTSD meltdown if you don’t (do something that’s making you really uncomfortable and unhappy)” is just as manipulative to me as “I will *cause* x to have a PTSD meltdown if you don’t (do a thing that is making you really uncomfortable and unhappy).

Are you getting counseling yourself? Do you have someone who can listen to you and support you and help you take care of your own interests here? Can you find a poly-friendly therapist near you, or educate your therapist about polyamory? I know accessing care is more easily said than done, but your husband 100% needs some and you could benefit from some.

What other self-care structures do you have in place for yourself right now? Could you and your wise friend with the King Solomon analogies go out of town for a few days, to give you some space from the situation and let you relax and worry about only yourself for a minute? Are others pulling their weight with household chores, cooking, caregiving, bill-paying or are you absorbing more and more of the burden of keeping everything “normal” for the sake of your husband?

Speaking of self-care, no more long talks with Partner. Y’all broke up. Talk about practical necessities and mundane pleasantries. Anything deeper than that gets a “You should check with Husband about that, I don’t feel comfortable discussing this anymore.” Your life will instantly get better if you can set this boundary. You are no longer trying to create a sustainable relationship with this person, so let go of the need to manage all the details, save one, which I will get to in my next point.

Partner is actively seeking to have a child. Is your husband currently sexually active with Partner? This whole situation is ripe for a contraception failure or “failure.” Are you comfortable asking your husband to agree to not do anything potentially baby-making with Partner until the whole question of the relationship is resolved? If he will not agree to that, then you might have an answer about what his “real” decision is.

Can you honestly say that even a V-shaped relationship, where your husband remains involved with someone who now seems to strongly dislike you, someone who calls you abusive and belittles your attempts to make things work, someone who threatens to leave your husband (and cause him massive distress) to resolve situations where you are uncomfortable in her favor is what you want from your romantic life going forward? To be frank, even if everyone were on their very best behavior I do not think a solution that makes everyone happy is possible. Things have changed. The cheese was moved. You need your husband to side with you on asking Partner to move out of your living space so that at minimum you are not in daily contact with her. She needs him to go along with her plans for a family and to affirm her status as a co-primary partner in his life. He needs y’all to get along so that nothing has to really change for him.

You’ve already told us what your scripts and your needs are:

  • To Husband: “I think that Partner needs to move out and find a new place to live.”
  • To Partner: “I’ve really valued your love and being with you, but I think the relationship has run its course and it’s time for all of us to move on, starting with you finding a new place to live.”
  • To everyone: “I don’t see us becoming one big happy family.”
  • To Husband: “I don’t want you to plan to have a child with her, and in fact, if you remain involved with her I’d like you to take immense precautions about contraception including refraining from anything that might cause pregnancy.”
  • To everyone: “I want to be supportive of your relationship, but not at the expense of being treated like I don’t matter/threatened/told I’m abusive.”
  • To Husband: “Now that Partner and I have ended things between us, I think I need a giant break from her to heal and recover my equilibrium.”
  • To Husband: “I’ve really tried to make this work, but transitioning to a V-shaped thing isn’t working for me.”
  • To everyone: “I don’t know what the answer is, but the status quo is really unlivable for me.”
  • To everyone: “I think we need to be honest about how much things have changed since Partner made her request.”

What if you stated your needs as boldly as Partner is stating hers?

What if you didn’t try to solve the problem of everybody’s happiness and spoke up for your own?

What if your husband is ultimately responsible for his own happiness and his own choices? What if this is true even if he has struggles with mental health?

What if this all didn’t have to be worked out at your expense?

What if, when Partner makes threats, you looked at her with a level gaze and said “I wish you wouldn’t, but I can live with it if you do?”

The risk is the same risk everyone has in big, important talks about the future: You could say/ask, and as with Partner’s hopes, the answer could be “no”, and no amount of time invested in the relationship to date or polling the poly community for “what is done and reasonable” would solve it. I know you are terrified of ending up alone if you assert your needs, and that truly sucks to contemplate, especially after so much time with your husband and how much care and self-sacrifice you want to offer up for his happiness. The very sad, hard thing that I have to tell you is that while King Solomon may have been wise, there is actually no reward for being the most accommodating and silently-suffering partner. The prize for never really speaking up for your needs is that other people feel free to ignore or minimize your needs and act surprised and insulted when you turn out to have them after all. It seems pretty lonely where you are right now, walking on eggshells in your own house. Ms. Partner was brave in speaking up for the kind of relationship that she wanted, and I hope you can take a risk and speak up for what you really want. When you do, I hope the people who love you will grant you as much compassion and consideration as you’ve been granting them.

Moderator Note, 9/3: Time to close the thread. Thanks for a (mostly) constructive discussion.

375 thoughts on “#740: Roles, evolution, and the risks and rewards of big honesty.

  1. I gave PTSD and I really do insist that my partner calls me on my avoidance. I need someone loving and clear headed to remind me what adulthood us about. PTSD might hamper my ability to be clear minded but it never absolves me of having to make choices. I also would hate to think I used it as an excuse to continue hurting my partner or that my partner squashed his needs for fear of ‘triggering’ me.

    You deserve to express your needs. Neither hub or ex partner has precedence, even if you gave power exchange stuff going on.

  2. “However, if she left, he would have a PTSD meltdown because his PTSD was caused by behavior of hers before we even became a triad. She knows this, and has used it several times in the past several years to get her way when she wants something, usually something I am not comfortable with.”

    What?? Wait, what??

    I need more time to process any comment I might make about your situation, but that section of your letter is a huge red flag. Why is she even there if she caused his PTSD? I’m seeing bees and velociraptors right there and all I want to do is scream for you and your husband to run. Especially if she’s manipulating you two with whatever happened. And I wonder if somehow she manipulated both of you into the initial triad so she could get closer to both and then pull this child-demand thing when you’re both emotionally invested. Even if you aren’t anymore, LW, you know he is, and thus she still has control over you.

    I don’t know the full story behind this, obviously, but my instinct after the first read-through of your letter is RUN, BOTH OF YOU, AWAY FROM HER.

    1. Yeah, I’m looking at that and I am trying to keep in mind that this is just LW’s point of view and Partner and/or Husband might have a very different story to tell, but it’s still ringing all the alarm bells. Assuming the LW genuinely and in good faith believes that the PTSD was really, truly caused by Partner’s behaviour, then I can’t see how Partner remaining with Husband is somehow less dangerous to Husband’s mental health and personal well-being than Partner and him going their separate ways (though it looks like it’s going to have to be Husband’s choice to do that, given that Partner doesn’t seem to be out to make any concessions).

    2. I’m wondering if there’s more to the story – if it’s an indirect thing like she was driving and caused a crash that resulted in his PTSD.

      If she abused him, and he got PTSD from that? I really have a hard time understanding how an intimate relationship would be making things better instead of worse.

      Either way, her using his PTSD as leverage to get her way is a bedsheet-sized red flag.

      1. I wondered that too. This is a stab in the dark, of course, but the letter starts making sense to me if I speculate that Partner threatened suicide or engaged in some other form of self-harm. Whether or not that’s meant as emotional abuse, it can have that effect on others while making it socially and psychologically difficult for those others to claim a role as having been harmed, scared, or victimized. It’d go a ways toward explaining why Partner is still around and why LW is cagey on what exactly she did that was so traumatic. It would make Husband’s failure to choose make a certain amount of sense, too, if his strategy has been Everything Is Fine As Long As Nothing Changes (So Oh For The Love Of God Change Nothing).

      2. So many people stay with abusive partners because they’ve been worn down, they have Stockholm Syndrome. We all have a friend or relative with a husband who abuses her, but she can’t leave him because she feels that he’s all she has, and she loves him.

        But yeah, this letter needs some clarification because certain things seem muddled or unclear.

        1. Well, it really doesn’t. The LW doesn’t *need* to tell everyone all the juicy details so we can feast on them; it sounds like she doesn’t want to. Sure, she can be annoyed or find that the Captain’s advice doesn’t perfectly apply because she left out details, and sure she might decide to clarify them. But if she wanted to answer clarifying questions she’d go on the forum; if she wanted total confidential privacy she’d jam with a therapist; she wanted the Captain to publicly fix her life with THESE particular chosen shards of truth and that’s it.

          (I’m not arguing with you, I think you’re absolutely right, I think that sometimes it’s important to remember that the information you get with these letters has always been biased, incomplete and deliberately presented and that is totally completely okay.)

          1. By “clarification” I don’t mean I’d like the gory details, I mean that some parts of the letter aren’t really coherent, and some statements seem… odd. Consider this:

            . “A friend of mine asked me what I would do if I had a secondary partner that demanded to be a primary partner and the comparison stunned me”

            Who shot who in the what now? I thought that was the exact situation laid out here? She and her husband had a secondary partner who was asking to renegotiate her status?

            That’s what I mean about clarification, among other (mostly timeline-related) things, and other apparent contradictions.

          2. Oh, I totally get you! Though unreliable narrators hardly ever like being told that they are such – they’re trying to put together a narrative where they are the center and the hero, and their decisions are validated by the public arena.

          3. It just seemed muddled, and like it kept looping back on itself, but ending up in a slightly different place each time. We have 33% of the story here, and my gut instinct soooo badly wants the other viewpoints!

          4. I think by“A friend of mine asked me what I would do if I had a secondary partner that demanded to be a primary partner and the comparison stunned me” she means that her friend asked her what she would do if she were in her husband’s position. But I’m not sure what conclusion the LW came to after thinking about that question.

          5. Big Pink Box On: the jist I got from the thing with the friend, given the rest of the letter was: “friend asked what I would do in husbands situation: how would your behaviour look, what would your priorities be , etc” and that the lw was shocked because (based on the content of her letter), her primary concern would be the well being of her marriage and spouse, and she’d make decisions in consideration of and to protect both of those.

      3. It doesn’t need to be that dramatic, necessarily. You can get secondary PTSD simply because a person you know or care about has been through a traumatic experience, even if it didn’t affect you directly. But the LW has been very vague on this point, so I’m not really sure.

      4. Yeah I don’t think it matters so much what Partner did to ’cause’ the PTSD- the fact that she has been using its existence to manipulate Husband and LW into getting her way means Here Be Bees and the response to bees is to get them away. If she did something abusive to cause the PTSD in the first place, that just means The Bees Have Been Here for a Long Time! and the response is still to get the bees away.

    3. I don’t know, I’m kind of getting a RUN AWAY FROM BOTH OF THEM! feeling on this one. The husband sounds so passive and, frankly, manipulative what with the constant threat of him having a PTSD episode if either of his partners were ever to stop fighting over him like he’s a prize and leave. (Or even just… do something unspecified? Like Ms. Partner apparently did years ago? Which was implied to have been awful enough to cause LW’s husband’s PTSD, yet simultaneously not important enough to be named or described at all, and also her victim still wants to be with her years later even at the expense of his own marriage? Yeah, that’s not adding up. One of these three people is a master manipulator for sure, but I’m not totally convinced it’s Ms. Partner.)

      I see a lot of debate below about equality in triads, but here’s a fact: this dude has been OP’s husband for years and he quite literally swore a vow to forsake all others for her. That’s not to say that commitments can’t end or change, but I’m getting the impression that the LW is enormously pissed off that her husband won’t pick her, but directing it all toward Ms. Partner because she’s so caught up in this idea of a Solomon contest/her identity as the Long Suffering Good Woman.

      LW, it is not right that your main goal is “for him not to be hurt.” You have needs and wants and (hopefully) standards for the relationships you’re in too, and the Captain is right: It’s very important that you realize them and voice them. How do you feel right now about the fact that your husband won’t choose you? How do you feel about the fact that he’s considering having children with this woman who you hate and who hates you? How do you think you would feel – yes, you, not your husband! – if you were to act on your conviction that the current situation is untenable and separate from him temporarily?

      1. I have to agree. If my partner resented me for cutting someone who’d become actively hostile and threatening to me out of my life to the point that he’d be willing to end the relationship over it, I don’t think he’d get the chance to be the one to end things. This isn’t selfishness, LW. It’s self-preservation.

      2. Let’s not assume we know what’s in other people’s marriage agreements/ceremonies. That “literally swore a vow to forsake all others” is common in Christian marriage ceremonies; it’s not part of the civil ceremony I had in New York, or the others I’ve seen. Neither the vow, nor the promise of monogamy.

        It’s not clear from the letter whether the letter writer and her husband had considered poly/nonmonogamy before they both fell for Partner, but “we didn’t talk about this” is different from “he swore a vow not to do this, and it doesn’t matter that the two of them agreed that they didn’t want that anymore.” I made my promises to my husband, not to the state of New York or to any of the gods I don’t believe in.

        1. Actually, you did make promises to the state of New York, in the form of the legal agreement you signed when you became married. Marriage is a legally binding status. You can end your marriage, but having been in it means that you can very well have obligations to your ex-spouse (i.e. alimony) that, if un-honored, constitute a breach of the law, and the state of New York can enforce that law. The legal power of marriage is one of the key reasons that same-sex marriage is such a big deal.

          Look, I’m not trying to say that their marriage automatically means that a wife’s demands trump a girlfriend’s (or other spouse and non-spousal partner), but not many commenters seem to want to acknowledge that the legal status of LW’s marriage means that she, in the eyes of the law, has rights, entitlements, and obligations that Partner lacks–spousal privilege, access to spousal health insurance, hospital visitation rights, obligation to spouse’s debts, etc. etc. I’m not saying that this means LW is definitely more important, emotionally, than Partner. What I’m saying is that Partner and LW are NOT on equal legal footing, and that is an important factor in this giant clusterfuck. All parties–Partner included–ignore the legal reality of marriage at their own peril.

          In fact, I wonder if that’s not a factor in Partner’s desire to have a child with Husband? Partner knows LW doesn’t like her and wants her gone. Partner also probably knows that it’s much easier to kick a “roommate” out of your house than a wife. But mothers can demand certain things out of fathers (i.e. money), and have that held up in a court of law, even outside of marriage. I realize that I’m just speculating, and that’s casting Partner in a really unkind light. But, as commenters below have pointed out, when you’re playing for high stakes–like love, security, housing–you use every card at your disposal. /shrugs

          1. Fair enough, but monogamy is not and was not one of those promises. (The state Court of Appeals decided years earlier that adultery was not and could not be a crime under New York law. “If you sleep with someone else, you can have a divorce” does not equal “if you sleep with someone else, the state will try to punish you.”) I didn’t even promise not to move to someplace with significantly different marriage laws (if you move to, or from, a community property state, your marriage contract changes and nobody even has to notify you).

            Though this subthread has me wondering, what does Partner mean by wanting “exact relationship equality”? That Husband should make a will naming her equally with LW in case he dies? Or stuff the law doesn’t care about, like who sleeps where and what they do for holidays?

          2. “Look, I’m not trying to say that their marriage automatically means that a wife’s demands trump a girlfriend’s (or other spouse and non-spousal partner), but not many commenters seem to want to acknowledge that the legal status of LW’s marriage means that she, in the eyes of the law, has rights, entitlements, and obligations that Partner lacks–spousal privilege, access to spousal health insurance, hospital visitation rights, obligation to spouse’s debts, etc. etc. I’m not saying that this means LW is definitely more important, emotionally, than Partner. What I’m saying is that Partner and LW are NOT on equal legal footing, and that is an important factor in this giant clusterfuck. All parties–Partner included–ignore the legal reality of marriage at their own peril.”

            This. I also noticed that absence of acknowledgement you speak of. Perhaps most of the commenters here who have been in relationships with a legally married partner/couple have been third parties. From their perspective, I can understand why they might feel it is only fair to insist on an equal share of the decision making process. The problem with this expectation is that they are typically the party with the least to risk.

            All emotional investment aside, legal marriage and the owning of shared property does confer certain rights and obligations on the married couple, not the third party. Due to the greater risk, any relationship with third parties is fundamentally unequal. Should a legal marriage that has been opened to third parties end up going south, it is the married couple that gets stuck with the financial nightmare. The third party gets to step over the wreckage and walk away with their bank account, retirement savings, homeownership, and credit rating intact.

            For an example of how this situation can snowball out of control and play out in the real world, see https://captainawkward.com/2015/08/27/738-analysis-paralysis-crushes-ethics-and-risk/
            I don’t know how to link to a specific comment, so just search on the username “shahmeran”.

          3. I know people whose marriages explicitly included agreements about actual or hypothetical other partners. This is completely legal, so long as you don’t attempt to marry anyone else in the eyes of the state.

          4. I think I was unclear: I’m not talking about monogamy. I’m talking about finances and power. The LW has power here, granted by the legal status of her marriage, that Partner does not. If the worst comes true, and LW does find herself being driven out of her home, being able to look Husband in the eye and say, “I won’t go down without a fight,” while knowing that her marriage gives her a lot legal ground to fight on (potentially Including things such as, “In the event of a divorce, I can: saddle you with my debts, destroy your credit rating, force a forclosure on our home,” etc.) is a fucking big card to have in your deck. One that Partner doesn’t get.

      3. Yeah, I’m feeling kind of side-eye-y toward the folks who seem to be ignoring the fact that the LW and Husband are married. I mean, I get it. Love is independent of marriage, and someone who isn’t married isn’t lesser than, or deserving of less consideration, than someone who is. Marriage isn’t fucking magic.

        However, unlike other types of romantic partnerships in the US, a marriage DOES come with certain legal agreements and obligations to another person, and you ignore that at your own peril. Husband made a vow–and turned that vow into a binding legal arrangement–to his wife. If he doesn’t want to honor it, then it’s time to seek a divorce like a goddamn grownup, not wallow around in paralyzed inactivity. (Honestly the more I read this letter, the less I think of the husband.)

        Furthermore, and I realize I’m probably going to get some pushback on this, I don’t think the LW should go quietly into the night if it comes to the worst (in her perspective) of her husband deciding that he loves Partner more and would rather be with her. LW’s got the advantage of legal rights here that Partner doesn’t, and frankly? She should be prepared to use them, if necessary. If Husband decides that he loves Partner more than LW, the LW doesn’t really have any control over that decision or his behavior. But the LW shouldn’t be accommodating in the potential destruction of her financial well-being in the event of a divorce, especially if she’s a homeowner. Is it nice? Nope. If the situation is that bad, and it comes to an end to the marriage, refusing to go quietly will make things ugly. But I think women should be more willing to make shit ugly, especially when it comes to defending their financial health.

        1. “Furthermore, and I realize I’m probably going to get some pushback on this, I don’t think the LW should go quietly into the night if it comes to the worst (in her perspective) of her husband deciding that he loves Partner more and would rather be with her. LW’s got the advantage of legal rights here that Partner doesn’t, and frankly? She should be prepared to use them, if necessary. If Husband decides that he loves Partner more than LW, the LW doesn’t really have any control over that decision or his behavior. But the LW shouldn’t be accommodating in the potential destruction of her financial well-being in the event of a divorce, especially if she’s a homeowner. Is it nice? Nope. If the situation is that bad, and it comes to an end to the marriage, refusing to go quietly will make things ugly. But I think women should be more willing to make shit ugly, especially when it comes to defending their financial health.”

          You won’t get no pushback from me on this point. 🙂

        2. “But I think women should be more willing to make shit ugly, especially when it comes to defending their financial health.”

          This. I wish I had made more of a scene at the time, and fought for a better financial outcome from my divorce. At the time, I was just so ready to be done that I agreed to several things that were not in my best interest in order to do an uncontested divorce.

        3. I’m jumping in the thread here because I’m not sure where else to put it, but I have read all the comments. I’m another who won’t give you pushback on this. I’d add this: It’s not just the financial obligations/responsibilities/rewards of being a wife versus a Partner. It’s the emotional obligations/responsibilities/rewards too. The way it stands now, I picture LW saying to Partner, “okay, you want equal status, 1/3 of our bills and debts are now yours with significant disadvantages to your future if you default.” I think that if LW said that (with legal papers behind it), Partner would run for the hills. Now picture LW saying to Partner, “okay, you want equal status, it’s your turn to take care of Husband the next time he falls into a major mental health or a physical health crisis. I did the last one so this one is yours. That means all the worry, the emergency calls, the taking care of him, the staying up all night, the cleaning up of blood and shit; this is what love and responsibility means. I’m going to be lying out by the beach.” I think Partner would make a beeline out of there– or she’d say she’d try in some sort of valiant effort, then run when the time really came.

          1. I’m curious about why you assume this. It sounds to me as if Partner wants an equal relationship and would choose to also be legally married to Husband if she could. (I think that would be a terrible idea even if it were possible, given her intense conflict with LW, but it does sound to me like what she wants.) Her position is much more precarious than the LW’s — after four years of living together, her finances are probably also entwined with Husband’s, and her living situation is dependent on Husband and LW, but she has no legal rights if they separate. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for her to want a relationship where even if she can’t be legally married, everyone agrees that she has equal status (and makes some explicit agreements about shared finances and what will happen if they break up.) But I don’t think she can have that with Husband while he is married to LW, because that’s very much not what LW wants.

          2. The problem is we don’t know what Partner *means* by “equal status.” “You spent three hours and 45 minutes with LW so now you need to spend three hours and 45 minutes with me.” “You bought LW a necklace for her birthday and I want one too.” It can get *really* silly and *really* messy *really* fast.

          3. Wow, you deduced all that about P from just LW’s description? Sherlock’s got nothing on you!

            ‘Cause from where I’m lying, LW is not exactly a reliable narrator. Her letter is rife with inconsistencies and contradictions, and she appears to want the moon on a stick, in terms of what’s humanly possible.

            How can you know P doesn’t jointly pays bills?
            How can you tell LW devotedly nurses H through his crises, while P eats bonbons and watches her stories? (As in “Fine, you do it this time, I’m off to the beach, ta-ra!”)

            Also, any ” loving” SO who, upon seeing their loved one on pain, could go “Uh-oh, I’m off the clock, so this one’s on you sweet cheeks!” is suspect at best.

            All we have is LW saying “She’s mean, and abusive, and she gave him PTSD, and she uses it as a weapon, she’s a b***H! He’s too fragile, he’s apathetic, I have to make his choices because he’s basically a houseplant, what with him being all mental and stuff! Me? I just want everyone to be happy, I’m trying to fix things, I’m so very put upon and mistreated”. That’s just… bees. Everywhere. Especially the apparent implication that partner is evil and manipulative and must go yesterday, but if that evil woman dares leave she will trigger his PTSD and kill him. Really, that’s how you decided that P is some Pillow Princess, who wants all the fun and none of the responsibility, except when she does? Hmmmmm. Nope. Not sound.

          4. (Again, answering here because I’m getting lost in the thread.) It’s true that we only have LW’s side of the story and that LW might not be an accurate reporter, but that’s true any time someone writes in anonymously. I got the impression Partner probably wasn’t willing to take on the full responsibilities of marriage because LW described her in terms that made her sound immature. She was engaged to a man who was immature. She’s been trying to convince Husband to have children, with her, despite his reticence. (So it’s not something they want together. It’s something huge that she wants and is trying to wear him down.) She uses the PTSD meltdown thing to get her own way. She contradicts what LW says. She’s passive aggressive, combative and suspicious of LW’s support of the relationship. Granted, we don’t know that all that is necessarily true the way it’s written, but given that some of it might be true in part, Partner sounds like the sort of person who’s good at standing her ground in a fight but not necessarily great at long-term patience at considering what’s best for other people in her care.

          5. It’s very tempting to try to be an Unhappiness Detective and figure out who is at fault (or the most at fault), since we only have one small side of the story. At 375 comments, we know all we’re going to know, and being right about the situation isn’t necessarily solving the problem that Giant Unhappiness Lives Here. Time to bring it to a close.

    4. FWIW, I read that sentence as meaning that Partner had, in the past, triggered a PTSD episode/response in LW’s H with her behavior, not that Partner was the actual cause of the PTSD itself. Even applying this interpretation, there’s still plenty of buzzing in the air, but it’s more “gee, there’s an awful lot of bees buzzing around in here” and less “HOLY HELL KILLER BEES SWARMING EVERYBODY RUN,” if that makes any sense.

      1. It seems like what is triggering the Husband’s PTSD is the Partner saying she is leaving which makes a Mayday Parade in Beijing of red flags fly for me. It makes me wonder if it was not threats to leave, but attempts to leave that were shut down by, “If you do this his PTSD will trigger and it is your fault”.

    5. I need to know what’s up here as well. The wording reminds me of what my SO had to endure in his previous relationship. He has OCD and body horror issues and she would purposely trigger him and give him panic attacks as a way to control and humiliate him. NOT OKAY PEOPLE.

      Sometimes triggers can’t be avoided, but if they are brought on intentionally with the goal of punishment or control, run run run.

  3. Although the Captain’s advice is excellent, I also hope that the letter writer has done some self-examination about how she and her husband have treated Partner. What is below may NOT be relevant – LW, if it’s not relevant to your situation, please ignore it. But it’s something that I’ve witnessed in a friend’s situation, it was very ugly and it shook me up:

    Basically, I know a married couple who are poly; one member of the couple was dating someone else very seriously. That someone else was at a huge material disadvantage in the relationship, just as you describe Partner being, in terms of coming out of an abusive situation, having a precarious living situation due to leaving the abuse and being emotionally fragile. Partner was simultaneously always supposed to be very serious in Partner’s relationship AND supposed to remember that Partner was secondary. Partner’s romantic needs, schedule, etc were always supposed to be secondary to the couple’s coupledom, and yet Partner was very socially and materially dependent on them. To my mind, that was a very exploitative relationship, even though it went under the guise of “but you knew this going in”, because Partner was not in a position to negotiate equally and because Partner was constantly being reminded that Partner was secondary.

    When someone lives with you, I think it is very difficult to maintain all this “we are primary and you are secondary” stuff without it being exploitative. It’s a bit different when people have different houses and different schedules, but I watched how living with Couple eroded Partner’s sense of worth as Partner was constantly in a discourse of secondaryness. Partner was never first and Partner always had to live in the house with that knowledge. I don’t think this was right, no matter how much it was “negotiated”.

    It’s different to be second when you’ve got your own life; having to spend all day with people who both sleep with you but who you know prioritize each other over you….surely you can see how that has a lot of bad potential.

    When I read about your Partner living in your house, wanting to be treated equally and wanting children, I find myself feeling that those desires are not weird, unexpected or bad.

    To return to your situation, LW, it seems clear that your husband needs to break it off either with you or with Partner, for everyone’s sake. And I think the Captain’s advice about this is very sound. I just feel, reading your letter, like Partner has been in two very difficult situations in the past couple of years and is being described as though she is irrational/abusive/PTSD-causing when there may be systemic causes for these problems.

    1. I don’t know how much this is a factor, but the LW’s total shock at the Partner’s wants was jarring to me. Wanting economic security, housing security, parenthood, an equal place in one’s relationships, knowledge that you can count on a future together does NOT make the Partner a bad guy here. There is an element of “we welcomed her in when she was a lost kitten” in the letter, and an element of “know your place” also. I think it’s worth raising. I think this relationship is untenable for ALL involved.

      1. The other thing I noticed in the situation in my life is that Partner was also narrated – as things fell apart – as too-needy, creating trauma, “bad”, etc, while no blame was assigned to Couple.

        Also, IME, heterosexual couples get a lot of benefit of the doubt, socially. Of course the heterosexual marriage is primary, of course demands on it are excessive, clingy, etc. I think we’re often unconciously biased against the secondary/other partner/non-straight aspect of the relationship – at least this is how I have observed it to go in my social circles. We readily accept a break-up narrative that says that the third becomes the enemy within.

        The couple in the situation in my life are not bad people – in general, very good people! above average people, even! – but I think that they fell into an understanding of their relationship with Partner that was unfair.

      2. Yeah, I was *really* put off by the way “equal partnership” was portrayed as completely unreasonable, and it made it hard for me to evaluate the other ways in which Partner really is acting badly.

        1. It seems to me that the third party was taken in with an understanding that Primary Relationship claimed seniority and privileges that this third party didn’t have, and was never promised to have.

          1. And while that might have been fine for a while, people’s needs change. Partner sounds like she is trying to express that her needs have changed, which is a fair and good thing to do.

            It’s unreasonable to enter a relationship and assume that no one’s needs will ever change from what they were at the beginning. I mean, unless one enjoys break ups full of hissing “you changed!” as though it were a crime on par with homicide.

          2. @Nashira, there isn’t enough nesting to reply to you, but yes — totally agreed!

            I was just talking to one of my partners about this last night — saying that one of the major mistakes I see in some poly relationships is asking someone to predict the future, when a new relationship is just starting. No one, not even people who know themselves really well, can perfectly predict how their emotions and desires are going to change over time.

            It’s unreasonable to start a relationship with the label of “SECONDARY FOREVER, NO TAKEBACKS.” But it’s also okay to acknowledge that sometimes needs change in an incompatible way, and it sounds like Partner’s needs have become incompatible with LW’s, and probably with at least some of Husband’s wants/needs.

            You can’t put the genie back in the bottle — once Partner’s needs became incompatible, and the response to her (reasonable) request was “No, that’s not going to happen,” then change is inevitable in the relationships. And whether that meant that Partner needed to recalibrate her wants/needs, whether Husband needed to leave her, or whether LW needed to get out of the situation, all of those are reasonable changes to expect, after a disclosure of drastically incompatible needs has been made.

            It sounds like Partner really wants to get LW out of the picture, so that she can “have Husband to herself.” And, again, it’s okay to have that desire — but that doesn’t mean that Husband has to go along with it.

            The main sticking point is that Husband isn’t asserting his needs and desires, or acknowledging that wanting both LW and Partner to stay in the relationship is not something that is going to happen. He needs to make his own decisions, rather than letting the two women in his life squabble over him like he’s a prize to be won.

            Passivity is not a winning strategy here — Husband is causing harm by refusing to take action and voice/enact his choices regarding the *actual* current situation, not the one he wishes he was in.

          3. That part seems ok to me, but the vibe I got was that it was absurd for Partner to think that she *could* now or ever, be an equal partner? The LW seemed affronted by the idea beyond “that’s not what we agreed to”

          4. @ashbet: I deeply, deeply disagree with the statement “It sounds like Partner really wants to get LW out of the picture, so that she can “have Husband to herself.” And, again, it’s okay to have that desire” It’s not okay to try and “get someone out of the picture”. Like, if someone wrote into CA and said “There’s this guy I want to be exclusive with but he’s married and won’t leave his wife, how do I get rid of her?” I don’t think the response would be “that is totally a reasonable thing to want!”

            It’s reasonable for Partner to want to have a partner who considers her a primary, and to whom she is a primary, and it’s reasonable for her want to have a child, but it is NOT reasonable for her to want to boot the LW out of her own life. =\

          5. There is a huge difference between “was never promised relationship equality” and “explicitly agreed that her relationships with her partners would always be secondary.”

            It seems likely that the LW assumed that all three of the people involved agreed that her marriage to her husband would always take priority over the other two relationships, while their third partner thought of that as something that was true at the time but might change as they spent more time together. That’s especially likely if the three of them never made sure that they agreed on what “secondary” meant. One person might be thinking “the two of you are each other’s legal next of kin, and I can put up with not spending holidays with you” but expect her day-to-day emotional needs to be as important as those of her partners, while one or both of the others expected that of course each of them would put the spouse’s emotional needs ahead of those of their secondary partner.

          6. I get the feeling that the problem isn’t Partner wanting an equal relationship. It’s that LW thinks in practice, that would turn into Partner becoming the primary and her slowly getting squeezed out.

          7. And that’s okay, if the third party is also free to find a relationship where she is getting her needs met and prioritized in the way she yearns for. But LW said their triad was “closed” which implies to me Partner was expected to be faithful to the Primary Couple, and to prioritize her relationships with them when they couldn’t or wouldn’t reciprocate. That’s. . .not something I would ever enter into.

          8. My impression was that nobody really made their expectations explicit when they entered the triad, and that’s led them to where they are now.

          9. “My impression was that nobody really made their expectations explicit when they entered the triad, and that’s led them to where they are now”

            The more messages I read, the more I think that this would not be a factor for many people though. The prevailing opinion seems to be that if the newcomer develops feelings that exceed the boundaries of the relationship offered, too bad. Apparently it is now okay for the newcomer to change their mind on the fly because… well… love and all.

            Doesn’t exactly make me feel inclined to want to open my marriage if that is the poly playbook in favor these days. It is like any other boundary situation. Once I communicate the limits of the relationship I want to have with a person, I would hope that they would respect my boundaries and not push for something that is not on offer just because it is something they want.

          10. “The prevailing opinion seems to be that if the newcomer develops feelings that exceed the boundaries of the relationship offered, too bad.”

            “Too bad” seems like a pretty cold attitude to take in that situation. Even if you explicitly establish boundaries to start with — and I’m not sure these people did — people can’t control whether their feelings and needs change. It’s likely that whatever boundaries you set to start with, someone’s feelings and/or needs will eventually change. People change. Relationships change.

            In this case, I think Partner’s needs and desires have changed in a way that make it unfeasible for Husband to stay involved with both Partner and LW. But that doesn’t make her bad or unreasonable for asking “can we treat my relationship with Husband as equal to LW’s relationship, and would LW be okay with me and Husband having a child together?” LW is strongly opposed to those things, so that’s not actually going to work, but it wasn’t wrong for Partner to want those things or ask for them.

          11. @peep I don’t think anyone is saying that it’s okay to push boundaries. There’s a difference between feelings and actions, after all, and you really can’t help how you feel about a situation. I have been in both positions (a secondary who fell in love and wanted more than my partner was willing or able to offer; and also in a primary committed relationship and dating someone else who wanted more than I was willing or able to offer). It’s not the secondary partner’s fault that she has feelings! Even asking for a re-negotiation of boundaries isn’t wrong. People, monogamous and poly, re-negotiate relationship agreements all the time (in the case of monogamous couples some examples might be: going on solo vacations/vacations with your frat brothers from college; time spent gaming; what kinds of sex are and are not okay; boundaries with family of origin; etc etc). It’s the responsibility of the person in the committed relationship–the Husband in this case–to say “No I don’t want to renegotiate those boundaries.” “No, I won’t spend more than one night a week with you, because I want to make sure I’m investing time and energy into nurturing my marriage.” “No, I won’t have PIV sex with you because that’s a boundary I agreed on with my spouse, and I’m going to honor that commitment.” etc. Now, if the married partner says something like that, and the other partner keeps pushing, or tries to coerce or force him to do what she wants anyway, that’s a big problem.

      3. Yeah. Like – I fully respect that primary/secondary works for many people. But at the point at which you are a *closed triad living*, especially one *living together*, the idea that absolute relationship equality isn’t a *given*, let alone that its absence is considered standard and “she refuses to be second to anyone” is taken as an *unreasonable* sets of red flags all over. That’s like, ‘head wife’ vs ‘junior’ wife territory or something. Like – I don’t see how ‘hey, traumatized person with an abuse background, come be part of our family. Except you can’t actually ever be an equal part of our family or a full life partner to us, even as our arrangement cuts you off from having that with anyone else’ is ever a situation that could go well. And I’m not surprised that a person whose background has likely set them up for relationships being a ‘get what you can’ power struggle with people who regard you as theirs-and-not-equal has responded to a theirs-and-not-equal with, well, a ‘get what you can power struggle’ (as in, as opposed to by realizing the situation is toxic and confronting it or leaving).

        (To be clear, I’m not saying that this makes bad things she does in turn ok. And the situation does still need to be dealt with as-it-is-right-now. Just, seeing people treating is as ‘Partner is terrible!’ is really bothering me. (To be clear, any given person could in fact be terrible and this length of information wouldn’t be enough to tell the difference. But there’s a bias toward who in such a situation is likeliest to be concluded to be such, and that’s a problem.))

        1. This occurred to me as well. LW and Husband aren’t bad people if, after time has passed, they still don’t consider Partner to be primary, but if Partner isn’t allowed to do her own exploring, it doesn’t sound like a good deal for her.

          Maybe it’s possible that LW and her husband aren’t allowed other relationships outside the triad/V/whatever this is now, but they’d be fine with Partner finding other partners? And Partner just hasn’t been interested?

      4. That’s a good point, which I had not considered. Partner is allowed to have needs and wants, and to express them in a healthy fashion. Right now, she seems to be the only one expressing them, albeit not well. The husband has chosen to pass the buck to LW, and LW seems to think the relationship should have stayed as it was four years ago.

      5. YES. Especially to the “I think this relationship is untenable for ALL involved” part.

        LW, I hear you edging toward issuing an ultimatum vis-a-vis permanent primary status. I fully sympathize with the loss and fear you seem to be feeling– I am not poly, but I am partnered with a person who became poly after we’d been together for nine years, and it has been a really uncomfortable adjustment. (/understatement)

        That said, the poly people I’ve met (and the poly writers I read) do not like ultimatums, nor relationship agreements that are never up for renegotiation. It looks a little to me as if your interest in poly might have been tied to a particular outcome– an equal triad– and once that outcome was off the table, you felt afraid and responded to that fear by starting to pull rank as the partner who was there first, trying to close the relationship (or make it untenable for your metamour). I also want to be in a monogamous relationship without losing the most important person in my life– I get why closing the marriage is appealing to you. But it sounds as if opening the marriage was initially your decision, as well as your husband’s. And from my perspective, this is a risk of opening: that your spouse / partner will really love it, and you won’t, and that you’ll have a difficult decision to make between a beloved human who doesn’t want the same things you do, and a relationship configuration in which you don’t spend so much time bumping into your fear of abandonment.

        It’s okay to express a desire to close the marriage. But demanding anything of another adult doesn’t work. You can request. But really, if you’re in a situation that is untenable for you, and making a request for change is unsuccessful (“I thought I’d like this, but I don’t”), and you can’t find a mutually agreeable solution, the only real leverage you have is to absent yourself from the situation.

        Leaving an untenable situation can be all kinds of hard for practical and emotional reasons– notably *I haven’t*– but from where I’m sitting, that’s the remaining option, if neither clearly stating your own wants nor negotiating results in a solution you can live with.

      6. Yes! That jumped out at me as well. As someone who is in a triad, even if two folk have more history/legal status/whatever, it’s not kind to expect that a live in life partner should be just fine with perpetual secondary status in what is their primary relationship(s). I mean, I’m not a fan of ranking relationships that way, but the point is valid.

    2. When someone lives with you, I think it is very difficult to maintain all this “we are primary and you are secondary” stuff without it being exploitative.

      Like most primary/secondary setups, I think that depends on whether the secondary person enjoys being secondary. It is certainly possible for a primary couple to exploit someone’s desire to be primary and willingness to settle for whatever they can get. It’s also possible for a secondary person to impose on the primary couple’s space and exploit their unwillingness to say no to someone they care about. And it’s possible for everyone to be happy and for the situation to be stable, in a “these are my roommates I sometimes have sex with” way or a “this is our best friend who’s a third parent to our child” way or many other ways.

      Primary/secondary is like D/s: from the outside it can look exploitative when it’s not, and it can also be a cover for abuse. That’s why good communication and lots and lots of explicit consent is so crucial.

      1. I think that your last paragraph about communication and explicit consent is a huge part about what makes the husband’s behavior in all of this so uncomfortable. As the triad was splitting and becoming this current status quo, allowing him to disengage leaves two people having a discussion that essentially can never end. Relationships change and are often dynamic, and to completely check out of one during such a change due to depression, PTSD, or any other ailment at a point becomes very hurtful.

        That being said, as with any relationship – poly or not – when it starts with such a power differential (in this case the secondary partner being a roommate due to financial need post abusive relationship) – those with more power assume a different responsibility. And in that way, this letter rings somewhat similar to a letter earlier this summer from a woman who had invited her friend to live with her and her mother while providing light house cleaning. In that case the friend needed a cheap place to stay, and was happy to agree to terms that perhaps had she been in a place of greater self reliance would not have agreed to.

        This isn’t to say that the primary couple intentionally took advantage of the secondary partner – but I do think it is fair for both the LW and her husband to acknowledge that at the start they held far more power to dictate terms. And in the same regard, now that the secondary partner is in a place to say what she wants going forward, it’s the responsibility of both members of the primary couple to be responsive.

      2. Your comment makes the most sense to me. To me it does not at all seem unreasonable that a couple in a 15 year relationship consider themselves a primary partnership, when by the language in the letter the reason that Partner was included in the triad was on the basis of attraction, not necessarily anything deeper. It reads to me like Wife and Husband thought the relationship with Partner would be a close sexual one, but not necessarily at the “third parent best friend” level you describe. And given the breakdown of communication happening NOW, it’s possible that there was a lack of clarity, if not outright obfuscation, in negotiating initial terms of the relationship.

        Which all goes to say that Partner isn’t wrong to want a more stable, equal arrangement after awhile, and she isn’t wrong to have asked, but I can’t help but feel like the odds were not in her favor, and at this point she seems to be taking advantage of Husband’s indecision.

        1. I understand this situation is not exactly the same – but this letter does have an element of “my husband is having an affair” about it, with LW describing fear and betrayal and husband crippled by indecision in a way that reflects something similar.

          I have thought about this a lot lately, as the “affair partner” who found myself wanting a more stable arrangement with a man who was married. Unsurprisingly, I was involved in a situation that was very emotional and fraught – so a lot of emotions expressed did not reflect well on any of the people involved.

          The thing that never occurred to me until I found myself in that situation was how truly sexist a lot of the language we have to describe the “other woman” is. That there is this kind of trope that we adopt about the non-married partner – especially if she is a women. She’s seen as manipulative, and taking advantage, selfish and all of that stuff. In the midst of the affair I never saw myself as some mythical siren-like creature who had lured a good man to his death on the rocks, but that was certainly how his wife saw and described me. She had to, in a way, because it was the only way she could justify wanting to stay with a man who had hurt her so badly. If it was his *choice* to do what he did then he was responsible for hurting her. My situation, I gather pretty typically, was that he was also very very indecisive.

          Just in my experience – and this might not be the case here – husband’s “indecision” could also be a way he has of taking advantage of both LW and Partner. It’s his way of effectively getting what he wants (both women wanting and worrying about him) while not having to own the fact that neither of them are getting what they want/need. Here, I think it’s worth remembering that husband actually has a lot of agency in this situation. And if Partner is still around, it may not be because she is manipulating the husband – but because he wants her to be.

          1. “I have thought about this a lot lately, as the “affair partner” who found myself wanting a more stable arrangement with a man who was married.”

            Unless all parties enthusiastically consent to an open relationship, I think your want is a bit misplaced here. As an “affair partner”, you can’t have that stable arrangement with the man without threatening his marriage and hurting his spouse and children. Were there not any unattached men in your life from whom you could choose instead?

            The stability you long for may also be misplaced. If the man cheated on his spouse in order to be with you, the chances are excellent that he will also cheat on you should a shiny new attraction appear on his horizon. The old saying, “if he’ll do it with you, he’ll do it to you”, is apt here. Don’t believe for even one moment that you are too special to be the exception.

            “The thing that never occurred to me until I found myself in that situation was how truly sexist a lot of the language we have to describe the “other woman” is. That there is this kind of trope that we adopt about the non-married partner – especially if she is a women.”

            Perhaps the terms are sexist. But I can assure you that men who cheat on their spouses are also spoken of in equally unflattering terms. The terms “scumbag” and “douchebag” seem to be the most popular, in my experience.

            “If it was his *choice* to do what he did then he was responsible for hurting her.”

            No. You both are. You are not an innocent party. When you choose to have a relationship with a married man, you are contributing to his spouse’s emotional harm and that of her children. They are collateral damage to your decision to insert yourself into someone else’s marriage.

            Infidelity is frowned upon (even by ethical folk who advocate for open relationships) because it is based on dishonesty, selfishness, and a betrayal of trust in one’s most intimate relationships. The ethics of it sucks, which is why people who cheat are often not trusted in other aspects of their lives as well.

          2. Can’t reply to CJ in the nesting except to say, yes, all of those things you say are true. And there was a lot of lessons learned (and growing up done) through the whole experience. My want was my want – I fell in love with a married man and l suffered all of the consequences of that. As did other people.

            I guess what I was getting at was (perhaps a bit inarticulately, as it can be hard to explain) was that – in my experience at least – “scumbag” etc was not actually how *anyone* spoke about the dude in my arrangement. I was the manipulative home-wrecker, he was the sweet man unable to resist me. Literally everyone – myself included – thought that he was unwell, fragile, and, of course, loveable. And spoke about him the way the LW is speaking about husband in this letter. We coddled, and gave him his own way, and poured love upon him – and of course he liked that.

            My point was Husband has choices. He actually has the most choices in this arrangement – and his not exercising them does not mean the Partner is necessarily manipulating him. It may be that, horrible as this is for the LW, he is making a choice now – just not a very nice one.

          3. Ran out of nesting, so in response to CJ.
            Please do not jump on commentators who are brave and generous enough to share their own experiences. EM was offering a perspective on the LW’s situation, not asking to have her life story judged.

          4. Bringing it up in terms of an affair obviously brings a lot of emotion up for people in comments (I think CA mentioned in a previous post how dehumanising infidelity is and it’s obviously incredibly painful experience), but I think EM is absolutely right that there is definitely a vibe that LW loves her husband and is afraid of losing him, so it’s much easier to focus on Partner in order to preserve the fantasy that “everything would be perfect if partner was gone!”

        2. And it can happen that a person agrees to be a secondary just to get their foot in the door, then shows complete disrespect for the existing relationship and muscles out the primary. A friend of mine had this happen to her. Secondary partner (who also was married to another poly person) announced to my friend that she was going to “take her man,” and acted accordingly. The divorces haven’t even happened yet, but already husband has announced publicly that he and secondary are now engaged.

          If this was not a poly relationship, it would look very much like an extramarital person using threats of pregnancy to “win” a committed relationship with husband. I think the poly issue is a red herring, and I’d be willing to bet that if Partner gets Husband to herself, suddenly they won’t be poly anymore.

          1. When I was in a poly relationship some years ago, my primary partner left me to pursue a monogamous relationship with his secondary partner. She never wanted a poly relationship. It happens.

          2. I’m not seeing strong indications that LW is interested in poly, either, now that the triad has transformed into a V. LW certainly doesn’t *mention* having pursued other partners once that happened.

            The only party who currently seems to be digging a poly arrangement in this household is Husband, as evidenced by the fact that he is choosing not to acknowledge that his two partners can’t stand each other, nor to suggest solutions that might help, other than “y’all should get along.” (I have Very Strong Opinions that if someone is going to be the hinge of a V, they are responsible for managing the difficulties, as well as the benefits, of having multiple partners. Because it’s shitty to internalize all the benefits of an arrangement while externalizing its costs.) Husband has two people competing for his attention. It looks to me like the level of rancor between LW and Partner hasn’t yet gotten to the point where it outweighs the benefits to him. Hence, he has no incentive to choose between incompatible requests.

          3. Whether it’s an affair or a relationship that calls itself polyamory, people do what they need to do to get their needs met. Desperate people are not always very honorable, even if they rationalize their behavior as such in order to maintain the illusion that they are a Good Person.

            And there will always be folks who identify as poly just long enough to get what they really want — a monogamous relationship with a partner devoted only to them.

    3. “Partner was simultaneously always supposed to be very serious in Partner’s relationship AND supposed to remember that Partner was secondary.”

      Everybody gets to set their boundaries where they want them, but no way would I agree to such a situation. In fact, whenever someone refers to their “primary,” I cringe. I don’t want heirarchies in my relationship.

      1. There are people who do very well organizing their relationships in a vaguely hierarchical structure, and those who don’t. I think that no matter what, though, the kind of head games that Lark was describing are destructive and cruel.

        If someone’s handling their relationships in a primary/secondary fashion, the thing that someone in a secondary relationship gets is freedom–a relationship that doesn’t have the same level of responsibilities that the primary one is also handling. Maybe they don’t live together or don’t have kids together or don’t see each other as often. That’s fine! But when the “secondary” is on the hook for as much emotional work but with much less emotional satisfaction, that’s a relationship that has turned manipulative and abusive.

        Which is all to get around to this: Everybody gets to set their boundaries where they want them, but please don’t talk about cringing when someone describes a relationship different than yours. I don’t use primary/secondary language day to day because I find it linguistically awkward, but I’m in zero primary and several secondary relationships because I like it that way, not because I’m settling for what I can get.

      2. In fact, whenever someone refers to their “primary,” I cringe. I don’t want heirarchies in my relationship.
        Uh…fine, don’t have them in yours, but my relationship isn’t yours. Personally, I do distinguish between my partner who gets the lion’s share of my attention, love and understanding (and is also the first one I run to when I need those things in return), and the person who I hang out with a couple times a month to eat pizza and have sex.

        1. Not to mention the person whose needs you consider and whose opinion you solicit before making big life decisions, like say, changing jobs. There are some partners who are part of the decision-making process and there are some partners who only get the status updates, like “I’m looking for a new job” and “I got that job I was telling you about.”

        2. Yep, I distinguish as well. Fortunately, I’ve always managed to find compatible matches where everyone’s boundaries were in sync and remained so for many years. I had wonderful relationships with my eat-pizza-and-have-sex-a-couple-times-a-month folks. None of us ever conflicted with each other’s more committed relationships. No one ever expected of each other more than each was willing to offer. Boundaries were communicated openly, and everyone owned their own feelings and their own shit. Each of these relationships were conflict-free and awesome in their own special way. Even though most of us have drifted apart due to other life changes (mostly long distance relocations), I will always treasure the place they held in my heart.

      3. You may prefer to think of primary/secondary divides as hierarchies not of love, which is (for some) infinite, but of time and attention, which are very much finite. It is logistically impossible to prioritise multiple people equally 100% of the time -something in the organisational system or the type of relationship with each individual partner has to give.

        1. This finite stuff. After experimenting with a variety of relationship models, I’ve come to the conclusion that I do monogamy best. With any other configuration, I feel like I’m stretching myself way thin and am left feeling very fragmented. I don’t multitask well with anything, come to think of it. Even my bond with my cat suffers when a second kitty moves in.

    4. Yes, I admit to having a knee-jerk growly reaction when I saw the LW’s response that’s basically, “How DARE she want to be an equal partner?” And part of this is because of my own experience in a triad. There was poor communication all around, but my ex-gf had a lot of insecurity, was convinced that I was the “perfect woman” for her husband, and that he’d leave her, take the kids, and run off with me. This, despite my constantly repeating that I was head over heels for her and in an active D/s relationship with her, as the submissive. It was repeated, many times, “You will never be an equal in this relationship because we’ve been together X many years, and you’ll never be able to make up for not sharing that history with us.” That’s the polite version.

      Honestly, I see a lot of similarities, with the exception of wanting kids (I don’t). My ex-bf wasn’t depressed, but he was very busy, and he left all decision-making to his wife. She was sweet and caring at first, but the more attached I became to both of them, the more threatened she felt and the meaner she got. I don’t like admitting this, but I ended up resorting to some not-cool behaviors because logical and reasonable communication just. did. not. work. Eventually, I got out of that relationship.

      I’m trying really, really hard to see it from the LW’s side here, but it comes across like she resents Partner for having needs, wants, and desires — and that is sadly common, especially, I’ve noticed, in primary/secondary style relationships. It makes my teeth itch, and my general thought is, this is someone who shouldn’t be poly in a serious relationship (my exes, after the disaster that was our relationship, at least realized that they had treated me incredibly unfairly, and decided there would be no future relationships beyond FWB), but that’s an aside.

      Regardless, this situation isn’t workable, and LW needs to have some long talks with her husband. If her husband wants to continue his relationship with LW and halt the relationship with Partner, but refuses to be “the bad guy” (dear gods, pretty much all my partners have been non-confrontational to a fault), then she’s going to need to step into that role. It sucks. I’ve done it. A lot. But it gets shit done.

      If the husband is not willing to sever his relationship with Partner, then LW is going to need to figure out how she wants to proceed, because I truthfully don’t see this situation causing anything but continued misery for everyone involved.

        1. Thank you for sharing this article. I really like it. If I change just a few details, the points made apply equally well to any relationship where one party has a sense of entitlement and is supported by a cultural dynamic that reinforces that entitlement. IOW, it’s not just men who can be total asshats. I don’t care to elaborate further, as I don’t want to get blasted again by folks who go all kneejerk and resort to verbal abuse when triggered by viewpoints that differ from their own.

    5. This is exactly the thought process I was having. I’m bi/pansexual, married, and polyamorous. I’ve been partnered with one member of another couple, and others are partners with just me but not my spouse. IME, my needs were not figured into the other couple’s needs/wants/affairs–only theirs were. I’ve worked very very hard not to re-create that experience with any of my partners. Delineations can be drawn, but once someone’s living in the home (as one of my partners now does), it’s recognized as full commitment and equality. This would be as true were one of my wife’s partners to move in as if one of my partners moved in, or partners’ partners. This becomes an economic security thing, a food-decision-making thing, a house-security-thing, a family thing–with or without children.

      I often see people looking for that perfect woman to join their heterosexually-paired marrriage–a bi/pansexual woman who will love them both, and whose needs are rarely considered (such as wanting children, housing, economics, etc.). The existing couple gets prized above everything else, and those needs are the ones that ‘matter.’

      LW, I don’t know if any of that applies to you–but it might be something to think about. I am sorry for the pain you all are going through–these types of heartaches are never easy in any relationship configurations, and they can be rougher in configurations that don’t have a lot of societal support.

      Whatever happened with Husband and Partner–I hope healing can happen, and I hope that both of them can seek out mental health services. The relationship can’t be the replacement for whatever it is that gets each of them to a healthy place.

      As for you–distancing yourself from Partner is, as Captain said, a good bet. I wish you all the best.

        1. Hee! I haven’t heard it put quite that way before and now I have a burning desire to use it everywhere. That just so perfectly sums how self-centered unicorn hunters can be.

          1. I still have an okc account, which says specifically that I’m looking for friends and have a fantastic boyfriend, and I got a message recently from a couple-account called a variation of “we love unicorns” that was…ugh, the epitome of everything horrid about the whole Married Couple ISO Shagnanny vibe.

    6. So I had a similarish situation for a while – my metamour lived with my husband and me while they got back on their feet after a divorce. I didn’t have any major problems with sharing my husband’s attention, but I did have big problems with sharing a kitchen and with negotiating space-use in general.

      I’m an introvert and really need to have quiet places I can retreat to, and that was hard to work out while Metamour was living with us – they had their own bedroom, which I never entered without explicit permission, but sometimes they and my husband would use the other bedroom with the larger bed, attached bathroom. Which I didn’t object to in principle, but it was really hard for me to find a space where I would be left alone.

      And sharing a kitchen with someone who wouldn’t/couldn’t clean up after themselves as promptly and consistently as I did and also wouldn’t work it out with my husband for him to cover for them if they couldn’t keep things clean…it got really bad. And part of the conflict was that they wanted an equal say in how the household-related stuff would work, and I couldn’t accept that in my own house. I was willing to have them as a guest to help them out, but absolutely not as an equal-terms housemate. Unfortunately, it took a while to get that all explicitly stated – they stayed with us for three years and the last year was pretty awful.

      I recognize that it’s hard not to have one’s own place – heck, I couldn’t give up the my-own-ness of the place while they were there. But I also feel like “This is my home; you are a guest” is a reasonable boundary. They had their own keys, their bedroom was sacrosanct, I didn’t get involved in their personal decisions – not that those facts are cookie-worthy, just trying to establish that “your are a guest” isn’t the same thing as “I get to control your life while you’re under my roof.” It’s hard to hear that having that kind of boundary is exploitative when it was the most I could do to help them out while still getting my needs met.

      1. I don’t think having that kind of boundary is exploitative, but I think it has to be stated clearly, not just assumed. And I think that if the boundary is “This is my house, you are a guest,” then that implies there’s a limit to how long Metamour is staying. I know that if I had to move in with a couple I’m FWBs with for any length of time, I would want to up-front negotiate the terms of the household and how things are going to be handled, and if I didn’t get say into household running, I’d want to seek my own place where I could make the rules. But it’s hard to think about this! Especially when you’re moving someone in after they’ve been through something as draining as a divorce or getting out of an abusive relationship or any other personal/financial crisis. It’s much easier to assume things will work out and everyone will figure out what works.

        One couple of my friends, who are in a committed 24/7 D/s relationship, have been working on a presentation/seminar/workshop about how relationship contracts are awesome for all kinds of relationships, not just kinky ones, because they let people set down their actual expectations and look at them and negotiate them instead of letting them remain unstated. For a while I thought they were overstating their case, but reading some of people’s experiences in this thread makes me want to go ask them for more advice.

      2. I’m not sure I have anything useful to add but I sympathize so much! I’m not as particular about tidiness but I deeply and sincerely hate it when people move my stuff. One of my favourite things (as an introvert there were many) about finally moving into my own place with my own kitchen was that I could put stuff away and it would stay exactly where I left it.

        As for the boundary, I’d say that’s a totally reasonable boundary to have with a short-term guest, but if someone is living in your house for multiple years it’s understandable that they would assume it’s more of a ‘living with my partner and metamour’ situation than ‘guest in partner and metamour’s home’ situation. Given the situation you’ve described I’m sure you’ve already decided not to get into a situation like that again, so there’s not much of anything I could say that you haven’t already figured out for yourself.

        And good on you for going so far to help your metamour. If I had taken a friend into my home while they got back on their feet, I would have been handing them classified ads and offering to take time off work to help them move inside of two months.

    7. “When I read about your Partner living in your house, wanting to be treated equally and wanting children, I find myself feeling that those desires are not weird, unexpected or bad.”

      I think they need to separate the issue of “her having children” from “her having children with husband.” Having children with husband is not the only option, and if husband doesn’t want to have children with her, it’s not like that keeps her having children altogether.

      1. I agree that’s a useful distinction to make. It sounded as if they were a closed triad initially, then when LW and Partner broke up, they became a V in which Husband was involved with LW and Partner, but neither LW nor Partner had other partners. (LW certainly isn’t *mentioning* other partners.) Partner having children, but not with Husband, would require changing that.

  4. ‘My main fear is that if I demand that she leave that he will trigger horribly when she does and that he will resent me and leave me.’

    Oh, LW. If he is going to resent you for her absence then he will do this whether you articulate your wants or are silently unhappy. He is going to feel whatever he feels about whatever happens independently of your words now. The situation is already unsustainable, y’all are already in freefall – if you speak then you will not be launching anyone off a cliff because everyone in your house already knows what you want, whether or not you say it.

  5. “However, if she left, he would have a PTSD meltdown because his PTSD was caused by behavior of hers before we even became a triad. She knows this, and has used it several times in the past several years to get her way when she wants something, usually something I am not comfortable with.”

    WHOA. That is straight-up abusive. “I will trigger Husband’s PTSD to get my way?” No. No no no no no. It’s possible that Partner is not as aware of how leaving would trigger him, or that she’s expressing a legitimate desire to leave, which is her right. I hope to god LW is wrong about what Partner’s doing here, because otherwise, Partner is threatening to physically and emotionally abuse Husband unless everyone caves to her demands. But! A good therapist will help neutralize the effectiveness of this threat.

    1. “I will trigger Husband’s PTSD ***which I initially caused*** to get my way” = HELLA BEES and ALL THE NOPES

    2. Flip side: telling someone they are responsible for causing their lover’s PTSD could also be abusive. I don’t know what to make of “she caused his PTSD but we still hang out “: the whole situation just sounds incredibly messed up.

      1. Ayap. One of my mom’s favorite covers for emotionally abusing me was “you triggered my ptsd”. I somehow did that by such things as developing my own interests and insisting that my crippling chronic pain wasn’t imaginary.

        1. Ooh, my mom loved saying I was making her depressed. By…existing? Apparently? I also “made” her fly into rages. Newsflash: mood disorders don’t MAKE you do anything. Neither do kids, when you are an adult. Glad you and I made it out of there, Nashira.

      2. + A Billion.

        I don’t understand how one could *start* a live-in romantic relationship with someone who had already for-real traumatized someone else one cares about. Especially when said person is also living in the house. It… seems very strange, and I feel like either there’s a giant puzzle piece missing here, or else the LW is sort of… reverse engineering the source of her husband’s PTSD? Is that even a thing? Corelation vs causation? I don’t even know… It just seems really, really weird and, as you say, incredibly messed up. :-\

      3. Or saying “you can’t leave because if you do he will have a PTSD meltdown and you will be a terrible person for triggering him”.

        A lot depends on what Partner is actually doing (and what the hell she did in the past to cause the PTSD).

        She knows this, and has used it several times in the past several years to get her way when she wants something

        That could be scary manipulation, or it could be Partner saying that particular needs of hers aren’t getting met in the relationship and unless something changes she’s going to leave.

        Expressing a desire to leave isn’t intrinsically abusive!

        Yes, it can be tricky to put it on the table if one person is especially vulnerable to feelings of abandonment/rejection (e.g. people with borderline personality issues), in which case IMHO it’s important to try not to use it as a weapon or way to manipulate someone.

        At the same time, a situation that turns into “you can’t ever raise the possibility of ending the relationship because if you do you are practically abusing him” is … not good.

  6. She had also been through a sexual assault. While we were helping her get through the assault, we became quite close, and discovered that we were both attracted to her.

    Is it just me or does this set off some HUGE warning bells as a couple who moved in on a person and exploited them while they were EXTREMELY vulnerable? Yikes.

    1. Datapoint: I fell in love with my partner J and his then-wife when they were helping me cope with massive grief and trauma. No exploitation, just a lot of emotional vulnerability that went a place emotional vulnerability often goes.

      They didn’t pull any primary/secondary stuff with me, though–we’re all much more on the relationship anarchy side of things–and I definitely agree that the combination of primary/secondary power imbalance with the secondary’s emotional reliance on the primaries raises my hackles.

      1. Mine too, seriously – and while it doesn’t excuse the actively bad/abusive behaviour on Partner’s part (nothing does: deliberately triggering someone’s trauma to get your own way is a shitty way to behave no matter what), it puts it in a context where it makes a lot more sense, and is rather less “out of thin air” than LW is framing it.

        Where, to whit: passive-aggression and manipulation are the tools of the abused against those controlling them. If that’s how she’s experienced the relationship up till now, it’s no wonder she’s pushing harder from that one place of strength.

    2. Yeah, that creeped me out. And at some point Partner caused Husband’s PTSD (?), Partner became a secondary partner, and then Partner’s needs changed and Partner and Wife are in a tug-of-war while Husband’s silent.

      Red flag semaphore party.

    3. As far as I’m concerned, there are red flags here for every party. The LW, starting with how she seems to feel that wanting to be an equal partner is unreasonable. The Husband, because of his extreme passivity and refusal to confront the situation. The Partner, because of the comment about deliberately triggering PTSD to get her way.

      But yes, I had a couple move in on me like that, who were good friends, who swooped in after an extremely brutal breakup with my first love. There’s a lot in the LW’s comments that sounds like my ex-gf, which makes this hard to respond to even-handedly, though I’m trying. I want to agree, though, the exploitation is something that came to mind for me as well, in part because of my own experiences, and because it’s actually a known phenomenon in the poly community, the married couple looking for their “unicorn”.

      1. Yeah, I also had a couple move in on me like that during a brutal breakup as well. I am a queer lady, and they are a married straight couple, and they attempted to [ugh recalling it just makes me shudder] groom me to be their live-in unicorn, despite my repeated declarations that polyamory is Not For Me and that I am on the ace spectrum.

        Shortly after I was asked to join them the fifth time, I rejected them firmly and explosively, and two weeks later, another queer lady moved in to their spare bedroom. I feel badly for her and I don’t even know her, because I am familiar with their skeezy tactics and they were all kinds of gross, boundary-violating, “ok but what about NOW” type things. Honestly, when I read this letter I thought it might be FROM them, that’s how close it mirrors my own experience.

    4. I keep thinking of _Big Love_, so much so that I’m more or less picturing LW played by Jean Tripplehorn and Partner by Chloe Sevigny. That was a trashy programme, but the thing that saved it from being irredeemably trash was the fact that they took a culture in which women were abused, dismissed and forced to be financially dependent and constantly precarious, and instead of making them Passive and Saintly Victims, they took the attitude that smart, resourceful women with histories of abuse will do *whatever it takes* to get safety and security for themselves and their children. And if the only way you can ensure that you will be housed, fed and cared for is by securing A Man’s goodwill, then damn right you’ll employ whatever tactics are available to you – anger, emotional manipulation, lies, blackmail – to secure it. Meanwhile, Tripplehorn’s character – who came from a basically happy home in a ordinarily-patriarchal culture, and had had an ordinarily happy marriage until they started to do polygamy – treated everyone with respect and decency, and was constantly shocked when characters like Nicki, Rhona and Arlene lied and were untrustworthy, and swung between self-abnegating martyrdom and blatant manipulation, as if they had any reason to believe that being a good, honest, straightforward and kind person would be rewarded, or even ensure you got your needs met.

      People who are playing for high stakes are not going to be *nice people*. I am hoping that Partner has not experienced anything like the abuse that the characters of _Big Love_ have, and also that she is not financially dependent on LW and her husband, but it does sound like she came to live with LW and her husband with very little. She accepted a dependent, secondary position which seemed to offer a guarantee of care, but it turns out that she can’t self-actualise – be respected as a full member of the family, have kids – in that relationship, and when she attempts to assert those needs, she’s threatened with being thrown out.

      Does Partner have the resources – financial, emotional and social – to leave and start again? Does she have family and friends outside of you two who can help her out? Does she earn enough to live alone and take care of yourself? If she wants kids, is she young enough to leave this relationship, get back on her feet, meet someone new and get pregnant? I am not saying it’s your fault or responsibility to fix it if she doesn’t have these things, LW, but I think you need to appreciate how high the stakes are for her. If she is in a precarious position, and she has experience of being lost and poor and abused, then emotional manipulation is a pretty sensible survival tactic. If being part of your triad has in any way impaired her ability to become financially or emotionally self-sufficient, then I think you and your husband need to think realistically about what your responsibilities to her might be. This doesn’t mean you have to accept emotional manipulation or blackmail, but I don’t think her position is as unreasonable or baffling as you think it is.

      Most of all, though, you need to find the lever that is going to force your husband to make a decision, because you *cannot* manage your way to a committed future with your husband, with or without Partner, without your husband’s commitment and co-operation. His inaction is hurting you all, and you need to place the blame for that firmly on him, and on yourself for continuing to allow it and encourage it. Whatever type of self-abnegation you’ve been brought up with, “putting [your husband’s] needs ahead of [your own]” is not Good Adulting. It is not even respectful behaviour: you’ve literally described your husband as a baby, and the whole point of babies that they are nothing but needs and no responsibilities. That’s a terribly damaging and depressing way to view your life partner, regardless of his mental health.


        My life used to be like that. I moved out young and fell into several very bad years [description of misery deleted]. So when my life collapsed yet again (recession and housing shortage! Yay!), I moved in with a very new partner and their friend. That wasn’t because I decided that I was ready to level up the relationship. It was because I didn’t have any other options at all.

        I remember the chill when I realised that I was just too tired to figure everything out again – if I wanted to break up, I wouldn’t be able to. And I constantly tried to make myself useful, stay on good terms with the roommate, respect their relationship etc – not out of the goodness of my heart or because it’s the right thing to do, but because of pure survival.

        If they hadn’t merely been good friends, but a married couple? If I had run away from an abusive partner and a sexual assault? If the couple I depended on reacted to my story by becoming attracted to me? If I had chosen to act on that? If I had entered into an explicitly unequal relationship with them, while knowing that my peace and housing were totally dependent on their goodwill?

        That’s, like, indentured servitude. Even if I really loved them both very much and wanted to be with them, they would literally own me. And in some situations, you really do decide to sell yourself to stay housed and fed and to just not have your life disrupted again, because that can be the least horrible option. Even if you decide that your emotions are true love (but what if your emotions deceive you? Don’t they long for security and stability? How can you trust yourself? Do you truly trust other people? Like, specifically, do you really trust deep down that the people you’re betting your life on won’t abandon you completely?), it’s an inherently unequal position to negotiate from.

        I’d probably say that it’s so unequal that a real friend actually should refrain. Don’t make a move on your impoverished housemates. It’s just like not hitting on your students or employees.

        I met my partner just before the floor dropped out of my life, so we started out on equal footing. If they’d hit on me while I was living with them to recuperate from abuse, we wouldn’t still be together – I’d have spent my time constantly trying to move out, probably while trying to keep them happy no matter what it took. Instead, when I got the opportunity to have an apartment of my own, I voluntarily chose to move there with my partner. They met me before the crash and supported me through the bad times. And now, we both have the option to walk any day we want. We can choose each other every day, because we actually have the option not to. Every day is a gift.

        1. Don’t make a move on your impoverished housemates

          Wow, I think I just got a better insight into something that happened to me many years ago. Not a poly situation, but a situation where I let myself get convinced to move cities really suddenly because I Can Get You This Great Job And You Can Stay Here Too! and then they quit the day before I got there so there was no job and I’d pissed off my whole Team Me by moving so suddenly (or at least thought I had, and was afraid to talk to them) and oh by the way they wanted to date me and I had no money or car and and and…oh and then the romantic relationship was awful and I was pushed into some things I was really not into, while getting none of my own needs met, and and and…

          (The situation ended with me pretending to go visit my dad while actually grabbing a few essentials and bugging out with an ex in the wee hours of the morning, and then like six more months of basically couch surfing. It was not a lot of fun, but at least there were fewer bees.)

          1. Talk about crazy! Glad you got rid of those all those bees. May your story serve as a reminder to all who are reading that “saving” people from their problems is probably one of the worst ways to court someone. Let’s stick to the classics; dinner and a movie, walk in the park, going out for a coffee, etc.

    5. Noooope: I agree completely. When a relationship begins with a power imbalance as large as that, it’s really not surprising that power trips and drama follow.

  7. I have nothing concrete to add, I just wanted to say that this part is brilliant:

    “Right now you are choosing to stay in the house. Partner is choosing not to move out and to keep pursuing motherhood. Husband is choosing not to decide yet. Keep adjusting your language to emphasize choice, and see where it leaves you.”

  8. I’ve been through something like this myself. If the LW is anything like me, her primary fear may be that husband will choose in favor of Partner. By focusing on husband’s mental health issues as a reason not to take action, she may be avoiding her real fear.

    My husband had mental health issues too (bipolar), and I convinced myself that his physician-mandated need for low stress was paramount. Yet his actions with respect to poorly managing his own extramarital relationship were the primary contributor to his stress, and this was occurring at the expense of my own well-being. He was already violating his doctor’s instructions. When I made the decision to be honest with myself, I recognized that it was actually my fear of abandonment that drove my acquiescence to a relationship that I never consented to being part of in the first place. I was terrified that if I stood up for myself, that he would vote with his feet.

    I’m glad CA mentioned the pregnancy issue. That was my first thought when I read this letter. Based on the behavior described by the LW, it’s not too much of a reach that she could easily manipulate husband into a pregnancy in order to ensure primary status in his life. I agree that it sounds like he doesn’t have the spine or emotional resources to do anything other than leave the conflict to the womenfolk to handle. But this issue isn’t going away, and someone needs to take action. I don’t see him as being able or willing to step up to the plate.

    I have concerns with the advice that the LW take a temporary leave from the marital household. Partner is clearly a manipulator, and I can easily envision her using LW’s absence as an opportunity to further entrench herself into the primary role. Husband appears very easily manipulated and probably wouldn’t even see it coming. The home is LW’s turf, and I think it’s unwise to leave this nest unattended.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head re: LW’s real fear is abandonment, that her husband will choose Partner. In LW’s shoes, I would not leave the house either, I would call my husband’s bluff and insist that Partner leave. If he digs in and defends her right to stay there, he has effectively chosen her needs over those of the LW, and at that point LW may opt to leave on her own.

      It may also be worth a look into divorce and communal property laws where they live. If LW and her husband own the house, that may be another reason for LW to choose not to be the first to leave.

      1. I know this is very subjective and easier to say than to do and I haven’t been in that situation, but if someone won’t choose me, do I really want that relationship?

        1. Let’s talk again after you have experienced that situation. I used to embrace (even evangelize) nice neat solutions like that too before I actually walked a mile in those shoes. Until I found myself there, I never imagined that I was capable of some of the things I tried to do to hold onto my marriage and home of many years. From my previous position of inexperience, I insisted that I could never be one of those sad desperate women. Until I found myself in that spot.

          1. One reason I left a bad relationship – and I’d always have thought I would never put up with abuse in any form until I found someone who pushed my buttons expertly – was that I hated the passive-agressive manipulator I was becoming. It was the only weapon I had, and very ineffective, more or a token protest than actual power, but it was very ugly either way.

        2. Maybe not, but when the relationship has been formalized as a marriage, if my spouse doesn’t want to choose me any more, then I’m going to make sure I have access to all the legal rights and benefits I deserve before I slink away, unwanted.

    2. Absolutely. If she leaves, Partner will 100% use that to her advantage to press her case without anyone there to block it. I wouldn’t leave either.

      I think it’s time that LW says to husband that she’ll help him get help for the PTSD if he needs, but he absolutely HAS to make a decision and that refusing/delaying making a decision is no longer an option. I suspect that he fears hurting either of them and that has him frozen in indecision – but he’s hurting BOTH of them by not doing it.

      I was in a similar situation where my ex-husband’s secondary partner was very jealous of me and wanted to be his primary partner and started demanding more and more of his time and attention – which he gave because he didn’t want to upset her. When I expressed my unease about the situation, I was told that I needn’t worry and that he was just trying to avoid a fight with her. You’ll notice that I said my “EX” husband though, and I’ll give you three guesses who his primary partner is now. It was when I discovered that they were having unprotected sex (which was explicitly against our mutually agreed upon rules) and that she actually GOT PREGNANT but had an ectopic pregnancy that she lost that I finally saw that he HAD actually decided between us – he just hadn’t told me.

      1. “I was in a similar situation where my ex-husband’s secondary partner was very jealous of me and wanted to be his primary partner and started demanding more and more of his time and attention”

        I’ve been a secondary (by choice) to several men who were happily married. I knew going in that the marriage was the primary relationship, and that was a boundary that I should not attempt to cross. Wouldn’t dream of it, as the secondary role worked best for me at that point in my life.

        However, I’ve known quite a few women who grudgingly accepted a secondary role with a married individual or couple, all the while secretly yearning for a co-primary or primary role. I suppose their thinking is that they will accept what is offered, and then attempt to modify the relationship dynamic later. It is women like this who make primary couples very nervous, and make it harder for women like me to build trust with the couple.

        The way I figure, one doesn’t get to change the terms of the contract merely because they settled for initial terms that were less than their heart’s desire. To manipulate one’s way into a primary relationship with the intention of upsetting the status quo is just not cool, IMO. If someone can’t handle being a secondary, they shouldn’t get involved with couples who openly communicate that the primary relationship is paramount.

        1. Yeeees…but people’s wishes can change. It’s not necessarily manipulation to walk into a relationship with eyes open as a secondary, and then later want more. Especially years later. I lost an ex to a secondary, who when it all started had a different primary relationship of her own, then when that split up she suddenly wanted more. While I obviously wasn’t happy at the time I can understand how it happens.

        2. This seems unhelpful and unrealistic. Relationships aren’t fixed, immutable contracts: people change, and their needs change. It’s great if you have enough self-knowledge to know exactly what you can handle and can’t, but presumably you only got that self-knowledge by getting it wrong. Nobody is born knowing exactly what they want for the rest of their lives.

          The trick isn’t to never get into a relationship if you aren’t 100% sure you can handle it, it’s to manage the relationship change or ending with grace and care. And that applies equally to the LW and her husband as it does to Partner.

        3. Above, you state “let’s talk again after you’ve experienced that situation”. I think that kind of insight might work here: unless you have actually STARTED OUT as a secondary and then, through the kind of change that human affection can naturally go through, found yourself sufficiently in love that this situation no longer works for you, perhaps being a bit cautious about blanket statements about “if you can’t handle it, don’t start”, which are as cold and inconsiderate as “if he doesn’t stand up for you, why do you want him”?

          1. I’m afraid that I just don’t see it that way. I’m responsible for the agreements that I make to others, and I am responsible for honoring clearly communicated boundaries. If my affection begins to tread on that boundary, it’s up to me to pull back. While I can’t always know the direction that my feelings will take, I am nonetheless responsible for my behavior. If I find myself in a place where I can’t do that, I need to respect the commitment I made and extricate myself from that situation before I hurt a whole bunch of people. Not push at that boundary because I happened to change my mind.

          2. Oh, but I have found myself in that situation a time or two. What gave you the impression that I hadn’t?

            As I said previously, I may not be able to predict where my feelings will go, but I do know that I am responsible for my behavior with respect to those feelings. If I can no longer honor the agreement that I made to the couple, I need to gracefully bow out and deal with my stuff somewhere else. And I have, instead of taking the position that I changed my mind, as if that somehow now makes it okay for me to tread on boundaries to which I agreed not to cross.

            There are plenty of fish in the sea. I don’t need to go upsetting the dynamic in someone’s marriage in order to have satisfying relationships.

          3. But surely not all boundaries are fixed forever. I wouldn’t “tread on boundaries to which I agreed not to cross,” but if the boundary didn’t work for me anymore, I would certainly say so, with the understanding that either the boundary needs to change, or I need to move on to another relationship. “I agreed not to do X, and now I want X, but I’m not going to say so, I’m just going to suffer in silence or leave without asking for X” seems unnecessary. There’s nothing wrong with communicating what you want, as long as you respect “no” for an answer.

          4. Exactly. People are allowed to change their minds, and decide if something isn’t working for them any more, and ask for a renegotiation. But if they’ve set up a relationship within certain boundaries, it’s not unreasonable of the other participants in the relationship to want to stick to those boundaries.

          5. @CJ: Your utter lack of compassion for people who might interact with the world differently than you, to be honest. I could, for instance, have said that I certainly HAVE experienced relationships where “you won’t choose me, so I’m leaving” was a factor, and actually it was quite easy, so clearly you should have done so in yours rather than allowing yourself to be degraded into one of those “sad, desperate women” . . . but I didn’t, because I honestly credit the idea that your experience of your situation was different than mine.

            It’s not excessively difficult to imagine, I feel, that there might be situations where, likewise, you might experience this situation differently. Charitably, I was assuming you had no experience to extrapolate from.

            It is certainly one’s responsibility to communicate the change in affections (which Partner in this case has done). And in this case, while LW was upset and negative about it, it does not appear that Husband was. LW and Partner’s relationship has ended; Husband and Partner’s relationship hasn’t.

            Whether or not LW is willing to accept her HUSBAND having two primary relationships is between her and HUSBAND, not her and Partner, because Husband is an autonomous human being who gets to make his own choices. And that is all we know; the rest resides purely in LW’s characterisation of the situation. This MAY be correct: I have certainly met people who behaved like LW describes Partner as behaving. It may also be World of Bees, because I have also met people who responded to reasonable requests and decisions with “YOU ARE BEING SO ABUSIVE! YOU’RE COMBATIVE AND PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE! YOU’RE DELIBERATELY TRIGGERING MY/MY LOVED ONE’S MENTAL ILLNESS!” – which, given LW appears to both insist that Partner NOT have her needs met AND that Partner not LEAVE (lest she trigger Husband’s PTSD, the poor lamb), leaving by LW’s choice Partner no option but “stay here, be a good secondary and stop being unhappy”, does not seem unlikely to me.

    3. I have concerns with the advice that the LW take a temporary leave from the marital household. Partner is clearly a manipulator, and I can easily envision her using LW’s absence as an opportunity to further entrench herself into the primary role. Husband appears very easily manipulated and probably wouldn’t even see it coming. The home is LW’s turf, and I think it’s unwise to leave this nest unattended.

      I agree that LW taking a break might result in Husband leaving the marriage.

      I also think that if Husband jumps that quickly, then he doesn’t want the marriage, and the LW may be better off.

      Definitely think that LW should be thinking about whose name is on the lease/mortgage another other financial issues. But seriously – from LW’s description, Husband is already putting Partner’s choices above the LW’s. Why does LW want him again?

    4. I have concerns with the advice that the LW take a temporary leave from the marital household.

      Me too, but mine are more legal in nature: if she leaves the house, it’s my understanding that opens up a whole legal can of worms in the event that they do need to formally dissolve their marital relationship. And while I’m not necessarily advocating lawyering up, nothing about this situation says to me that people are going to come out of it unscathed, and it’s my opinion that LW needs to make sure she isn’t making choices all unknowing of how those choices may constrain future ones.

      1. I agree (well, except for the part about not lawyering up; I think the very first thing LW should do is talk to a lawyer). In addition to being careful about whether/how/when/on what terms LW leaves so that she doesn’t give up her own rights, the flip side is that it’s possible and maybe even probable that Partner, by virtue of having lived in the home for years, has acquired some legal rights to the home and tenancy thereof. And that’s before you get to any other legal or financial entanglements. LW needs to talk to someone who can tell her how not to end up out on her ass on a technicality before she does anything else.

    5. I have concerns with the advice that the LW take a temporary leave from the marital household. Partner is clearly a manipulator, and I can easily envision her using LW’s absence as an opportunity to further entrench herself into the primary role.

      Seems to me that getting some space would help LW decide what *she* wants too.

      Like, does she want to be with someone who can’t decide if he wants to be with her? After 15 years, he can’t decide?

      Yes, talk to a lawyer. Yes, check whose name is on the lease/mortgage. But damn. Why should she STAY?

      1. If they are headed for divorce, LW can’t making protecting her partner her focus, she’s going to have to protect herself to come out of the divorce not financially devastated.

      2. Yes, exactly.

        The whole narrative is unsettling, like some kind of medieval fairy tale where two men fight to see who ‘wins’ the lady, sometimes literally agreeing to a duel where the winner ‘gets’ her and the other will back down, and she either is passed around like a piece of property, or sits and waits for them to kill each other and conveniently falls in love with the survivor for his ‘bravery’. It’s insane and disturbing in the stories, and the hints of it here are insane now. He’s not a piece of property (or a BABY!), he’s a grown man, with whom you are in an adult relationship.

        The person the LW needs to talk to is her husband. Tell him she’s no longer OK with his other relationship, and between the two of them (by which I mean LW and the husband) see if they can find a way to move forward, either together or apart.

      3. Agreed. Aside from all the other issues, if they’ve been together 15yrs and the husband can’t tell her for ceratin whether or not he wants to stay with her, that’s in and of itself a red flag.

  9. Oh good lord. Partner sounds like she isn’t happy, probably isn’t gonna get what she wants, and needs to go one way or another. However, regardless of his mental state, Husband is gonna need to make a choice and soon, or else the choice will be made for him. (Which may be what he’s going for, I fear.)

    Either way, this is no longer happy poly, and I second the Captain that I’d worry about her quitting using birth control.

  10. Let’s be real. Partner is the abusive one, a manipulator, and GASLIGHTING EVERYONE. Did I mention narcissistic and selfish? She needs to get gone. And hubby probably needs some tough love about dealing with it. I don’t understand what would appeal to him about her staying around.

    1. “Tough love” is maybe not the best idea here. Or ever. It often is a way to disguise gaslighting and other forms of emotional abuse, with a big side of denying the target’s agency. I think it’s better to focus on personal choices and to encourage Husband to hash it out with his therapist, so he can escape the passivity trap.

      I also think it’s misguided to assume only one party could be behaving abusively. There is insufficient data. Maybe instead of saying “Partner is horrific”, it would be better to focus on what the LW can do to find a living situation that she finds comfortable. Spinning it into good vs. evil is just not useful.

    2. Huh. I was reading it as “hubby is the abusive one”. First he has his wife convinced she cannot ask for anything because he will meltdown. Second, the story in the house is that Partner caused his PTSD. Maybe! But maybe that’s the story he has come up with to have a guilt trip to hold over Partner. That way, both women are dancing attendance on this person that — as the Captain points out — is not a baby but somehow in this household has found a way to be treated like one, by two attentive mommies.

      1. Yeah. I have conflicted feelings because I don’t want to potentially dump on someone who has serious mental illness, but frankly the shittiest person in this whole situation, to me, reads as the husband. He needs to make up his goddamn mind, and stop abdicating that responsibility.

        1. I kind of had the same gut reaction, perhaps because my own ex never made any decisions of his own and yet threw tons of passive-aggression my way when I’d made and acted upon a decision he had plenty of occasion to voice his displeasure with.

      2. I think the entire house is full of bees – three full hives worth – and is impossible at this point to tell who is keeping which gives because there are so many bees!

        Everyone in this letter may be wonderful people on their own, bit it sounds like the combination had gotten toxic. LW, I think you need to figure out what you want and in what priority you order those wants. Then sit down with everyone, pass out gallons of ice cream or other comfort foods, and explain those needs/wants with the understanding that this is the kind of conversation that has the possibility of ending in divorce and awfulness.

        Good luck.

      3. I’m agreeing with this. Husband has the household doing what Chumplady so aptly calls the Pick-Me Dance.

    3. To me it’s hard to tell what’s going on. The whole situation sounds like a whole giant mess, but it’s hard to see any ‘innocent party’.

    4. According to the LW, Partner is the abusive one, a manipulator, and GASLIGHTING EVERYONE. Did I mention that the LW said that Partner is narcissistic and selfish?

      FTFY. We have 33% of the story. Maybe Partner is evil incarnate, maybe LW is painting a bleak picture because she needs to feel some validation, maybe husband is a Machiavellian mastermind who caused all of this as a distraction, so that nobody notices that he hasn’t done his share of the washing up for months. We can’t know that. That’s why Captain has provided scripts for the situation described, while refraining from calling for Partner to be put in stocks, or pilloried.

    5. Having needs and wants doesn’t make the Partner narcissistic or selfish . Stating those needs and wants doesn’t make the Partner narcissistic or selfish . Whatever narcissism or selfishness is there it’s coming from the couple. The Partner has been in a relationship with them for 4 years. She has lived with them for 4 years. Of course she wants more . And why shouldn’t she ask for it? It’s not her job to make LWs life convenient and to set her self on fire to keep LW warm. And it is really manipulative to put husbands ptsd on Partner. Maybe what has the LW so worried is the (very real) possibility that husband wants what the Partner is offering.

    6. Oh, I can almost guarantee that he’s not suffering at all. He’s enjoying having 2 women fight over his worthless ass, but pretending to be all sad panda and fragile so neither woman figures out that he’s enjoying himself. What an ego boost! And each woman is blaming the other, instead of him! What would be ideal? That both women figure this out, dump his ass, and either become a couple or go out into the world and find a partner or partners that actually value them, rather than staying with and fighting over Mr. Whimpery Trembly Lips.

  11. I’ve never been in a polyamorous relationship. I have, however, been with more than one partner who, by refusing to choose, failed to choose *me.* Chose to stay non-involved when his mother made my life hell. Chose to keep inviting his creepy friend around when my dirty underwear started going missing because “that’s between you and him.” Chose to let me and his ex-girlfriend/current bestie duke it out over who got access to him when.

    Choosing not to choose can range from frustratingly passive indecision to actually reveling in being jealously guarded by different people. I think your husband’s PTSD does not justify his passivity here. He’s choosing to allow you to suffer and to run around trying to manage all this, and he is choosing to allow the both of you to ultimately make this decision for him, since something’s going to bend or break eventually and he knows it. That’s doing a huge disservice to both of you.

    1. Choosing not to choose, in a situation where other people are being hurt directly as a result of your indecision, is also nothing short of pure, old-fashioned cowardice.

    2. Yeah. LW, I have no idea what to make of y’all’s history or the mysterious PTSD/abuse stuff in it, but it seems pretty clear that right now the main thing that’s stalling you all from moving forward with your lives is that your husband is not willing to make a decision about what he wants. He’s sitting around hoping that somehow this will all magically resolve itself without his having to do anything. And until he decides what he wants and tells you, you and Partner are both trying to have a relationship with someone who’s not there to have it.

      I get that he has mental health issues, but if he’s having that much difficulty with this, maybe *he* should be the one to take some time apart from you both — is there a relative or a friend he can go chill with for a few weeks/months and think about what he wants? He could get some therapy, get some time apart from you both, get some space from the situation and clear his head.

      If this is not possible, or if he does not choose to do this, I agree that it might be time for you to check that your name’s on the lease/mortgage and then go find somewhere else to live for the foreseeable future. If your husband still cares about being with you, then having you physically remove yourself isn’t going to change his mind, and it might be the wake-up call he needs. And if he doesn’t want to be with you anymore but hasn’t said so, then you can do *so much* better than someone who treats you that way, regardless of mitigating factors.

      1. +1

        At best, this is stressful for him, at worst, he is the keystone of this mess. If either LW or Partner take a break, the other can spin it as abandonment, as storming out while they steadfastly stand by and care for their man.

  12. She and I had a long discussion the other day and during that conversation she told me that she refuses to be second to anyone.

    I have been in Partner’s place, and I can understand her wanting that. I also don’t see that she can get that with Husband unless Husband and LW get divorced. Key point though: That’s not up to her. That’s up to Husband and LW.

    Speaking of self-care, no more long talks with Partner. Y’all broke up. Talk about practical necessities and mundane pleasantries.

    Agreed. LW does not need to manage her husband’s relationships.

    I also agree that a v-shaped relationship does not look in the cards. That said: why does LW want to stay with a husband who is ignoring LW’s needs to cater to a person who considers the LW abusive?

    1. Yeah — I don’t think that Partner is in the wrong for having those needs/desires, and for stating them.

      The issue is what happens when the answer is “no” — which she seems to be totally unwilling to accept. When you speak up and ask for something that you want, you *have* to be willing to consider that the answer may not be the one you want to hear.

      (With that said, in general, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for a long-term secondary to want to be a co-primary, or for various people’s needs and wants to change throughout the course of a relationship. I just think that it sounds like Partner is reacting very badly to the message from LW which says that it’s not going to happen, at least not as long as LW is part of the relationship.)

      It sucks to get let down. It hurts to love someone more than they love you back. But it’s not an excuse to threaten to trigger someone’s PTSD or to steamroller your partners’ boundaries about pregnancy and childrearing.

      While I feel for Partner in this situation, I think that LW is in the right for saying “I cannot continue to live like this, because our home life has become toxic.” And Husband needs to be willing to act on that, or else he’s going to lose his relationship with LW by continuing his inaction.

      1. Agreed.

        Re: Partner not accepting a “no”, it seems Partner isn’t taking the “no” well – but neither is anyone else. Husband seems to be ignoring the “no”, or trying to find a way to continue the situation. LW is still there too. So – what has changed? Is anyone listening?

        1. I think husband will go to great lengths to avoid making a decision, but what he’ll be left with isn’t necessarily the relationship he wants, just the one with the woman who wasn’t willing to leave to get what she wanted.

          Also, I think if someone drops into a backstory that someone caused someone else’s PTSD they should include a short explanation.

        2. Reading between the lines, to me it’s not really clear if Partner is actually being told ‘no’ by the husband, who is the person she is currently in a relationship with. If she’s explicitly said she’s not willing to take ‘second place’ then I really really doubt she feels any obligation to ask LW for permission or approval.

          Which all to me reads like the husband is encouraging her, NOT saying no.

          1. That’s how I read this too. From Partner’s position, LW’s “no” has almost no meaning at all, given the relationship with both women is actually with the husband.

          2. That’s… more or less the impression I got, too. LW and P broke up about this, so they’re no-longer in a relationship, but LW and H are still together AND H and P are still together.
            LW says that H wants them to be a triad again or, failing that, a V but… Y’all, they’re in a V right now.

            It’s like LW feels that P’s wanting to be a co-primary means that P actually wants to *replace her* as The (only) Primary which… may not have been the case? I can’t tell? And, due to feling threatened, is telling H that she wants him to break up with his other long-term partner (four years is not nothing, here, folks).

            The stuff about H “not being able to make a decision” is… not true, by the looks of things. Like: He has decided that he wants to keep being romantically involved with both of the women he loves.

            I may not be particularly impressed with H’s (portrayed) inACTION around this whole mess, but he’s straight up told his wife that he doesn’t want to break up with his-GF/her-Ex. I can’t say I blame him, either. I know I wouldn’t want to break up with my GF just because she and my wife had stopped dating, so… why would he?
            The dude *does* need to dust off his trousers and do both some emotional heavy lifting (with his wife AND with his GF) and maybe get started – ideally with both of his partners – in figuring out what their options are.

    2. Re: “I also agree that a v-shaped relationship does not look in the cards”

      … is that not what they have now? My understanding of a poly V is that one person has a relationship with two other people, who do not have a relationship between them.

      The husband in this situation is in two relationships. N’thing all of the other commenters (and the Cap!) that his relationships are his to manage… and that his refusing to do that emotional work is doing dramatic harm to everyone involved.

      1. It is a v-shaped relationship right now, but not exactly happy. Hopefully that means it will end. (Why be in a relationship that doesn’t make you happy?)

        1. If he wants a V, well for now he has it, so he doesn’t have much reason to try to change it if it’s what he actually wants. It sounds like neither of the women is happy with the status quo, both want something different, but for now neither seems to dislike the situation quite enough to leave.

          Given that what they both want is HIM, he’s holding an aweful lot of the power here…

  13. I’m also concerned about “accidental” pregnancy happening — if Partner wants a child with Husband so badly, a contraceptive “failure” could very easily get her what she wants, and wind up entangling LW and Husband on a lifetime basis.

    FWIW, I’ve been a primary, I’ve been a secondary, I’ve *had* primaries and one secondary (I figured out that the P/s model doesn’t work for me terribly well), and I’ve been part of an established, stable, happy triad for many years, as well as having an awesome primary-level relationship with my live-in partner. And I think this situation sounds like poly nightmare fuel.

    I’m not assigning blame — Partner was within her rights to say that she wanted children, LW is within *her* rights to say no, and Husband has to make his own decision (with the knowledge that he can’t make both people happy.)

    I’m extremely leery of Partner threatening to trigger Husband’s PTSD, but since there are some situations described in this letter that might sound very different from another viewpoint, I’m going to treat that as a “maybe,” without knowing the exact words used. (Not denying that it happened, it’s just one of a series of red flags, both for LW’s happiness/health and for Partner’s.)

    LW, the Captain is right — you need to stop protecting your husband’s mental health by enabling his avoidance of this situation. Not that I’m blaming you for wanting him to be okay . . . but this is an untenable situation, and delaying making the choice only makes it more painful.

    I’m sorry that all of you are in this mess, and I hope that you are able to work out a solution that enables you to get back to a stable, peaceful living situation — whether or not it’s with Husband, who has some hard choices ahead.

  14. I am heartily seconding the Captain’s advice on the following:

    “‘I have to live with her…’ Can you re-examine this ‘have to’?” Right. You do not have to live with her, physically, right now. Dial up Team You and see whose couch/spare bed/air mattress you can crash on until this is all sorted. That probably sounds like it sucks, but I am having a hard time seeing how it can suck more than your current living environment.

    “This whole situation is ripe for a contraception failure or ‘failure.'” Oh yes please please do strongly suggest that your husband refrain from likely-to-cause-pregnancy activities. If Partner is as manipulative as you make her sound in your letter, going as far as to threaten to trigger your husband’s PTSD to get her way (OH HAI BEEZ), what makes you think she would not manipulate her birth control to get “accidentally” pregnant and therefore get her way?

  15. she refuses to be second to anyone

    This is the core of it, isn’t it? The three of you made an arrangement while she was struggling with trauma, and now she’s recovered somewhat and decided she wants a different arrangement.

    You cannot maintain a primary/secondary arrangement with someone who doesn’t want to be secondary. Can’t be done. It’s miserable for everyone.

    Partner will never be your husband’s primary while you’re in the picture. So she needs for you to exit the picture, or to leave the situation herself (and ideally go find someone else to be primary with).

    You will also never be your husband’s undisputed primary while she’s in the picture. So you need for her to exit the picture, or to leave the situation yourself.

    Whether you leave is up to you. In your shoes, with my partner of 15 years “refusing to decide” whether or how to continue a partnership with me in a mutually happy-making way (= deciding not to do so) while continuing to maintain a relationship with someone I found very difficult to be around, I would leave. Other people often overcome relationship problems that look insurmountable to me, so perhaps you and your husband can find a way to do that. However, you cannot do that while he’s still attempting to have a secondary relationship with someone who doesn’t want to be secondary, or attempting to have a primary relationship with someone who treats you badly.

    It sounds to me like there’s a really bad tangle of mental health issues that’s getting in the way of figuring out who is capable of doing what, and who has the right to do what. A poly-friendly counselor can help with that. As the Captain notes, PTSD and past trauma are not free passes for being unkind to other people. Nor is righteousness, and you sound very, very convinced of your own righteousness here. A longer history and a legal marriage with Husband doesn’t mean you own him. Helping Partner to recover from trauma doesn’t mean she owes you.

    Finally, I think it’s tremendously irresponsible of Partner, and indirectly of Husband, to even be contemplating bringing a child into a household full of stress and unhappiness and conflict. There’s a common poly error of “relationship broken, add more people”; less well known is the error of “relationship broken, make more people”, which has the added very large downside of involving a minor in an emotionally harmful situation. (Obviously monogamous people can fall prey to this one too. It’s ugly either way.) Until the three of you have reached some sort of stable arrangement–living together or not, primary or secondary, but something that’s long-term sustainable–absolutely no child-having should be attempted. I vehemently agree with the Captain that this situation is ripe for contraceptive shenanigans and strongly recommend that Husband abstain from potentially pregnancy-causing sexual activities with Partner until things settle down.

    You should make a plan at least with yourself about what you’ll do if Partner becomes pregnant by Husband, since that will significantly affect you as long as you’re living with either of them or legally/financially connected with either of them. If you aren’t prepared to be a parent or stepparent, it’s best to figure that out and leave the situation before the child is born, to minimize the chances of the child becoming attached to you in a way that you can’t emotionally support. Whatever you do, please don’t try to keep things afloat “for the sake of the child”–no child is better off in an emotionally damaging environment, and it sounds like your house is very emotionally damaging right now.

    I hope you all get some good mental health support and reach a point where you can divide cleanly into a couple and a singleton.

    1. I would put money on Partner actively attempting to get pregnant from the moment LW said no. Whatever the dynamic in the household (which we can’t know because we only have 1/3 of the story), having a child ensures she remains in the life of the person she loves and makes her equal in status to the LW. I am also not 100% sure that the husband will refrain from pregnancy causing sex until this is sorted out since his ability to be decisive seems to be lacking. I just don’t see this ending well and without a child involved 😦

      1. I am also not 100% sure that the husband will refrain from pregnancy causing sex until this is sorted out

        It does seem to require more taking of responsibility and resisting of pressure than he appears to be able to do right now.

        I’ve been massively depressed; I sympathize with the husband’s apparent emotional paralysis. But I’ve also seen a LOT of poly guys in F-M-F situations do this go-along-to-get-along you-girls-sort-it-out thing, and all it does is make more problems for everyone later. As soon as you start talking about a child potentially being brought into this situation, it’s unconscionable, and that’s the point where Husband really needs to grow a spine.

    2. Everything in this comment is gold.

      LW, everyone here seems pretty willing to be blunt (perhaps too much so) about what they want–except you. Partner wants to be primary with your husband, wants a child, etc. Husband wants to not have to make a decision, for whatever reason. What do you want? You want to be your husband’s primary and to not have to live with a woman who makes your life miserable. What if you were to put your foot down about what you want as firmly as Partner is doing so with what she wants? I think you’ve rightly inferred that it would precipitate some kind of immediate crisis. But you know what? Your life is already in crisis. A crisis your husband is ignoring.

      Maybe it’s time to experience a crisis that needs to be dealt with NOW, by everyone, rather than continue to live in the midst of your own personal crisis that your husband can continue to conveniently pretend doesn’t exist.

      1. This. I read the whole thing going, she’s very concerned about protecting her husband, but what does *she* want?

        That said, it sounds like a mess all around, and regardless of whose “fault” it is, I suspect the threesome is kaput, and the marriage may be as well, sorry to say. Definitely time for therapists.

    3. I applaud your whole comment, especially the, “relationship broken, make more people” line.

      And yes, LW needs to think about what happens if Partner does in fact become pregnant. Whether by accident or on purpose, she’ll be tied to your husband in a bond that will affect anything you do together as a married couple- and I don’t just mean financial support. It doesn’t sound like Husband is going to be proactive about avoiding risk, so you’re really living on borrowed time where this question is concerned.

    4. Oh hells yes to the making of plans with self! I have been in a situation where a metamour was, due to a combination of issues and history, engaging in behaviour which carried the risk of pregnancy. As well as choosing to reinforce my boundaries to minimise the risk of STIs coming through the metamour chain and hitting me, I wrote out a whole bunch of what-if plans (which were not shared). This boosted my confidence that I could maintain my own safety and mental health, no matter what.

      Those what-ifs ran the gamut of what if metamour falls pregnant? To my partner? To someone else? If they keep it? If they choose to terminate? If they choose to go full-term but not keep it (adopt out)? What if they choose to go full-term but die in childbirth? Or are seriously disabled? What if metamour dumps the kid on us and disappears? What if they dump the kid on us, disappear, and reappear five years later wanting custody? What if my partner chooses course of action X, Y or Z? I seriously tried to think of all the worst possible scenarios and think about what I could do, and what I SHOULD and WOULD do in those situations, which totally reaffirmed my values. And also calmed down my anxiety issues… 😛

      1. I used to go to Ala-non meetings at a time when I couldn’t afford much needed therapy to address family-of-origin stuff that was backing up on me. I never found the Serenity Prayer terribly comforting until one of the other attendees explained that she used it as a formula for organizing her thoughts when she was anxious about something. I’ve been using it that way ever since:

        X is a problem causing me anxiety.
        Y are the aspects of the problem that I cannot change.
        Z are the aspects of the problem that I can change.
        A, B, and C are concrete actions I can take in order to change Z.
        D, E, and F are concrete actions I can take to minimize how much Y affects me.
        Then I build a plan out of some combination of A-F.

        It calms down the brainweasels and gives them chores to do to stay busy instead of running amok.

  16. My philosophy on decisions is this: if the decision is one for two people, and one party refuses to make a decision in the matter, that person has abstained. You now get full decision-making power.

    LW, your husband has abstained. Tell him this. Tell him if he doesn’t make a decision, he has revoked his right to bitch when you make the decision that Other Woman is leaving this situation NOW. And if he continues to blubber and sit on the fence, you throw her right the hell out. Then, if he complains, his opinion is too little too late. She’s an abusive asshole and needs to go before she locks herself into this situation by poking holes in the condoms or “forgetting” her birth control and preying on your husband in a moment where he is too passive to say no.

    Also, your husband will carry on no matter what happens. Depressive episodes end. PTSD flashbacks end. Mental illness impacts end. They do. They may return again, but they *do end.* So even if this sets him off, *get rid of her.* Otherwise something awful might happen while you’re waiting for your husband to finally step up, and you all will be happier in the end for her being gone.

    1. I don’t see it like this. Each person owns their own decisions only.

      LW can choose to stay, or go. Partner can choose to stay or go. Husband can choose current situation, either woman, or no one. What LW can’t choose is to “get rid of her” – this is a relationship that doesn’t actually include her now. It’s up to husband to choose to end it, or not. And then up to LW to make her own choices in that context.

      1. She can’t choose to end their relationship – the thorny question is whether she can choose to kick her out of the house. Ideally if one of the homeowners strongly doesn’t want someone there it should probably override the homeowner/s who do, but I have no idea what the legal reality is.

      2. “What LW can’t choose is to “get rid of her” – this is a relationship that doesn’t actually include her now.”

        LW may not be able to get rid of her husband’s relationship with Partner. But if LW and husband co-own the house, it most certainly becomes LW’s business who gets to live there.

        My take on husband is that he’s a conflict-averse doormat. Whether he’s using his mental health issues as an excuse to defer adult decisions to the womenfolk, I do not know. But to me, husband is the responsible party to settle this matter once and for all. That he has chosen to opt out does not bode well for a good outcome.

  17. “and when we speak we are afraid
    our words will not be heard
    nor welcomed
    but when we are silent
    we are still afraid
    So it is better to speak”

    – Audre Lorde

  18. “However, if she left, he would have a PTSD meltdown because his PTSD was caused by behavior of hers before we even became a triad. She knows this, and has used it several times in the past several years to get her way when she wants something, usually something I am not comfortable with.”
    I have been puzzling over this. LW does not say if husband was triggered by the assault, or the abandonment aspects of partner’s relationship with fiance. It could be that LW is so angry and frustrated with the situation that they are assigning responsibilities to partner that she does not own in order to excuse husband from his. Once LW and partner start accusing one another of abuse the friendship is over and yet husband has said what he wants is the impossible.
    Captain’s advice is excellent.

    1. I’m worried by this bit too. Especially as LW is apparently unable to risk Husband being triggered by Partner leaving, but nobody seems to be seriously considering the possibility that Partner has considered or is considering leaving and feels unable to actually follow through because of the same fears.

  19. I don’t do prescriptive primary/secondary (one of my partners finds it a useful way of describing relationships, and that’s okay for me), but it seems to me that “person C is secondary to A and B, who are primary to each other” and “closed triad” are a bad combination, because they combine to “C can never have a relationship that is as important as A and B’s relationship with each other.” There may be C’s who would never want that, but I wouldn’t bet on that—and it seems as though the letter writer did.

    LW, it’s a lot easier to keep a promise like “I will not spend the night with anyone else” or “I will not have PIV sex with anyone else” than “I will not fall in love with anyone else.” “I will not let anyone else fall in love with me” is impossible.

    However, this is starting to read like advice that requires a time machine, i.e., useless. From here, what you can do is think about what you want from the still-possible options, and what you will do if you ask for something specific and your husband (or your ex-girlfriend/current housemate) says no. The Captain’s advice to talk to a poly-friendly counselor seems sound; also, is there anyone on your Team You who would sit and listen and maybe help you brainstorm if that seems useful, rather than getting stuck at criticizing you for being poly, or ranting about your husband being a horrible cheater and you should throw him out?

    Failing that, if you’re not out to your friends, or if a few people know but think the situation is weird, maybe there’s someone who could at least do “you know our housemate Suzanne? I’m not getting along with her anymore, and I want to ask her to leave, but I’m afraid it will upset Husband. Can we go see a movie so I can stop thinking about it for a couple of hours?” (I’m fairly sure this isn’t the time to come out to people who you aren’t already out to, especially if there’s any chance that they might be biphobic.)

    1. “person C is secondary to A and B, who are primary to each other” and “closed triad” are a bad combination, because they combine to “C can never have a relationship that is as important as A and B’s relationship with each other.”

      Yup. I was in a relationship like that, and at a certain point I told the man of the couple that if this relationship wasn’t going to give me enough to be the only romantic relationship in my life then I needed to start dating other people. He said, I am only willing to be in this relationship if we are a closed triad. I said, that looks to me like you getting two women who put you at the center of their lives while I don’t have anyone put me at the center of theirs. He said, doesn’t everyone want that? Doesn’t everyone want to have sex with everyone in the world but have everyone he has sex with be exclusive and faithful to him? Wouldn’t anyone hold on to that if they could?

      At that point I realized that my partner was a terrible person and I needed to get the hell away from him.

      1. It’s … nice that he told you upfront who he was?! I mean, a lot of people would have covertly wanted that, and tried to find ways to make it a *reasonable* thing to demand to make themselves feel like a good person (“Of course you can have other partners, as long as it’s someone I’m comfortable with – no, not him, or her – or him – DEFINITELY not him – woah, no, not her… I mean, basically, not anyone you might actually fancy. But anyone else, yeah, sure!”)

        But your ex just came right out and said it! You can almost admire that level of not-giving-a-shit-about-others!

        1. I was thinking that too. Gotta admire the man’s honesty. lol

          When I see this “Of course you can have other partners, as long as it’s someone I’m comfortable with….” crap go down, it’s usually a D/s card being played.

          1. *blinks*

            If you mean abuse, say abuse. If you mean D/s… you’re going to have to do more explaining. Obviously D/s can be a cover for abuse, just like poly can be a cover for abuse and Church-going bible-thumping can be a cover for abuse and GSFs can be a cover for abuse, but D/s in and of itself doesn’t have anything to do with vetting other play partners.

          2. Let’s just say that I’ve yet to see a D/s relationship that was a true win-win for both sides. In concept, D/s can be beautiful. However, once flawed humans bring all of their insecurities and entitlements to the table, it can be very tempting for the individual in the power position to feel that it is acceptable to exercise options that largely benefit them alone. Many sins have been committed and rationalized in the name of D/s. Of course, the submissive partner always has the option to walk if their needs are not getting met. Fortunately, the healthy ones do.

          3. Your lack of experience is not my problem, and I’ll thank you to not insult my friends. We are way off topic and there was no reason to bring D/s into this.

          4. This is in response to your second (out of nesting), CJ, but, uh–that is a bold statement, and one that I’m not sure I’d be comfortable saying out loud where other people, some of whom are, by the law of averages, always going to have more experience than you, could hear me.

          5. My, you are certainly personalizing this whole issue. What’s with that, anyway? So much defensiveness and unnecessary rudeness. If your experience has been different, then why not just ignore my post instead of getting all nasty and invalidating. I’m speaking only for myself and my own experiences. Not yours or anyone else’s.

            I don’t know your friends and am not in the position to have an opinion on them at all. My comments mirror those that are made in alternative lifestyle circles every day of the week. They are nothing unusual, nor do they reflect a lack of experience on my part. I’m sorry you don’t like the message, but the kind of scenario I described is so cliche that it’s laughable among community insiders who have been around the block a time or two.

            Please don’t tell me what I can and cannot post with respect to my personal experiences. Only the Captain can do that. This thread has been filled with numerous tangents related to selfishness, entitlement, and pulling rank in order to service one’s own needs, often at the expense of others. Whether such manipulation and abuses of power occurs in a monogamous relationship, a poly triad, or a D/s relationship, it’s all the same BS — just cloaked in a different wrapper.

            I get that people who represent misunderstood communities can be rather touchy about any perceived criticism of their tribes. What can I say. The people attracted to alternative lifestyle communities are just a segment of greater society, subject to the same human flaws and frailties as everyone else.

          6. @CJ, re second comment: that . . . is more than a little disingenuous.

            If you would like anecdata, I personally know three D/s relationships/marriages, two of them negotiated 24/7 TPE, which have been a boon to both partners and enhanced every aspect of their lives; one of them is of twenty years’ standing, and I know them all closely enough to have a solid read on what goes on in their lives. As Aris Merquoni notes, while D/s relationships are certainly not magically immune to abuse, your comments do imply that they are INHERENTLY abusive, which . . . IS insulting and personal to those who are in them. Shockingly, it may get taken personally.

        2. It’s shocking to me what people will actually say out loud. I had a woman tell me when I first met her that she and her partner were master manipulators and if I got involved with her, they would fuck me over and I would get hurt. Unfortunately, I figured it had to be a joke, because actual manipulative mean people don’t out themselves to potential victoms like that, right? Not believing her is one of the choices I regret most about my six decades of living.

          1. My childhood abuser said something similar to me too – that he was a manipulator and used people (although not that he would do it to me). He even told me he that he always told people he was like that and they never believed him and let him do it anyway. He called it hiding in plain sight. I believed him but didn’t apply it to myself. I really feel you and am glad you got away from those people.

          2. I’m very sad to say I’ve heard that’s not exactly unusual among abusers. They seem to think that being able to say ‘I warned you’ absolves them of the harm they do. I think of it as very similar to the ‘I was just being honest’ bullshit my emotionally abusive ex used to pull. It’s all total bullshit – I don’t believe they actually hear the words they’re saying, they just recite them as a sort of incantation against having to take responsibility for their own actions.

        3. Yeah, that’s a jaw-droppingly blunt and awful statement, but I agree with other commenters that he did you a certain weird kind of favor by being so upfront about it.

  20. Being in a primary relationship with any severely depressed person is usually draining and unrewarding, no matter how much LW loves Husband. A severely depressed person is pretty much incapable of pulling his weight in an intimate relationship and is very unlikely to be capable of behaving in ways that contribute to LW’s well-being and happiness.

    On top of experiencing this extremely difficult situation day and night, LW also is dealing with a third person in her home who is making emotional demands on a severely depressed person. Partner apparently thinks it is reasonable to persuade a mentally ill man in the grip of depression to become the father of her child in the near future. How could this possibly be beneficial to Husband or Child? How could bringing a child into this unhappy and unstable home environment benefit any of the individuals involved, except perhaps Partner if she is able to force LW permanently out of her home?

    I have one more thought, a strong hunch actually. I may be wrong, but the only “behavior” of Partner that makes sense to me (given only the information provided in the letter) is a past suicide attempt that in some way triggered Husband’s PTSD. Which would make Partner’s future suicide attempt the strong “trigger” for Husband’s PTSD.

    If my guess is correct, LW’s situation is truly nightmarish. Suicidal Partner is so self-absorbed that she thinks this is a good time to become a mother? With severely depressed Husband as the father? And suicidal Partner is so unloving that she has been using threats of killing herself to control LW and Husband? Those are acts of aggression against LW and her husband, no matter how pitifully and tearfully Partner may express those threats.

    If I am right about the suicide attempts, Partner unquestionably needs to go, now. LW must tell Partner to leave her home, and if Husband disagrees or chooses Partner outright, LW must leave Husband. Once LW has grieved her losses, she will land in a much better place in her life than if she remained in her home with Husband and Partner. If joint property and assets are involved, legal advice is important before leaving the family home.

    1. Yes yes yes about LW needing to see a lawyer ASAP. She needs to know her rights and responsibilities if it all goes blooey. Being in a position where she has been so accommodating for so long is a bad place to be if things head south. Seeing a lawyer is very head clearing even if it all magically settles itself down the road.

    2. Being in a primary relationship with any severely depressed person is usually draining and unrewarding, no matter how much LW loves Husband. A severely depressed person is pretty much incapable of pulling his weight in an intimate relationship and is very unlikely to be capable of behaving in ways that contribute to LW’s well-being and happiness.

      … Can we not go to mental illness shaming in this thread? I don’t want to speak for people with depression, but that came across as dismissive and cruel.

      I agree that the situation appears to have imploded far enough that legal advice is a good idea sooner rather than later. And depression/PTSD is a complicating, horrible factor in this equation. But we can talk about that without implying that being married to someone with depression has no benefits at all. Being stuck in this situation has no obvious benefits and something needs to change. The sunk costs fallacy is rearing its ugly head here as well.

      1. Indeed. And also, mental illness isn’t actually a free pass on making decisions and respecting boundaries and whatever in a serious relationship (I have been on both sides of this). You might postpone difficult discussions for a short time until your partner isn’t actively a total mess huddled in a corner, but not indefinitely. You might forgive foolish words later retracted, or understand that they’re slow to act. But you still need to get your needs met and see your boundaries respected. It may involve numerous visits to a mental health professional, but lines still need to be drawn.

        1. This! My experience trying to relationship with someone with severe depression was in fact pretty much like Gurlzone describes, but that was probably because he happened to fall in the middle of the Venn diagram of Depressed People, Jerks and Hot People, seen in this post from 2013 https://captainawkward.com/2013/08/30/511-when-you-find-out-that-someone-you-care-about-is-mean/ This doesn’t mean that all depressed people are jerks or that anyone should abdicate their needs. I also have mental health stuff to deal with that can make relationship stuff tricky sometimes, but I can’t hide behind my diagnosis and refuse to take responsibility.

    3. Being in a primary relationship with any severely depressed person is usually draining and unrewarding, no matter how much LW loves Husband. A severely depressed person is pretty much incapable of pulling his weight in an intimate relationship and is very unlikely to be capable of behaving in ways that contribute to LW’s well-being and happiness.

      Wow. WOW. This was a completely vicious and inappropriate swing at a lot of innocent bystanders. Why would you ever think it’s ok to come here of all places and make a blanket declaration that all people with mental illness X are piece of shit parasites on their partners, who should flee them at the first opportunity?

      And if that’s not what you meant, then you did a real shitty job of trying to convey something else.

      1. Yeah, speaking as someone who was once in a poly triad where both my partners had depression, that comment was really uncalled for. We even had to engage with topics like primary/secondary dynamics and how to make everyone feel respected and cared for in the relationships, and you know what? Depression definitely affected all of that, but so did things like: our family dynamics, our class backgrounds,

        1. past experiences of abuse, and the fact that we were all college students at the time. Poly relationships can end or shift in format for any number of reasons, pretty much exactly like monogamous ones, and I feel like if I or either of my partners had read that comment while we were all involved with each other, it would have felt like a punch in the gut.

      2. So much this. Wife and I both have history of clinical depression with suicidal ideation, and we’ve both had bouts of it in the 10 years we’ve been together. At no time ever has either of us neglected our relationship. In fact, the relationship was the very framework that kept us stable, and provided support for recovery.

        So yeah, demonizing people in the grip of MI is just gross, not to mention ableist.

      3. +1 to this right now. Both my wife and I are severely depressed right now, and were diagnosed at basically the same time. And yet somehow we still manage to love and support one another and get all the essential life stuff done. Throughout the darkest times, our relationship has remained a source of mutual comfort and sustenance. When things were really really bad for both of us, it seemed like the marriage was the only good thing going.

      4. I was really dubious about getting into another relationship with someone with depression, because my previous experience of it had not gone well, but it turns out, when your partner is a nice person who cares about you and wants to be good to and for you, they handle their shit! I came to the conclusion that my previous experiences with people with depression and other mental illnesses had gone poorly not because mental illness automatically makes people mean and selfish, but because I had actually been with people who were mean and selfish and cared less about exposing that when they were having depressive or other episodes.

        If I’m being charitable, I would say that that commenter was hurt and is still hurting and unable to blame the person who was bad to them, so they’re blaming the depression. I wish they could blame the real culprit.

    4. I have one more thought, a strong hunch actually. I may be wrong, but the only “behavior” of Partner that makes sense to me (given only the information provided in the letter) is a past suicide attempt that in some way triggered Husband’s PTSD. Which would make Partner’s future suicide attempt the strong “trigger” for Husband’s PTSD.

      If my guess is correct, LW’s situation is truly nightmarish. Suicidal Partner is so self-absorbed that she thinks this is a good time to become a mother? With severely depressed Husband as the father? And suicidal Partner is so unloving that she has been using threats of killing herself to control LW and Husband? Those are acts of aggression against LW and her husband, no matter how pitifully and tearfully Partner may express those threats.

      If Partner had made a suicide attempt in the past, that wouldn’t mean she’s “Suicidal Partner” in perpetuity and incapable of ever being a parent.

      And the thing that’s mentioned as potentially triggering Husband’s PTSD is the possibility of her leaving. Not her attempting suicide, not her threatening suicide, neither of which is ever mentioned.

      There’s a lot that’s weirdly vague in this letter, where multiple possible things could be going on.

      And I completely agree that if Partner was in fact using threats of suicide to control LW and Husband, that would indeed be terrible.

      It’s just that we have no indication at all that any of that’s been going on.

    5. “Being in a primary relationship with any severely depressed person is usually draining and unrewarding, no matter how much LW loves Husband. A severely depressed person is pretty much incapable of pulling his weight in an intimate relationship and is very unlikely to be capable of behaving in ways that contribute to LW’s well-being and happiness.”

      This is incredible hurtful. After 20 years of avoiding relationships because I believed I was too messed up (depression, disorganization) to be in one, I am trying to change that. Somehow I managed in that time period to build friendships, keep family connections, a career, succeed in a sport, etc.
      But I couldn’t expect anybody to love me be in a relationship with me because I would get sad and flat.

      Because, come on, who would want to be involved with you if they know you were depressed? my jerkbrain always says. Also why I took so long to admit it/to try treating it – the shame that I should feel for having depression. Feeling ashamed that someone might have to be there for me at some point – I was so afraid of imposing myself I just avoided romantic entanglements. Thanks for validating that.

      Ugh. 😦

      1. Please consider this a friendly reminder that your jerkbrain is wrong and that people with mental illness can have successful relationships. I’m an n=1, I know, but I’ve been married 5.5 years and with my husband for a total of 14 years. I also have depression w/ suicidal thoughts, anxiety and PTSD. It’s a lot of work for us both, but he doesn’t regret doing it.

        I mean, he told me so, because I asked, during my current episode of horrific jerkbrain.

      2. Big hugs to you. What they said was not cool at all, and not true at all either — you deserve love, are love-able, and people will absolutely love you AND your jerkbrain. I say this as someone who has loved and been loved and loves greatly all kinds of people with mental illnesses, depression, and PTSD.

        No shame for you, just all the jedi hugs, and sparkly toys to distract the brainweasels with. You are a wonderful person (look at you! Team You! Career! SPORTS! I cannot do all of these things, and I still occasionally account myself a Successful Adult or Reasonable Facsimile), worth loving yourself and being loved by someone (or many someones) who can understand that sadness and flatness happens, or at least be amenable to blanket forting you when it occurs.

      3. Your jerkbrain lies so hard. I have major depression and it brought a bunch of friends, yet I also have Mr Goat Lady. You do deserve love, and you can find it.

  21. “Her goal is to be equal to me in his life…”

    I have lived with that basic dynamic, and in my case, what the secondary partner wanted was not to have the “same level” of partnership that I had with my spouse. Zie wanted me gone. As soon as zie got the level of partnership with my spouse that zie wanted, zie started pushing me out. This took several years and was exquisitely painful for me. OMFG, the gaslighting and the manipulation to control my spouse’s opinion of me. It’s been over for years, and I’m still untangling my brain from the gaslighting zie inflicted on me. It has also taken me years to even begin to recover from the financial hit I took in the divorce.

    My advice–before you make any ultimatum-like statements to either your husband or your husband’s girlfriend–is to consult a lawyer, make sure you have a clear picture of any joint finances/accounts, and to secure copies of any important documents you would need in case things go south quickly. It’s entirely possible that the response to your boundary-setting is that they band together and state that *you* are the one who needs to leave. I’m not trying to talk you out of setting boundaries (boundaries are excellent and necessary)…just be prepared to protect yourself.

    Good luck.

    1. “My advice–before you make any ultimatum-like statements to either your husband or your husband’s girlfriend–is to consult a lawyer, make sure you have a clear picture of any joint finances/accounts, and to secure copies of any important documents you would need in case things go south quickly. It’s entirely possible that the response to your boundary-setting is that they band together and state that *you* are the one who needs to leave. I’m not trying to talk you out of setting boundaries (boundaries are excellent and necessary)…just be prepared to protect yourself.”

      Yes. We only know LW’s perspective here, and we don’t know the viewpoint of the other two people.

    2. I was thinking that even if the marriage continues, there needs to be a trip to the lawyer to spell out what is property of the marriage and what position Partner has regarding the assets. Four years in the house probably buys her a legal footing, even before having the kid.

    3. Cosigning this a million. LW, this should be the absolute first thing you do, and I realize that sounds cold, but a marriage is first and foremost a set of rights *and obligations*, whether or not you explicitly agreed to them when you said your vows.

  22. Why should he make a decision? He’s getting everything he wants by just doing nothing. And why would he care if he gets her pregnant? It won’t cost him any effort because he refuses to put out any effort any way. He doesn’t sound mentally incapacitated to me. Just selfish. Dump him before you rack up more losses of time and self esteem. The relationship is over. She wins but she ain’t winning a prize.

  23. I’ve been turning this letter over in my mind, and a couple of things stood out on a second reading.

    The LW and Husband have been married 5 years, and in a triad with her Partner for 4 of them, and they were housemates with Partner before that. That’s a lot of relationship history to be so closely intertwined with this person! Lots of people have talked about the potential for all kinds of unpleasant dynamics between all three of the people in the household. I feel like if their relationship in the whole decade before Partner came into the picture was caring and healthy, LW wouldn’t be mentioning a threat to her *marriage* or Partner needing her relationship with Husband to be as important as the marriage.

    LW, to me… none of the way you talk about your husband makes him sound like he’s being a good husband, or a good partner to you. Especially this:

    “My main fear is that if I demand that she leave that he will trigger horribly when she does and that he will resent me and leave me. He has told me that absolutely won’t happen, but I cannot keep myself from being so frightened of the prospect.”

    This sounds like you’ve been really frank with him about your fears and the fact you want her gone, and that he’s acknowledged your fears (and how important his health is to you) without acknowledging that *staying in this situation is harming you*. Other people have put it better than I’d be able to – every day he lets the status quo continue, you’re being hurt. He’s letting you be hurt and live in uncertainty and fear, and letting her be hurt and live in uncertainty and fear. This stalemate where you and this other woman who’s ended up a second-class citizen in relationship-land just face off eternally over this man neither of you want to lose. This sounds like a game where the only way to win is not to play, so I’m sorry you’ve already been dealt your hand in it.

    1. I think the flipside of this, though, is that the LW is not really honouring or respecting her husband by focussing on “my goal is for him not to get harmed” at the expense of her own needs or desires. That looks to me a lot like, “I must protect my husband from the legitimate (and not unexpected) consequences of his actions, whatever the cost to me (and Partner)”, and it is not respectful.

      I am kind of stuck on the bit where she compared her husband to a baby! As the Captain says, the point of the King Solomon parable is that the baby can’t choose, but also, babies don’t have agency in many situations and they definitely don’t have responsibilities. LW’s husband does! He is shirking his responsibilities, which is unfair to both LW and Partner, but LW’s insistence on his fragility and inability to cope with change is pretty infantilising and I wonder how powerful a force that belief in the husband’s lack of agency and resilience is.

      I don’t know who bears the ultimate responsibility for the “Husband fragile, LW self-abnegates” dynamic, but I think even if Partner leaves, they will have a lot of work to do to get their marriage to a healthy, equal, honest partnership.

    2. “LW, to me… none of the way you talk about your husband makes him sound like he’s being a good husband, or a good partner to you.”

      Hmm. Yes, but we’re looking at a letter written by a person under a lot of stress, this could be a jerkbrain thing talking as well. Hard to focus on the positive when there’s not a lot of good happening at present.

  24. LW, I can’t really weigh significantly in on the poly elements or parts of your letter specifically addressing the tension between you and Partner, but as far as your husband goes…well, you know that Rush song, “Free Will”? And the lines, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice?” That’s what your husband is doing. Do whatever YOU need to do to make sure you’re not living in an environment with one (possibly two?) manipulators. If your husband objects, tell him he had more than enough time to make up his own damn mind, and now he has to live with the consequences of his indecision.

  25. I have nothing to add advice wise, but massive high five on this awesome metaphor:

    “Only some poly relationships run on a primary/secondary model, but even those that do don’t work like law firms where if you just bill enough time as Relationship Associate you will eventually be promoted to Full Partner.”

  26. No one has mentioned that this sounds like a terrible environment to bring a child into, and being poly has nothing to do with it.

  27. Partner wants to make babies with a seriously depressed man with PTSD.
    Husband wants to continue fucking 2 women (who are fighting over him and don’t like each other).
    LW doesn’t want to live with someone who is passive aggressive and combative.

    I want to know who’s paying the bills because, if it’s the LW as I suspect, Partner and Husband may decide very quickly that they want different things once they know LW won’t be supporting them and keeping the household going. I suggest LW go off by herself for a trial separation. That way Partner and Husband will have a chance to see if they really like each other enough over the long haul (hint: children are the long haul) to commit to each other when the source of their drama (LW and Partner fighting over Husband), is off the scene.

    1. “I want to know who’s paying the bills because, if it’s the LW as I suspect, Partner and Husband may decide very quickly that they want different things once they know LW won’t be supporting them and keeping the household going”

      I hadn’t considered that. But I must say that it would be interesting to find out who pays the majority of the bills in that household. Because like it or not, if someone in that relationship is financially dependent on others, that situation does affect the power dynamic in the relationship and how inhibited that person might be to make their needs known.

      1. I’ve been thinking about it some more, and it’s not just who’s responsible for the financial upkeep that affects the power dynamic. It’s who’s responsible for the emotional upkeep also. Partner came to them wounded, feels healed, and now wants more. But it seems clear that her position of being over the sexual assault and early abuse depends on her continued position in this household. Husband seems to be in a state of chronic woundedness with his depression and PTSD, and that works to his advantage. He gets what he wants because he holds such a powerful “if you leave, you’ll trigger me” over everyone’s head. So he has both women catering to his emotional needs.

        I think of a 3 legged stool. It doesn’t matter which leg is removed for the whole thing to topple.

        If LW were to leave, I wonder if there’s enough emotional stability for Husband and Partner to provide for children. I don’t know if anyone has told them, but children are needy and demanding, emotional, and not terribly rational.

        Mostly I’m thinking about how this problem seems new and modern because of the poly and bisexuality aspects, but it could have been written to Ann Landers 60 years ago: My husband has fallen for someone who used to be my friend. They’re having an affair. I still love him and don’t want a divorce. He wants to continue the affair. I’m afraid she’s going to get pregnant. The Ann Landers advice used to be: Decide if you’re better off with him or without him. I think it still applies.

        1. Husband seems to be in a state of chronic woundedness with his depression and PTSD, and that works to his advantage. He gets what he wants because he holds such a powerful “if you leave, you’ll trigger me” over everyone’s head. So he has both women catering to his emotional needs.

          The phrase in my local poly community for this is “the biggest psycho gets to drive.”

          The search for a less-ableist version is ongoing, but the concept has considerable value, so I present it for what it’s worth.

        2. “Mostly I’m thinking about how this problem seems new and modern because of the poly and bisexuality aspects, but it could have been written to Ann Landers 60 years ago”

          Yep. The roles and labels may be a bit different. But it’s the same old story, motivated by a lot of the same fears and needs, just complicated in a different way.

  28. No further advice to offer, but I did want to comment to say that Captain, that is some of the most compassionate advice I’ve ever read, and I really appreciate that you took the time to consider what you might have written to the other parties involved had they been the ones writing in – it really helped bring the rest of the advice to the LW into perspective for me. Posts like these are why this site is always the first place I check when I’m in an awkward situation!

      1. Hear hear!
        So important to be compassionate and know that LWs may not always be reliable narrators, while still taking care of them and treating them with respect.

  29. I am so totally not the right person to offer advice here (other than to Nth the advice of “talk to a lawyer if you’re about to make ‘her or me’ ultimata), but let me offer you all the Jedi hugs, because you sound utterly miserable and it all comes from trying to love people who don’t seem capable of loving you in the same way.

    You’re about to have some very hard conversations, no matter how this situation shakes out, and you need to take care of yourself first — how much “taking care of yourself” involves also taking care of Husband or Partner is something you’ll have to work out, hopefully with the help of a poly-friendly therapist and possibly the aforementioned attorney.

  30. LW, you are clearly suffering, and I hate to add to that. That having been said…there is a scenario you are not letting yourself consider, but you need to think about as a possibility. Namely, that your husband HAD to pick, he would prefer to be with this woman, and might even feel an atavistic pull toward having a child with her. Carolyn Hax is a fan of bringing the worst-case scenario out into light and considering, “What would happen if this were true?” — and I think you need to do this now.

    Yes, your husband is depressed, and depressed people don’t necessarily think clearly. But depressed people also often get overwhelmed with logistics. Ending a relationship with you would logistically be much more difficult than ending a relationship with this other woman — for one thing, it would entail a rather complex legal action, and would disentangle a life together that spans a decade and a half. You are presenting your husband as refusing to choose as being a situation driven by his PTSD and his depression, which is very possible. But it’s also possible that he’s refusing to choose because he is caught between his stronger logistical ties to you, and his stronger emotional ties to this woman.

    Putting things another way: You appear to view the fact that she is needier than you, with less history with your husband than you, and eager to have your husband’s child as disadvantages on her end in terms of her connection with your husband. Your husband does not necessarily share your take on those factors.

    I’m sorry if I sound heartless. I may well be wrong. I don’t know you, or your husband, or your other partner, and my one tangential experience with a poly relationship indicated to me fairly quickly that I’m oriented toward monogamy. It is entirely possible that I’m misunderstanding the forces involved here. But, for your own preservation, I think you need at least to consider the idea that the reason your husband isn’t choosing to end his relationship with this woman is not because he’s depressed, or indecisive, or laboring under PTSD…but because he can’t bear to lose her, but doesn’t want to be the bad guy with you.

    I hope I’m wrong.

  31. I think there is so much sage advice here that cumulatively adds up to a key point: the more that the LW takes action (consulting a lawyer, having a contingency plan, articulating clear expectations and acting upon those expectations) the more that the LW will be taking control of the situation. It is my understanding that a perceived lack of control is one of the key drivers of stress, anxiety etc. Taking steps to take control, and therefore becoming the subject who helps shape (rather than an object who is entirely shaped by) a situation helps one get a bit of that “Captain of my soul” momentum going, and can really help with becoming “unstuck”. It doesn’t mean the situation will ultimately pan out as desired, and it doesn’t meant that there won’t be pain and suffering along the way, but hopefully that added sense of autonomy helps avoid some of the pain and suffering associated with feeling completely at the mercy of external forces. To put it another way, why be the mom in the situation when you can actually be King Solomon?

  32. I have no experience with poly relationships but there’s one point the Captain made that raised alarm bells for me. Telling LW to stay elsewhere for a time may not be prudent. Depending where they live, the person who leaves the marital home loses certain rights if it comes to divorce. Staying at a friend’s place for a day or two is one thing, but if LW were to move out for any significant period of time, that could be a problem down the line. Maybe I’m being alarmist and projecting but I see divorce for this couple as a likely possibility.

  33. While Cap’s advice is spot on re: making sure Partner doesn’t get pregnant by this guy, I might warn LW to ask her husband to have a plan in place if Partner gets pregnant by someone else— might not be “gain upper hand with Husband,” but “a baby will fill the hole in my heart.” Will you have the heart to kick a pregnant woman out on the street? (Is cheating necessarily a dealbreaker for Husband?) If not, how are you going to protect yourselves (and possibly TherapyBaby, depending on what y’all decide) legally and emotionally?

  34. LW I spent just over a decade living in a polyamorous way, though never with a live in triad, and my take away from that time was that you can’t actually set limits on the level of intimacy people have with third parties. And you can’t stop those third parties from wanting things, such as, for example to be exclusive with the guy you live with and have for a decade (and there’s nothing to stop him agreeing with that and dumping you, but ahem my baggage isn’t the issue here). And for the record I totally understand why a third party might want that stuff and think it’s reasonable for them to express that need. Others up thread have discussed the ethics of live-in secondary partners.

    I understand your discomfort with someone else wanting to have kids with your husband and be on equal footing to you. I’m not comfortable with that either, which is why I’m now monogamous. Because while I’m OK with my partner having sex with other people it turns out I’m not super cool with them being a major part of said partner’s life, for various reasons, some emotional and some practical. Especially now that you’re broken up with this lady I can see how your living arrangements have become very difficult.

    But basically, here you are. You need to ask for what you want, and if that forces your husband to choose then that’s what he has to do. I know it’s hard, and he has limited emotional resources, but the situation you’re in is broken and can’t continue.

    It can’t continue because it will play merry hell with your mind and perceptions. You’ll hate that lady more and more, because she’ll seem to be the problem. Don’t let this go on for so long that it twists your perceptions and turns you into someone cruel. Because it’s really easy to go down that road when you’re pinned in a situation like this, feeling like you’re in direct competition for someone you thought you could rely on to always be there.

    Here is a cold fact – for things to improve you have to risk all the changes that come with forcing a decision from your husband, because things carrying on as they have is no longer on the table.

    1. Oh wow, I somehow hadn’t even considered that element of LW not wanting Husband and Partner to have children together. I’d put too much of my own thinking into it and read it as LW not wanting to have any children around at all, which I can totally understand–I dislike babies so much that I’d never allow one in my living space for a visit, much less as a permanent resident I might be tacitly or explicitly assumed to help care for. Perceptual blinders off, thanks!

      1. I was thinking the LW must be strongly childfree too, seeing as she’s been with Husband for a total of 20 years pre- and post-marriage and they don’t have kids. The other thought that occurred to me was that there might be infertility involved – if I wanted (or even sort-of wanted) children and wasn’t able to have them, I definitely would not be okay with another partner having the baby I couldn’t have with my husband, in my house.

        1. (I think it’s worth noting the counterpart here, which is that I am infertile for a variety of reasons and I think one of the great joys of poly is that it *does* provide the potential for me to co-parent a partner’s child without having to do the initial hard physical labour. This absolutely isn’t to say everyone should share my viewpoint – just that it’s one that does exist.)

  35. I think the bees are coming from inside the LW here. I really really do.

    Maybe the original hive was the husband’s, and maybe not, and maybe Partner has her own hive, but it’s hard to see much through the cloud of bees I’m getting off this letter.

    About four years ago, we became poly with a friend. At the time, she was our roommate and had just separated from her fiancé. He was deeply immature, and she has an abusive family background.

    And your husband has depression and PTSD, so basically you’re the one person in this whole scenario who is okay? I mean, I can totally see how you couldn’t be expected to put up with someone like that being treated as equal to you. Really, she’s lucky you wanted her at all, but I guess Husband got all attached and what can you do?

    She had also been through a sexual assault. While we were helping her get through the assault, we became quite close, and discovered that we were both attracted to her. When we found that the attraction was mutual, we formed a closed poly triad with her.

    As other commenters have noted, forming a closed poly triad with a person in a vulnerable place while assigning them non-negotiable Secondary status is sketchy as all Hell.

    How was that supposed to play out? She lives with you and has no outside partners, no decision-making power, and strictly defined and limited status, and looks as if she likes it, forever?

    However, my husband has depression and PTSD, and he cannot make a decision about what he wants from this situation (his preferred situation, that we go back to being a triad or at least a V, cannot happen because of her demands).

    So he can make a decision about what he wants. Just not the right one.

    However, if she left, he would have a PTSD meltdown

    So I guess she’s stuck, then. Why can’t she just recognise that and get with the Well-Behaved Secondary program? What is this “needs” shit she keeps pulling?

    because his PTSD was caused by behaviour of hers before we even became a triad.

    You witnessed this chain of events firsthand, from incident to diagnosis, or you know this from his report of same, or you deduced this all by yourself?

    Was this incident, perhaps, her wanting to leave and taking steps to do so? Because I am finding myself wondering if that was it.

    She knows this, and has used it several times in the past several years to get her way when she wants something, usually something I am not comfortable with.

    So, when she has wanted something that you were not comfortable with in the past, she has been willing to go as far as saying that she will leave if she doesn’t get it?

    Why can’t she just ask nicely and when told “no” accept that decision-making power is for other people?

    I have to live with her and she is passive-aggressive and combative.

    So in theory there’s a way she could disagree with you that wouldn’t be either of those things, but she just never manages it. You’d think after four years she’d keep an itemised list of stuff you hate or something, seriously. Or just say yes to everything, like a good little Unicorn.

    I promised my husband I would try to support his relationship with her, but she tells me that the things I do in that direction are suspicious and remind her of an abusive parent.

    You know what? They do me, too. You don’t want her to get her needs met, because that will upset you and destabilise your position. You don’t want her to leave, because husband will have a meltdown. You don’t want her to have a child with Husband, presumably still her only male partner, because you don’t want that. You don’t want to throw her out, because your husband will have a meltdown and blame you. You don’t want to be nice to her, because the bitch won’t stop eating crackers in a passive-aggressive combative manner, plus then she might feel safe and comfortable and you’re pretty sure you want her gone as soon as you can come up with a way to do it that doesn’t come back on you or require your husband to make a decision he is refusing to make.

    Ideally, in fact, reading between the lines, you’d like to know how to drive her away deniably.

    I’m going to stop doing this line-by-line. I’ve been being deliberately harsh to make a point, but that’s an approach best done in small doses.

    LW, you three are in a mess, and quite a lot of it appears to be your mess, and you show no signs of being aware of this.

    Meanwhile, if Partner wanted to be gone, she’d be gone. If Husband wanted Partner gone, she’d be gone. If Husband were determined not to have a child with Partner, he’d say so.

    I’m sorry. You don’t have a problem, LW. You have a choice of solutions, both of which you find distasteful.

    Basically, you can:

    Accept that Partner and Husband are planning to stay together and have a child, and will probably do so, and that Partner is going to achieve Primary status, with your husband if not with you, decide that you want to stay with your husband anyway, and start to mend things with Partner and otherwise figure out how to make that work with you there, without making life Hell for yourself, Husband, Partner, or the child, or,
    Accept that your marriage is over and start sorting out how that’s going to go.

    1. Honestly, I think the bees are coming from *everyone* at this point. (With a reservation that Partner may well be relatively bee-free, since I don’t really trust the LW’s ability to judge Partner fairly, although I suspect that even if she started out bee-free, she’s manufacturing her own bees by now.)

      >>So he can make a decision about what he wants. Just not the right one.

      This is true of both LW and her husband, though, isn’t it? He wants a V, which LW can’t accept, although she’s framing it as if it’s “simply impossible because Partner”, rather than because it is something she is unwilling to accept because she’s not very good at naming her own desires. Husband, likewise, presumably knows what Partner wants and (however indirectly) knows what LW wants, and is remaining “indecisive” because he can’t have the thing that he wants.

      Partner is literally the only one who is able to say what she wants, and in this House o’ Bees, that is classed as abusive and manipulative.

      I mean, as I say, I suspect Bees are coming from Partner as well at this point, because if she was a perfectly well-adjusted bee-free person, I think she’d have realised how incredibly dysfunctional all of this is, packed her bags and gone. Given the partial information available, I don’t think it’s possible to infer the exact power dynamics and whether one specific person is an abuser or another specific person a victim. But it does seem to me that if Partner is behaving manipulatively and/or abusively, that is quite likely a response to finding herself (deliberately or inadvertantly) in an incredibly disempowering situation.

      1. >> This is true of both her husband and LW, though, isn’t it?

        Well, LW phrased it as “a decision about what he wants”, not “a decision about what to do now”. And that was one of the big red flags that turned this whole letter into the Communist Marching Band and Drum Corps for me.

        I truly cannot tell whether Husband is refusing to state any other decision, or whether he is stating incorrect decisions so LW isn’t counting those ones.

        I am getting a sense that LW is inclined to acquire her romantic partners by rescuing them, and becomes frustrated when they don’t respond as she expects.

        Having been a Rescuer myself I have a great deal of sympathy for this, if it is true, but it doesn’t work that way, it shouldn’t work that way, and trying to make it work that way is usually abusive. If you want a lifetime of devoted obedient gratitude, rescue labrador puppies.

        I don’t feel comfortable trying to analyse the power dynamics either, and it is possible that LW is acting defensively. The thing is, that doesn’t necessarily change much in practical terms: it’s still either get yourself fumigated and wait to see if that makes a difference, or run like hell and then get yourself fumigated.

        All the other ‘solutions’ begin with “He/she/they need[s] to…”

        And while they may, indeed, need to, those are not solutions in that they are not things that LW can implement.

        But here’s the thing that tipped me over: LW seems absolutely convinced that they are not the problem, here, in any way. This does not match my experience of people who are being emotionally abused.

        1. But here’s the thing that tipped me over: LW seems absolutely convinced that they are not the problem, here, in any way. This does not match my experience of people who are being emotionally abused.

          Oh god yes. Just think how many letters have come in from people who are definitely objectively being abused but who don’t quite know it, and how they talk about themselves. I suppose it’s possible that Partner is just a really incompetent abuser, but….

        2. LW seems absolutely convinced that they are not the problem, here, in any way. This does not match my experience of people who are being emotionally abused.

          AH! Yes, thank you, that pins down the thing that first fundamentally made me go ” . . . .O RLY” at LW’s account. (I so brite lately). Because it also doesn’t match my experience of people who are in a bad situation and fundamentally honestly trying to figure out a solution

          1. YES. There is so much discrediting of the other two people in the situation all throughout this letter.

    2. Jeez, I missed a lot of that. You are right. The husband has made a decision. He wants to be a triad again (nota fair ask of the LW) or a V (a totally doable option, but not a satisfactory answer for the LW) .He isn’t being indecisive, he is taking a decision that the LW dislikes and wants him to change to what she wants.

      Your read of the situation gives me a whole new perspective and I think you are onto something.

      1. Yeah sure but since he can’t have that it might help if he contributed an opinion on how he wants to proceed. You know, in reality where he can’t have what he wants. Because saying he wants things to just continue isn’t a meaningful contribution at this point.

        For example, imagine your house was partially destroyed by a tornado. Your options are to repair it, or knock it down and build a new place, or just sell it and move on. You ask your husband what he wants to do, and he says “live in the house the way it was before the tornado knocked it down”. That is not a meaningful answer.

        I dunno, I feel like there are definitely bees and I’m not entirely sure where they’re coming from and some of the stuff the LW said made me go all squinty eyed but expecting your husband to contribute to this decision isn’t out of order. Neither is telling him what you want – you can’t make him do it, but you can ask. Just like Partner isn’t out of line in expressing her needs.

        1. Good analogy. I think absolutely everyone in this situation wants something they should (and probably do) recognize isn’t tenable, and is digging their heels in on it anyway. But I do have to say that whatever role the LW has played in creating the dynamic, wanting to bring a kid into this whole mess takes Partner having a hive from “maybe” to “definitely, and can we wave some smoke over those bees, because wow that buzzing sounds suspiciously alarm-like.”

        2. But he is saying what he wants. They have a V shaped relationship now. He wants to keep it, in the tornado analogy that is fixing the house. The LW can’t abide by that for very legitimate reasons, in the tornado analogy she wants to knock down the house. She knows what he wants and she knows what she wants and their wants are not the same. She can no more make him change his wants than he can make her change hers.

          The real question is not how do we get rid of Partner. It is, “Now that I know my husband wants Partner in his life, what should I do?”

          1. I’d distinguish between saying what he wants, and making a decision. He wants a V-shaped relationship. OK, but that’s not an option because it doesn’t work for LW. (It is possible that he doesn’t know this because LW has not expressed the thought that it is not an option for her, but given the apparent bad atmosphere in the house, there would have to be a hefty amount of Not Noticing Everyone Else Is Unhappy for him to be unaware of this.)

            LW is aware that what she wants (V-shaped relationship with Partner as secondary and herself as primary) is incompatible with what Partner wants; Partner is presumably aware that what she wants (V-shaped relationship with herself as primary and mother of Husband’s kids) is incompatible with what LW wants; Husband is presumably aware that what he wants (resumption of old closed triad, or V-shaped relationship, apparently no comment offered on primary/secondary status: possibly “you girls sort it out between you” or “can’t we just have the status quo” or “whatever you want dear”) is not compatible with LW’s or Partner’s wishes.

            I don’t think anyone comes out of this well, but I don’t think it is fair to say that LW is *more* avoidant than Husband. Regardless of what the power relationships were to begin with, they are all trying to pursue their own agendas at the expense of at least one other person’s happiness and it’s hard to see how any of them could not be aware of that.

          2. @Mary – since nesting limits reached.

            First off, I am not seeing anyone as a bad person here, just a bunch of incompatible wants, explicitly or implicitly expressed and a bunch of people who will not make a decision because they want consensus without compromise. It is all around bad news.

            LW-Wants to remain primary and definitely does not want Partner and Husband to have a child. Currently wants Partner out of the shared home. Decision Needed: If Husband and Partner want to continue the relationship and she remains in the house, can I live with it? Should I leave if he will not agree to kick her out?

            Partner-Wants equality in her relationship and is tired of being seen as at a lesser status. Wants a baby with current lover. Decision Needed: If Husband wants me to stay in a V, but LW wants me to go, what should I do? Can I survive on my own?

            Husband: Wants things to go back to how they were, or, lacking that, a V shaped relationship with LW and Partner. Doesn’t want Partner to leave. Doesn’t want to tell LW that (presumably). May or may not want child with Partner. May or may not want equality between partners. Decision Needed: If this living situation is no longer possible, what should I do? Whose wants should I prioritize, LW or Partner, because what I want is not possible?

            Only the LW wrote, so only the LW’s decsisions and actions can be addressed. Nothing can make Partner or Husband change their wants and there is no magical way to force the outcome LW wants or to make Husband suddenly decisive (and decide decisively in her favor), so she needs to figure out what she wants to do, operating under the assumption that her husband may never come out and explicitly say what he wants, or that his answer may not be what she wants to hear. Preferably before Partner gets pregnant.

          3. I think we are mostly in agreement! The bit I was disagreeing with was “the husband has made a decision” in Marna Nightingale’s post and your one immediately below it. He may have done, but if so, he hasn’t communicated it to LW. So I don’t think it’s fair to say, “he’s made a decision, he’s just made one you don’t like” – assuming he is simply repeating his despite for everything to stay in a V, and not addressing the question of equality or having children, I think it’s reasonable for LW to characterise that as “no decision”.

            But I do age that an absence of decision is still exercising agency, and if he isn’t going to formally state a decision, then the LW needs to treat his passivity as a decision and make her decisions based on that.

          4. “(V-shaped relationship with Partner as secondary and herself as primary)”

            So, basically, an L-shaped relationship? 😀

    3. Wow, you nailed it! You’ve broken down exactly what was troubling me this morning.

      I seriously cannot commend you enough for this.

    4. I agree that Husband has ultimately made his wishes clear by not asking Partner to leave, and that the LW should respond to the situation as it is rather than how she wishes it were.

      However, I don’t think it’s likely that Partner’s alleged PTSD-causing behavior was taking steps to leave–because whatever the behavior was, it happened *before* LW and husband started dating her, when she was just a friend/roommate. (Or possibly even before she moved in with them, as the timeline isn’t very clear.) It just doesn’t seem plausible to me that a roommate taking steps to leave would be traumatic enough to induce PTSD, although I guess nothing’s impossible.

      There’s been a lot of speculation as to what the PTSD-causing behavior could have been, and there’s not enough information in the letter to make anything other than wild guesses, but it still sticks out as a giant red flag to me.

    5. That’s exactly how I felt about this letter too. Being unable to have partners outside the triad and expected to accept being forever second place in both of her relationships – and unable to have children – is an awful and psychologically damaging situation for Partner to be in, especially after 4 years together. LW, greater duration of relationship isn’t an automatic trump card that allows you to win all arguments with Partner. For this to work, you would have to examine your stated boundaries and the reasons behind them and think about where you can compromise in order for Partner’s needs to be met. If the three of you discuss and negotiate and can’t find a situation that all of you can be happy in, then the relationship is no longer tenable. It sounds like that’s the case, but you can’t have a productive discussion about it as long as you keep thinking of Partner’s needs and wishes as unreasonable demands,

      “However, if she left, he would have a PTSD meltdown because his PTSD was caused by behavior of hers before we even became a triad. She knows this, and has used it several times in the past several years to get her way when she wants something, usually something I am not comfortable with.”

      This part of the letter also concerned me. This sounds like horrifying and abusive behaviour from Partner, but it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the letter, and it’s phrased in such a vague way it’s unclear what it might really mean. Of course there are many reasons to not want to discuss the details of PTSD-triggering trauma in a public forum, but I wonder if this would come across very differently with some of the details filled in or told from a different perspective. It sounds like in the beginning, you and your husband embarked on relationships with Partner willingly and enthusiastically, and were happy until quite recently? That leads me to think that the PTSD-causing ‘behaviour’ of hers may not actually be her fault – perhaps a car crash as another reader suggested or related to the sexual assault you mentioned. If that’s the case and as Marna Nightingale suggested, her ‘using this knowledge’ means saying that she will leave the relationship if her needs are not met, then those scary-abusive-sounding sentences could be technically true without Partner being the bad guy. Your husband having a PTSD episode if Partner leaves can’t be a reason to hold her in the relationship forever. Likewise, this fear shouldn’t hold you or your husband hostage in an unhappy relationship either. Does your husband have support from a therapist to help him through this?

      I wish you the best in sorting this out LW, and I hope the three of you can find compassion for one another even while you’re hurting.

      1. Isn’t leaving a relationship because your needs are not being met always a valid and non-abusive option?

        That was something that just jelled for me. LW doesn’t want to have Partner leave because of the possible PTSD trigger, but she doesn’t want Partner to have her needs wholly (equality+child) or partially (equality or child) met either, so what is Partner supposed to do? She can’t get her needs met or leave, so what is she supposed to do?

        1. Be a good little dependent Saved From Trauma partner, obviously, accept her secondary status, and stop having wants!

        2. This double bind is what stops me, paired with the fact that LW repeatedly states that her only concern is Husband’s mental health, but it’s always framed as “Look how much more selfless I am than that other bleepity-bleep who just wants to get her way.” The bees are everywhere here, seems to me … but LW has control only over her own actions. She’s trying to assert otherwise, but I think somewhere in there knows that this is a fool’s errand (hence the illogic of “I want you to leave! But you can’t leave!” to Partner). If she can’t take it anymore, she could explain that to Husband and decide that SHE is going to undertake a trial separation. To do that, though, she has to first face down her fear that he will respond by “choosing” Partner over her (I put “choosing” in quotes because Partner is already in the house and has made clear that she’s not going anywhere, and it’s easier for him because then he doesn’t really have to DO anything). That’s clearly what this is really about. LW, I sympathize with your husband re his depression, but he’s not magically going to develop agency if you sit around, snipe back and forth with Partner, and wait for it to happen. You can’t MAKE either of them do what you want. You can only express your wants, CLEARLY — something you aren’t currently doing — and then if they can’t or won’t be met, you can either a)figure out how to live with that or b)leave.

          Or I guess c)stay in the house and try to make Partner miserable enough that SHE eventually leaves. I suspect this is an option she’s toyed with. But just remember, LW, scorched earth is tough to live on.

          1. The illogic and double bind shows up again when describing Partner as “passive-aggressive and combative”. Well… which? Because to me that sounds like the classic “if you say what you want you’re demanding and aggressive, if you’re anything less than perfectly clear you’re manipulative” trope that’s used against women all the time when they’re trying to negotiate things (relationships, sexual agency, employment…)

        3. LW too wants the status quo ante – that is before Partner’s declaration that she wants to be Primary with child.

          But that won’t happen.

          LW can’t have herself her husband and girl-toy. I believe she will be happier with the end result (whatever it is) if she allows herself to imagine life without Partner. A life where Husband can find treatment and she herself has a Team LW.

    6. I tried to comment earlier–not sure if it didn’t go through, or got stuck in the spam filter. But I just wanted to point out that it’s unlikely that threatening to leave was what caused Husband’s PTSD, because whatever behavior caused the PTSD happened *before* they became a triad–back when Partner was just a friend/roommate. (Possibly even before she lived with LW and Husband, since the timeline isn’t very clear.)

      1. Yes, but on the other hand the thing that’s mentioned as potentially going to trigger the husband’s PTSD now (“terribly” and causing a “meltdown”) is the prospect of her leaving.

        Which is … strange.

        I mean, I can absolutely see that someone who’s severely depressed might have an especially hard time coping with a break-up. But this is being talked about specifically in terms of PTSD triggers.

        1. Yeah, that is really strange. Either there’s something going on that the LW hasn’t mentioned, or she doesn’t have a good understanding of PTSD vs. depression and how triggers work, or both…

          1. I was thinking it might be related to the sexual assault. Perhaps he was unable to protect her and her leaving would trigger similar feelings?

          2. I was thinking the same, Neptune, perhaps combined with her being abandoned by her “immature” then-fiance (post-assault maybe, some partners don’t cope well). Her leaving in a way that makes her vulnerable and suggests abandonment by LW+husband could be triggery.

            Or it could be something else entirely, these dots are very sparse and a lot of different lines could go through them. But whatever it is, it’s unreasonable to want Partner to both stay (so as not to trigger Husband’s PTSD) but also not get what she needs from the relationship. LW does not get to sacrifice Partner’s independent needs on the altar of keeping Husband from melting down. And now she definitely can’t, because Partner is using this role as leverage.

      2. I agree with rydra_wong that the correlation of “abandonment-like behaviours on Partner’s part” and “things that trigger Husband” is suggestive, especially since a big thing that makes people susceptible to PTSD is a history of/sensitivity to abandonment dating back to childhood. If, for example, Husband was very fond of Partner way back when, and she looked likely to move to another country/commit suicide/disappear somehow, it would be quite plausible for him to freak out and develop acute PTSD.

        1. If, for example, Husband was very fond of Partner way back when, and she looked likely to move to another country/commit suicide/disappear somehow, it would be quite plausible for him to freak out and develop acute PTSD.

          Yeah, abandonment issues could definitely be a thing.

          OTOH, even if someone has a history of past traumatic abandonment, even if rejection can trigger the brainweasels for them in an absolutely genuine PTSD way, that (obviously) doesn’t mean that no-one is allowed to leave them ever.

    7. I dunno, husband could just be being passive about the whole thing, “not wanting to hurt her feelings,” etc. and that’s why he refuses to take a stand on the topic. He may not be super thrilled with Partner either, but doesn’t want to be the bad guy who dumps her. Hard to say at this point.

    8. I think the bees are coming from inside the LW here. I really really do.

      Maybe the original hive was the husband’s, and maybe not, and maybe Partner has her own hive, but it’s hard to see much through the cloud of bees I’m getting off this letter.

      I’m sitting over here applauding your comment.

      I recognize it is not the most charitable thing, and as someone else in the comments pointed out, the Captain is being very compassionate in her reading of the letter. I admire and appreciate that. But I could barely read this letter through the cloud of bees–I honestly had to skim the first time I read it, because I read “she has twice demanded to have absolute relationship equality with my husband” and I heard the buzzing of hundreds of angry bees and skipped to the Captain’s response.

      When a romantic partner–someone you presumably care for in some sort of way–comes to you with a request that amounts to, “I would like to be treated as a more equal part of this closed relationship we are in,” you certainly don’t need to immediately acquiesce, but I would expect that at the very least, you could empathize with them and understand why they might want that. Instead, the way LW writes presents Partner’s requests/demands as inherently unreasonable, even laughable, without a hint of empathy.

      Wanting to be seen as an equal is not inherently unreasonable, even when Partner wants to be seen as equal to you and Husband of Five Years. Because if your standard for treating people as people, with their own valid desires and needs and wishes and hopes is “know Husband longer than I’ve known him,” then nobody will ever win that contest. But nobody should have to win that contest to be treated as a person, for their requests and considerations to be met with at least a bare minimum of empathy, even if not agreement.

      There are bees everywhere in this letter, so many bees. But LW’s attitude toward the whole primary/secondary hierarchy seems particularly fraught with them, and my reaction to these metaphorical bees is precisely the same as my reaction to literal bees: lots of NOPE and profound discomfort.

  36. LW, I was thinking about this and I just wanted to say – I think that right now it’s very difficult for a lot of people to set up functioning poly relationships, because we lack good models. Many of us have had at least adequate couple models in our lives somewhere, but fewer of us have had any poly models, never mind good ones. (Presumably this will change – be the models we wish to see in the world, I guess.)

    When I think about your situation, it seems like one that many people could find themselves in – you did talk it through to the best of your ability, you all wanted it to work, you all meant well towards each other. (At least I assume so!) From the outside, I feel like power differentials and potential relationship changes weren’t really considered, and maybe everyone didn’t think through how “secondary” would work long term, but it’s easy to see that later, from the outside – especially in a society where these arrangements are not yet common, so we don’t have any automatic rubrics for how they can work.

    Something else that came to mind: what financial resources does everyone have? If you’ve understood the basic set-up correctly, it seems quite possible that someone will be leaving. If it’s Partner, does she have the money to house herself elsewhere? If she is financially dependent in some way – or has a bad rental history, etc – that may be adding to her feeling that she really needs to hold on to her situation with you.

    I worry about poly-triad-hetero-marriage situations because very often the heterosexual couple has a house, assets, shared insurance, etc and the poly person has far, far fewer resources (and their situation as a third prevents them from getting into a relationship where they’d accrue resources.). There’s no automatic mechanism for sharing the couple’s resources (although you can lawyer up on your own and create one) and there’s no obvious way to understand such an allocation. (For example – if a couple is paying on a mortgage, and the third is paying rent to the couple which supports the mortgage payment, the third doesn’t build up any equity. Now, of course the third could be renting somewhere else, but then so could the couple – the couple have the mortgage because it’s much easier for a married couple to get one. Surely you can see that in a truly serious, longer-term cohabiting relationship, a lot of financial advantages accrue to the couple and not the third – and this itself means that the third has less power/freedom than the couple because of having less money.)

  37. I have some sympathy for the LW; it seems she didn’t realize exactly how much she was changing her relationship when they went from a dyad to a triad. Now Partner is saying, “I want to have children with your husband and change your life forever, and you don’t get anything to say about it.”

    If they had a time machine, they could all go back to the beginning and negotiate terms, but even then people’s needs and wants change. Any partner is going to be a person with needs and wants of their own.

    This genie is out of the bottle, and it ain’t going back in. I think the LW needs to state plainly to her husband what she needs here to be happy, invite him to state what he needs, and if they can’t get the needs in alignment, the marriage is over. I can imagine the LW feeling this is not fair, because she was there first and so on, but fair doesn’t even come into it. There’s only what works for the people involved, and what doesn’t.

    There are worse things than being alone. Being perpetually unhappy and disregarded in your own home is certainly one of them. Right now divorcing may seem like the worst possible outcome (it did to me, before my divorce under very different circumstances) but once you come out the other side (if that’s the way is shakes out) you may feel an incredible sense of relief, and possibility.

    Good luck.

    1. Yup. While we’re mourning our pterodactyl-gnawed time machine, this is why we advise people not to get involved with people who are coming out of abusive relationships until they get a chance to heal and figure out who they are without being badgered and contorted into unnatural shapes in order to prove their love… give them a chance to breathe in their own rhythm.

      1. ” this is why we advise people not to get involved with people who are coming out of abusive relationships until they get a chance to heal and figure out who they are without being badgered and contorted into unnatural shapes in order to prove their love… ”

        How long is that?

        1. This feels a bit like a snide rhetorical question, but the honest answer is: depends on the person, but at least a few months of being more or less independent and mostly financially stable (given that a lot of abuse can be via financial manipulation, or that people can put up with abuse due to housing/support needs) is a good idea.

          1. Until they have said “no, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to do that” to people they care for deeply a few times, and watched the roof NOT cave in, off the top of my head.

          2. @ Marna (stupid end of nesting): Oh that’s a good one, yes, and is sort of in what I was groping for – having enough time and space to experience the world as NOT adhering to the abusive dynamics and need to survive within them.

          3. Marna, Marwen, yes! I do think that it’s good to live on one’s own, picking out one’s own clothes, eating what one likes, dealing with disasters of one’s own making and surviving, for at least a half a year, and about eighteen months before moving in with someone you’re fluiding with (and about two years before fluiding with someone with whom you live). People are, however, individuals in different circumstances, so YMMV, obviously. I’ve seen things work out without that happening, but I think can make a huge difference down the line.

      2. For what it’s worth, the LW doesn’t say that Partner came out of an abusive relationship: she said that Partner’s ex-fiancé “was deeply immature, and she [Partner] has an abusive family background.” A lot of commenters are reading that to mean that Partner’s relationship was abusive, which I don’t think is necessarily the case, at least from what little info we have.

        But either way, it does sound like LW and Husband got involved with Partner when she was in a vulnerable place–fresh out of a serious relationship, recovering from a sexual assault, and depending on them for housing–and that’s at least a yellow flag, if not a red one. And definitely something worth advising against in general.

  38. If LW is the only person of this trio in such radiant mental health, surely she can see that its her decision to infantilize her husband that’s keeping him ill. Quit emotionally diapering him. I bet it’d be very good for him to reclaim his adult agency, or don’t you want that for him.

    The Partner is described as having survived a long period of some serious emotional and sexual abuse. That doesn’t leave one with a clear head. You and your husband come off as abusive jerks by “taking her in” and then pressing yourselves on her while she was vulnerable. Consider your choices and motives. Did you force her to trade sex with both of you for a roof over her head?

    You had your fun with her and now you (not him) want her gone. Now she’s making a bid for the security that she’s never had and having a kid with your (otherwise childless?) husband seems to her that it will get her the home she likes and cut down on the number of people she has to have sex with. The only thing in her way is you.

    No one’s commented that this has some elements of personal danger for all three of you, and stress is good at escalating feelings of urgency. Your play toy doesn’t want to play anymore.

    1. Um, wow, that seems to be both reading a lot into the letter that isn’t there, and ignoring a lot that is?

      Others have pointed out that LW should – later, and with some distance – take a hard look at her own role in these dynamics, not because she is an Awful Person, but to find out how this happened and to avoid repeating it again. I don’t see how that translates into casting LW and her husband into the role of rapist-villains and her former lover as a helpless damsel in distress.

    2. If LW is the only person of this trio in such radiant mental health, surely she can see that its her decision to infantilize her husband that’s keeping him ill.

      I’m hoping this is intended sarcastically.

      None of the emotional dynamics here sound the healthiest, and of course, complicated emotional stressors can exacerbate mental health issues. But the LW isn’t making her husband mentally ill, and severe depression isn’t something that can be cured with a bit of tough love.

  39. So, leaving aside the specific romantic and relationship dynamics, I do understand LW’s response here. When faced with a situation where I’m invested in the outcome, but where it’s dependent on the choices of other people, I have a tendency to try to manage everything so the outcome is the one I want. Meanwhile, I’m also convinced that in fact the outcome won’t be what I want and can never be what I want, which makes me panic more, which makes me try to manage more, and then it turns into a downward spiral.

    The problem really is that as soon as there are other people involved in choosing what happens, the situation isn’t one that can be truly managed. If there are three people, who want three different things, each complex and contradictory, LW is never going to be able to force the outcome she wants into existence. And it sounds like she’s looking for a way to do that–asking other poly friends, talking to Partner–in hopes that she’ll find the golden ticket to just fix everything.

    But what little I’ve learned dealing with my own tendencies toward doing this is that by taking a step back, you let people reach their own conclusions and that sometimes people surprise you. In any event, at least you are not so invested in the outcome of this one thing (however important it is!) that you lose yourself. People above have mentioned possible legal issues involved in LW moving out, but actually I think taking finite time away is more basic. Go to a coffeeshop and try something new; curl up somewhere quiet and re-read a favorite book; go see that art exhibit that looked interesting. Center yourself on who you are, and do your best to treat others with that same grace. It may not fix anything; the outcome may still be one that you don’t want, but at least you haven’t also lost yourself.

  40. LW, I feel for you, but one thing that stood out to me here, was your repeated insistence that all you want is for your husband to be happy. When I read your letter, though, I see a whole lot of other wants. You want your husband not to have children with his other partner. You want this other partner to stop being passive aggressive and combative to you, and ideally, you want her out of your living space. And you don’t want to look selfish or like a villain in this piece. And those are all perfectly reasonable things to want! It’s okay to have all those desires, but not just because they are okay things to want doesn’t mean that all of them can be met. For example, your desires are in direct conflict with Partner’s desires. No matter how you work this out, there’s a very good chance that she’s going to tell a story to herself in which you are a horrible evil monster. That’s okay too. As long as you act with honesty and integrity, it doesn’t matter how Partner feels about you or what story she tells herself or her Team Her. But part of acting with honesty, LW, is admitting and owning your feelings and desires.

    Another thing I noticed in your letter is how you repeat that your husband can’t decide what he wants, but, and maybe I’m reading into this here, I’m getting an implicit assumption that of course, if he were able to, he’d decide to dump the Partner and go back to prioritizing you and only you. LW, emotions just don’t work that way. So ask yourself, and maybe ask Husband, is he in love with Partner? Does he yearn for her to be happy and healthy and fulfilled? Does he want to have a child with her? If so, can you live with that? If she stops with the negative actions towards you, can you imagine a future where you trust that your Husband will always love you and also loves this other woman? Maybe that future involves her moving out, or maybe it involves dividing the house into two apartments so you don’t have to deal with her in your face, or whatever works for you, but she’s still a part of Husband’s life. You don’t say why you don’t want him to have a child with her, but would you be willing to reconsider that stance?

    Of course this isn’t how is has to play out. It could be Husband is not in love with this woman, and upon being told clearly what impact her presence in your home is having on you, he will decide it’s not worth whatever he’s getting out of that relationship. Or he might say that he loves Partner and wants her part of his life no matter what, and you might then decide that you can’t live with that. In the end, though, you’ve got to start saying what you want, and the Captain’s scripts are a good place to start.

    1. This is great! I wish there were a way to bump comments closer to the top of the thread. I hope the LW reads this, because: such good advice.

  41. I haven’t read all the comments yet. I will, but I wanted to get my thoughts out first.

    One, as someone with occasionally catatonic depression, I have to say that the first thing that struck me was that the situation itself is quite possibly exacerbating the depression itself. Vicious cycle, yes, but one that (as I can sadly personally attest to) is excruciatingly difficult to break out of. And, once again, extrapolating from personal experience, it can take a serious shock to break you out of it externally. So, I’m going to second the Captain’s suggestion of taking a break from the situation, physically. Either by going on vacation or by moving into a separate dwelling. I’m going to second that, despite the fact that it crushed me when my wife did just that, nigh on 8 months ago, because it also absolutely served as a serious “shit or get off the pot” wakeup call for me, to knock me out of the aforementioned cycle.

    Two, I have to say that Partner’s initial set of desires doesn’t strike me as particularly insane. Lots of people want kids. A situation in which one has been welcomed into a long running and seemingly stable relationship, especially in the wake of an abusive relationship, might seem like a really good place to have them.

    Three, sympathy to you, LW. There’s nothing wrong with you wanting to not have kids, or being upset by the strong potential of a long running relationship ending. Believe me. I have mad sympathy for that. (Last year, wife of 18 years relationship, 10 years marriage, told me she was no longer in love with me. That was… not good.) I hope that something not-horrible can be salvaged, here.

  42. I haven’t read all the comments yet, and I’ve never been in this exact scenario – ie none of us were married, but there was 4 of us sharing a house, 2 of who were siblings but who were both partnered with the rest of us – but in our case, when the unwanted partner wouldn’t move out, the rest of us gave notice and moved to a new home. It was drastic, I admit, but it certainly made ex-partner get her shit together and find somewhere else to live (as did the rest of us, including the sibling). I feel like this is a really final solution and you may not want to go this far (or maybe you own a home, that would certainly complicate things), but it worked for us.

  43. LW, as someone with PTSD, triggering your husband is not the end of the world (or your relationship). My PTSD is related to emotional abuse; my partner has severe OCD. We have triggered each other before, especially early in the relationship when we were still building trust and learning about one another. There was pain, unkind things were said, but ultimately our relationship survived. Do not put off an important decision or action because it might trigger him.

    1. I know, right? I mean, I get triggered by fucking everything under the sun; if hubby wanted to never trigger me, we would never be able to have sex like, ever. Or have a relationship at all, since I get triggered by ordinary things like disagreement or screwing up. Like, sure, being triggered is unpleasant, but I’d way rather have mindblowing sex or accept when I’m wrong and take my lumps than… I dunno, hubby acting like I’m some broke baby duckling.

      Like, it really boggles me that “he might get triggered!” is considered a valid reason to not make a decision that needs making!

  44. Since DH is so passive, it would be very interesting to see what happens if they casually (secretly) go off to a little Drs. appointment to get him a vasectomy! Believe me, half the air would go out of the Other Woman/”Partner”‘s sail!! This would force her to stay with DH for HIM, OR it would force HER to find someone ELSE to start a family with! Believe me, the !@#$ would hit the fan!

    LW wouldn’t kick her out, but it would be better if “Partner” left. This way she might.

    What I would do is call all the bluffs, kick her out, and let DH have his PTSD meltdown and change the locks. Say, that he can see her but you don’t want to know about it or hear about it.

    I like the comment, “She might win, but he’s no prize!”

    This is why poly relationships in general don’t/won’t work.

    1. if they casually (secretly) go off… This would force her… Believe me, the !@#$ would hit the fan!… Say, that he can see her but… This is why poly relationships in general don’t/won’t work.

      Well, yes, poly relationships won’t work if people do things in secret, try to force others to behave in certain ways, delight in causing mayhem, or set passive-aggressive rules that beg to be broken. Neither will monogamous relationships. I’m not sure why you’re giving advice that amounts to treating other people very poorly.

      Your scare quotes around “Partner” are also pretty rude; whatever else is going on in that household, Partner’s relationship with Husband is real, not a fiction.

      Given that the commentariat here is full of people in happy, successful poly relationships, I suggest that you avoid making generalizations in that direction.

      1. I know Partner’s relationship with Husband is real, not fiction. May I suggest that the LW’s relationship with her Husband is “more real”. The other girl has got to go, as this particular arrangement is not working.

        1. You may suggest it, but that doesn’t make you right. Both LW and Partner have relationships with the LW’s husband. It’s probably not possible or advisable for that state of affairs to continue, because these three people have fundamentally incompatible desires for their future, and LW and Partner seem to get along very badly. But that doesn’t make Partner’s relationship with LW’s husband “less real” or less important. It just means everyone can’t get what they want here.

        2. Everything else aside, and that’s a lot:

          This solution is not within the LW’s power to implement.

          Therefore it is not a solution. As we used to say on alt.support.step-parenting back when Usenet roamed the earth, it is important to correctly define your circle of control and act within it.

          Husband’s relationship with Partner (who is hopefully not a ‘girl’ or I rescind all previous advice and go straight to CONTACT THE APPROPRIATE AUTHORITIES A MINOR HAS BEEN GROOMED AND IS BEING ABUSED) :

          Ending that relationship is not a thing LW can do. LW’s strongest legitimate move here is ‘ultimatium’.

      2. Am I the only one here who didn’t take the vasectomy comment literally? The way I read that message, the writer was making a different point entirely.

      1. Sing, O muse, of the WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS EVEN.

        Making your husband’s medical and reproductive decisions for him? Keeping things secret? Pulling the rug out from under your metamour? Claiming that shitty manipulative tactics are why poly relationships Just Don’t Work?


        1. Stealing this! It is in mah pocketses as we speak! Thanks for the breeeliance!:

          “Sing, O muse, of the WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS EVEN”

    2. Since DH is so passive, it would be very interesting to see what happens if they casually (secretly) go off to a little Drs. appointment to get him a vasectomy!

      Are you actually saying “If Husband is so mentally ill that he can’t make decisions, that’s an awesome time to take advantage of him and coerce him into a potentially-permanent medical procedure he doesn’t want, in order to try to ‘defeat’ another woman?”

      Because … that’s what you seem to be saying.

      1. It’s not like there’s a history of involuntarily sterilizing mentally ill people, right? Oh wait.

    3. As Rydra noted, you appear to be suggesting that someone take advantage of someone else’s mental illness to manipulate/coerce them into a major medical procedure.

      And that is really, really abusive. Hideously so.

    4. And by “interesting”, I take it you mean “horrible and dysfunctional but everybody involved, but I think it’s funny.”

      You are the opposite of helpful.

    5. I really hope that you take the various responses here to your comment to heart and understand that this is not a space for advocating strategies intended to effect your desired outcome by using force, coercion, or compulsions on other people. Individuals do not lose their agency simply because they are in a relationship with you, and the course of action you suggest is repugnant and vile. You are seriously suggesting that the LW enact violence on her husband’s person to “show” his other partner.

      You, sir or madam, are stirring the pot with no desire to personally taste the stew, and it’s not an attractive look on you.

      1. If you read the comment, you would read, “It would be interesting to see what happens if…” Of course it was meant tongue in cheek, people!! (YEESH!) But in all seriousness, if the DH DID decide WITH his wife, to ever get a vasectomy, I would give a wide side eye to the Partner/”Partner” (“Partner in quotes here because she sure isn’t acting like one right now with the PTSD trigger threatening thing!!) if she raised any objections because…. It is NOT actually ANY of her business!! YES she has feelings, but NO she is outside the marriage no matter what arrangement they used to have!

        Christ on a Cracker, I do wish the DH would make a decision!!

        In the meantime, LW needs to do what she needs to do, and recognize that DH not making a decision is, actually, a decision.

        1. Of course it’s not “Partner’s business” whether Husband gets a vasectomy, in the sense of being Partner’s decision. It’s also not LW’s decision. It’s Husband’s decision, because it’s his body. Whether Husband intends to have a child with Partner in the future is Partner’s business, in the sense that it’s reasonable for her to want an answer to that question. At this point, Husband appears to be saying “I don’t know,” which is an unsatisfactory answer in the long run. (For everyone involved in this situation, except, apparently, Husband.)

          If Partner were the one writing in, I would suggest that she think long and hard about whether she wants to stay in a relationship in which she may not ever get the things she wants (because LW doesn’t want those things, and Husband keeps saying he doesn’t know). But LW can’t control either what Partner does or what Husband does. All she can do is make her own desires and needs as clear as possible, and then decide whether to leave or not if Husband can’t or won’t meet her needs (for Partner to move out, for Husband to commit to not having a child with Partner, for Husband’s only primary relationship to be with her.)

        2. But it wouldn’t be interesting to see what happens if they do that. It would be awful.

          An important thing about jokes is that they need to be funny.

        3. It did not come across as tongue in cheek to me; it came across as disrespectful of all parties and of the LW’s question.

          Given that we do not know what vows have been exchanged between and among the three parties, we can not state for sure that Partner does not have any rights to raise objections to Husband and LW making substantial changes in their life. I realize you think that marriage vows trump everything else, but for some people, that is simply not true.

        4. Small words for you: “jokes” about coercively sterilizing mentally ill people are awful, inappropriate, vicious, and not fucking funny. “I was joking/it was tongue in cheek!” doesn’t actually fucking make it better.

    6. …………I think perhaps this is not the community for you, yes? I think maybe one might want to spend some more time in the archives, yes?

      1. Nope. Long time reader. It’s just another perspective folks (and peace be with you if this triggers!!) That being: The relationship decisions of a married couple (re: life decisions, surgery, taxes, moving, child rearing, 100X etc.) is theirs alone and no one else’s business. Others in and out of their relationship may have an opinion and feelings on the matter. But it’s just that. Opinions and feelings. LW and DH ultimately have all the power. It is theirs to give away, but they are always free to change their mind, as the LW has done! She just wants DH to make up his mind!

        1. I’m reminded of one of the later chapters of To Sail Beyond the Sunset, by Robert Heinlein, about a woman who’s been married 30+ years and her husband wants a divorce so he can marry his widowed daughter-in-law to have more children, and the distinction she makes between things they collected during their marriage vs. things the new partner can share.

        2. Um.

          Look, I’m not poly and I don’t really have an interest in being poly, so it’s not like I’m popping up here to defend it, but I disagree with you. LW and Husband willing entered into – and pursued – a relationship with Partner. When you are in a polyamorous relationship, no, one person or one couple does not “have all the power,” and suggesting that is…I’ll just say it’s troubling. Very troubling.

          And especially in poly relationships where things like housing, finances, or children enter in the mix, one person does not have carte blanche to control everything that’s happening, because there are other people in that relationship. Just because LW and Husband happen to be legally married does NOT mean that it’s no one else’s business, because they chose to make it someone’s business when they entered into a relationship with a third person.

          The LW has changed her mind about the relationship because the relationship has changed. And that is fine. She can absolutely deliver an ultimatum to Husband that Partner goes or she goes. I actually think she should because the current dynamic is clearly making her miserable.

          And finally, suggesting that someone coerce a partner into something like sterilization is not funny, full stop. It’s abusive and it’s wrong.

  45. Seriously, nothing about this relationship(s) sounds healthy. Like, at all. While on the face of it the LW and her husband sound like great people for giving this person a place to live, rereading her sentence seriously squicks me out. They entered into a secondary relationship with this person while she was dependent on them for food, shelter, and emotional support? That seems….like a really unbalanced power dynamic. Helping her get through a sexual assault? Was there a therapist in here anywhere? Some kind of objective party to whom Secondary Party wasn’t indebted to?


    LW, the Captain has given you great advice. Your husband could make a decision. He’s choosing not to, which is – you guessed it! – a decision. Because he’s been told that what he wants to happen isn’t going to happen…but it kind of is happening. In fact, it’s happening right now!

    You aren’t going to be happy with this woman in the picture. Your husband apparently isn’t going to be happy without her. I’m not a fan of ultimatums, but I’m assuming you wrote to the Captain because the current situation is untenable for you. Something has to change. Right now it sounds that you and Secondary Partner are being held hostage to your husband’s needs/wants. No one here is minimizing depressed and/or PTSD, but you and Partner can’t continue this standoff indefinitely. It sounds like the only person here getting their needs met is husbands.

    Funny, that.

      1. Anothermous, I can fly higher than an eagle, you are the wind beneath my wings. 🙂

        This question is one that, as I reread it, my face just got more D: D: DDDD:

  46. I want to say two things:
    Let’s read the line on Partner triggering Husbands PTSD in the most charitable way possible. Something happened in Partner’s life which unintentionally brought about Husband’s PTSD and now the fear of that reoccurring is hanging heavily in the air. Whenever change or some other thing is brought up, that fear is triggered.

    The person I’m the least inclined to be generous towards is the Husband. He seems to be making his choice – do nothing and have both women focused on pleasing him.

    Partner wants something to change, she’s open about it, LW wants change, she’s writing to Captain Awkward. Husband is the elephant in the room here. From where I’m sitting his (non)action looks a lot like maintaining privilege and entitlement.

    1. YES.

      I am in a relationship superficially resembling your first paragraph, and it’s *hard*. And the only way it can work is by talking about it, not letting it be this horrible killer elephant in the corner. Ideally, talking about it with a therapist, but if that’s not at all feasible, then at least setting aside time to talk about it together.

  47. I know very little about poly relationships so I could be way off base here. It seems to me that part of what must be difficult for LW is that she and partner broke up and are essentially living with their ex. I am guessing that is where much of the anger and frustration in the letter is coming from.

    1. I agree that’s one source of tension here, and if all three people wanted to salvage this relationship as a V, I’d suggest that either LW or Partner move out; that would probably reduce the level of active conflict between Partner and LW, and make it possible for Partner to have a child with LW’s husband (if everyone were on MUCH better terms with one another, not as things stand now) without the LW co-parenting that child. But I think at this point that there’s too much bad feeling between LW and Partner for that to work.

  48. Something that jumped out at me:

    “My main fear is that if I demand that she leave that he will trigger horribly when she does and that he will resent me and leave me. He has told me that absolutely won’t happen, but I cannot keep myself from being so frightened of the prospect.”

    I wonder if Husband saying that absolutely won’t happen is him trying to say what he wants without actually saying it? I think everyone here is agreed that Husband needs to take more responsibility, and choosing not to choose is also a choice, but this read to me like he might be trying to say, “I don’t want to take responsibility for making the decision, but I’d be relieved if you got rid of Partner for me.”

    Again, a) this is a shitty way to communicate and b) I may be reading in things that aren’t there, but as a person who has spent a lot of time in the terrified of decisions place, it seemed like a possibility.

    1. Yeah, those sentences struck and puzzled me too, because it implies that they’ve actually had a conversation about what would happen if LW demands that Partner leave.

      And he’s reassured her that (depending on how one reads that sentence), either he’s not going to be triggered, or that even if he is he’s not going to resent or leave her because of it. She may not believe him, but it’s what she’s got.

      It also seems to indicate that they’re both assuming that if LW demands that Partner leaves, that’s what’ll happen — her husband may not support her, but he’s not going to contradict her either.

      That given, it seems like LW needs to decide if she wants to demand that Partner leaves, and handle whatever consequences follow.

      (I suppose one question is what “Partner leaves” actually means to each of them — we’re sort of all assuming that it means “Partner and Husband break up completely”, as opposed to “Partner moves out of the house, but Husband keeps seeing her.” Obviously, the difference matters to everyone concerned!)

  49. Having been the useless passive decisionless shithead (with depression and PTSD) in a similarly tornadic polyamorous situation, I just have to say (with the perspective of distance and time) is that hubby needs to goddamn well pull up his big boy pants and use his words here. Failing to do so is hurting both his partners, and could be construed as abusive. Certainly, sitting back and watch his partners hurt each OTHER is really actually pretty goddamn hateful — it’s functionally the same as manipulating them into battling each other like arena fighters and waiting to see which one goes down.

    Ultimatums suck, but sometimes they’re necessary to get someone to pull his head out of his ass. This is no longer about making sure HE isn’t hurt, it’s about doing damage control for the whole household. Adulting hurts sometimes — most of the time, really — and there’s no protecting him from that, ever. He can make a decision, and he can deal with whatever the hell it does to his PTSD, if anything at all. And if he can’t, that’s an answer too, isn’t it?

  50. So, after turning this letter over in my mind for the last day and a half or so, I realized I do have something I want to add to the comments for LW, so here goes.

    LW, whatever else is going on for you, and whatever your relationship dynamics are, and whatever your role may or may not be in creating the evil bees that currently infest your home, it’s pretty obvious you’ve written to CA from a place of deep pain and fear, and I feel so much empathy for you and kinship with you on that front, because trying to make big, life-changing relationship decisions from a place of pain and fear is pretty much guaranteed to fail. I’m not poly, but I was in a terrible place in my relationship not too long ago, and found myself doing increasingly not-okay things in the name of “preserving” or “fixing” the relationship, and the more I did those things, the worse things got. So, what actually helped?

    I identified the worst-case scenario *for me.* Not for my husband, not for our families, for ME. So give it some thought – What is the absolute worst outcome here, for you? Once you’ve got a handle on what the worst-case scenario is, start mapping it out in your head. I visualized my personal worst outcome a lot – I thought about what would happen initially, and then what would happen later on. I thought about where I’d be 3 days out, and 3 months out, and 3 years out. And as I mapped out all of those scenarios (and role-played them with my therapist – seriously, I can’t recommend therapy enough for you right now), I realized I had solutions to each terrible problem that the worst-case scenario would trigger. They weren’t all ideal solutions – some of them sucked – but they existed. There were things I could do to keep my life moving forward, even if the worst thing were to happen. The worst outcome would be painful and terrible and, ultimately, survivable.

    Having my worst-case-scenario-survival-plan in place profoundly changed how I made decisions about my situation – instead of making decisions from a place of feeling like I had to keep my relationship going at all costs because I couldn’t survive the end of my relationship (and all that that loss would entail), I was able to focus more clearly on doing the things that I needed to do to take care of myself emotionally, and on reaching out and asking for what I needed from the people around me. It was life-changing, and life-improving, and now, a year after the worst-case plan came into being, my life is infinitely better than I could’ve imagined 18 months ago when I was twisting myself into knots trying to prevent “the worst” from happening.

    LW, right now, you’re desperately trying to do anything and everything you can think of to avoid “the worst,” even though “anything and everything” includes some pretty troublesome thought patterns/behaviors/etc. But there’s no magical talisman that’s going to protect you from the thing you most fear, especially if that thing is a decision that needs to be made by someone who isn’t you (as I suspect it is). So instead of spending your emotional energy on figuring out how to protect your husband from emotional harm at the hands of ex-Partner (you can’t), or how to get husband to dislodge ex-Partner from your home and your lives of his own volition (you can’t), or how to get your marriage back to where it was before ex-Partner arrived (again, not something you can do, at least not single-handedly) start giving some thought to what your life will look like if nothing goes your way, if every one of your husband’s and your ex-partner’s decisions are in direct contradiction to your own needs/wants. Know how you’re going to take care of yourself if you don’t get to keep the things you are so desperately trying to protect, and then, when you’re able to approach it from a place of not just knowing what you want to have happen, but also knowing what you’re going to do if what you want to have happen doesn’t happen, start hashing things out with your husband.

  51. What if you and hub had a plan in place for how he can manage being triggered by her leaving and thr loss of your poly dynamic? Being triggered can be a setback but if you had a sense of hope that he could handle it and you could trust what he says because you had a concrete practical strategy to rely on?

    Assuming that you and hub accept that a v triad is not an option and ending this living together relationship with Partner deserves planning and care, perhaps a plan with legal and financial aspects and a clear expectations of his conduct around her would settle the fear?

    Facing up to the unanticipated souring of a love affair is hard. Being vulnerable around someone who lashes out is stressful. You both seem to be hoping that the other will bear the brunt when ending it with partner. You began this relationship as a couple, maybe that team approach is going to help you end it respectfully and kindly.

    1. Right, and also, I am in no way being unsympathetic to folks with PTSD (I have fairly mild PTSD, my father is a war veteran with a LOT of PTSD triggered by things that are hard to avoid, like being in planes, cars, etc.), but being triggered isn’t the end of the world.

      Yes, it’s awful and scary and sometimes can be dangerous, and it’s a good idea to have a plan in place for dealing with it so you’re not stuck alone in the PTSD-loop, but the reality is, if you are a PTSD sufferer, at some point you ARE going to get triggered. It’s kind of unavoidable unless you have very specific triggers you can arrange your life to avoid. Living with someone who uses your triggers as a THREAT is like tiptoeing around a ticking bomb in your living room and hoping you can be gentle enough not to set it off. At some point, it’s going to go off!

      And furthermore, if the ‘trigger’ is Partner leaving, I’m sorry, that sounds borderline abusive to me – kind of like the “if you leave I’ll kill myself” shibboleth that we’ve heard from other abusive partners here.

  52. As someone who was caught in the middle and traumatized by the domestic violence of two teenage sons who could not get along, it looks like to me that some one will end up in the hospital and some one else in prison if LW and Partner aren’t separated. All the rest of the advise seems secondary..

    1. I’m sorry about the violence you experienced, but I’m not sure where you’re getting the idea that violence is likely in this situation. There’s nothing in the LW’s letter that suggests that anyone in this situation has been violent or physically abusive, or threatened violence or physical abuse. LW and Partner both seem angry and hurt, but it’s possible for people to be very angry at each other (and very bad for each other in other ways) without being physically aggressive.

  53. When two people break up and it wasn’t friendly, and continue to live in the same house, it’s asking for trouble. On top of that these are two women fighting over the same man who also lives in the same house. Add to that the fact that the man is at the very least, described as mentally/emotionally unstable. No one has to start out as physically agressive; it has taken less for a tragedy to happen. Things already sound out of control.

    1. Poeple with mental illness are actually less likely to be violent (and more likely to be victims of violence) than the neurotypical population. We all bring our life experience into these comments, and I don’t want to invalidate your concerns, but hopefully to help you feel a tiny bit less worries about the possibility.

  54. And just to let you know how I resolved it, I insisted that the older one live with their father and didn’t have them together at any time in my home until the younger one turned 18. People were just as dismissive of my fears but no one got hurt. When love/ jealousy are involved, it ‘s a time bomb.

  55. Dear LW:

    One key piece of your situation is that you think your husband will leave you.

    If you allow yourself to think through what your life would be if he picked Partner over you, you may be able to act on your desire for life without Partner.

    You know that as things stand your husband is getting what he wants: a V where the arms do all the emotional work.

    Partner wants a child with Husband and unless he has been sterilized she may well get that child.

    But you aren’t getting what you need and want

    I’m with the Captain. Please tell the people in your life what you want and need.

    Jedi hugs if you want them

  56. Er, just saying as a guy with severe mental health issues who has a “sane” husband… I’m SO not okay with this whole, “he can’t make a decision or do anything because it’ll trigger him!” jazz.

    Like, I get triggered a lot. All the fucking time. That doesn’t give me a right to just… act like I’m not in a relationship. And it CERTAINLY doesn’t give my husband the right to make everyone’s life All About My Issues. At best, it’s well-meaning but totally counterproductive. At worst, it’s a way of undermining a mentally ill partner to get more control over their behavior and decisions.

    I’m not poly, but I do know about being married while mentally ill. And it sounds like hubby’s mental illness is being used as an excuse–by him, by LW, both, I don’t know and I don’t care. Regardless, I’m astounded this relationship has lasted as long as it has, with three people, one of whom apparently can’t make decisions and another who isn’t supposed to! And yet it seems a surprise the thing isn’t going well?

    1. “one of whom apparently can’t make decisions
      and another who isn’t supposed to! ”

      Yeah, that’s a nice way of summarizing how the situation appears.

      I did have an odd feeling, reading it, if the partner’s demand of equality wasn’t JUST about partner’s relationship with husband, but if it wasn’t also about her relationship with LW? Like, they’re still living in the same house, apparently even having long talks about their personal lives, sharing a partner, and their wants and needs are deeply interconnected. They have a major relationship themselves, it’s just stopped being a sexual one – or apparently, a loving or positive one – but they very much still have a relationship and I wonder if all the offense at ‘being treated as second’ don’t also apply to some kind of feeling that there are hierarchical dynamics in the partner-LW relationship? That partner feels like LW sees themselves as some kind of authority or senior person in the house, and partner objects to that assumption of authority? It could be my imagination taking things a step too far, but it’s kind of a sense I get, reading between the lines, that equality can mean so many things and I’m not sure we know exactly what it means to partner.

      I mean, she certainly seems to object to the idea that LW gets to tell her what she is and isn’t allowed to do in her own relationship with her long-term live-in boyfriend. But maybe it isn’t just that she wants certain things (more time with husband, a baby), but just as much that she wants to get rid of this whole ‘LW is in charge somehow’ dynamic. Or maybe she perceives LW as being bossy and patronizing in their own interactions. They certainly spend a lot of time together for two people who a)broke up b)hate each other and c)are openly fighting over a man.

  57. I seriously thought this was submitted by a friend of mine, only she was married to her husband for a much longer time.
    Same crap though; fall in with Partner, move in together, lovely triangle, they help her get away from her abusive ex, etc then it’s lying to wife and trying to get pregnant by husband. Husband admitted he cheated with Partner ten years before they opened up anything and whoops, two of Partners kids are actually his. Now she wants a third kid but wants him to divorce wife and marry Partner so kid #3 is legally his.

    Christ on a cracker, I can’t believe this is as COMMON a problem as it appears to be.

    LW you have a few choices. You can leave. You can stay and try to talk sense Into either or both other parties. You cannot make them choose to own their actions and consider your happiness. If they will not show concern for your happiness then you must do it yourself. That may include leaving. Hard, I know- It would be so hard to leave my husband, but If he no longer cares enought about my happiness to make choices that make my happiness possible them I’m already no longer a priority.

  58. Okay. I love this community, I love people here, and I usually love reading the comments, but I have been grinding my teeth in anger at some of the comments here because they are tremendously hurtful.

    People with PTSD are still PEOPLE. Just like any illness there’s a spectrum. We don’t know a lot about Husband besides he a) has PTSD, and b) is depressed (and A does not always equal B). I have PTSD and have wobbled all over the spectrum of functionality from “life is good” to “Ummm” to “NOPE FOREVER”, and while that has occasionally informed things like decision paralysis or the inability to make a decision (or unwillingness to do so), it is not 100% the reason for it.

    People with PTSD (and depression!) are allowed to be parents. They are allowed to be in relationships. They are allowed to have successful careers. They are allowed to make their own decisions on their fertility. They can be fragile, or they can be resilient. They definitely are not babies nor pies nor inanimate objects.

    I have PTSD. I get triggered (sometimes by people I am in a relationship with! Sometimes by family members!). It can be really bad. It can undo years of hard work and therapy. It can result in me losing my job, my relationship, my home (in all three, it has at one time or another). It can result in my hospitalization (although I’m pretty hopeful it won’t in the future and fingers crossed, have been doing pretty well for 15 years since the last time).

    Sky still hasn’t fallen. World still hasn’t ended. It still isn’t the Worst Thing In The World. I can just as easily get hit by a bus tomorrow and I don’t go borrowing THAT trouble either.

    LW is not Husband’s medical caregiver or therapist. Partner is not either. They should not be assuming these roles, they CANNOT assume these roles and have a healthy relationship (not to mention I’m pretty sure they are not qualified and there are ethics and yes, no). He’ll make the decisions or non-decisions he makes (and I really can understand decision paralysis/BUT IT WILL MAKE THINGS WORSE/AHHHHHHHHH WORLD IS ENDING, I really, really can, as I have been there, and in the end, I still had to choose, although in my case it was running like my tail was on fire). If LW leaves he will manage. If Partner leaves he will manage. If HE leaves he will manage. LW only gets to make their own decisions. I can understand wanting to shield others from pain and hurt, from having to make the awful decisions, from having to live with the PTSDragon when it rears its head and breathes fire, but you can’t do it by taking away their person-hood.

    This situation sucks, but nobody in this situation is irreparably broken, has given power of attorney to another, or has been deemed incompetent. Suggesting otherwise is seriously, seriously harmful and honestly has gone past disrespectful to outright horrific to know that people think of me this way who should know better.

    1. This is a super helpful comment. I think this community is probably one of the most understanding re: mental illness, depression, PTSD, etc., that I’ve found on the Internet and I’d like to think most of the commentariat here does engage with the questions in good faith, but of course we’re also all bringing our respective baggage to our interpretation of the LW’s letter, which I have to say is a trickier one than most.

      I commented earlier kind of the in the same vein, that as someone with PTSD who has a family member with severe PTSD, yep, at some point you will most likely get triggered and while it’s terrible it’s not world-ending. Of course a big part of this is whether the person with PTSD is taking steps to manage their mental health.

      In my interpretation of the LW’s letter, it certainly doesn’t appear that Husband is in a position where they’re unable to make their own decisions or where them making their own decisions would be dangerous.

      I really wish the LW would provide some clarification re: the husband’s PTSD and triggers. I mean, it kind of could run the gamut from “Partner did something terrible, continues to threaten to do it to keep us in line” to “Husband has decided that Partner leaving would trigger PTSD, ergo Partner can never leave no matter how unhealthy this situation is for her.”

      1. Or LW has decided that for husband– “However, if she left, he would have a PTSD meltdown because his PTSD was caused by behavior of hers before we even became a triad.”

        “My main fear is that if I demand that she leave that he will trigger horribly when she does and that he will resent me and leave me. He has told me that absolutely won’t happen, but I cannot keep myself from being so frightened of the prospect.”

        Hard to get from the text if he means he won’t resent her, or that he won’t be triggered, but either way– that’s the LW’s fear of what might happen, rather than anything the husband or Partner has said.

  59. In addition to all of this: do not kid yourself that asking your husband to refrain from potentially pregnancy-inducing activities is an option. He may well say he will. Do you then trust that the dude too fragile to make any decisions, when he is alone with his girlfriend and a boner, and you are not there, and she is saying “Put it in me,” is actually going to stick to his guns? Fuck no, they’re going to do it and they’re going to enjoy it extra because of the thrill of the forbidden.
    Partner at this point doesn’t seem like she believes she has any reason to let you have any say in her life decisions. Like whether to get pregnant. I know you’re terrified that maybe Husband feels the same way. Maybe he does, but – if that’s true, it’s true whether or not you acknowledge it. I am so sorry. You are going to need to find out.

  60. I feel like it all boils back to “we’re all primaries, but some of us are more primary than others.” I say this because it’s the only thing I can think of that accounts for LW’s absolute shock and dismay at the comparison (read: description) of the situation as a Secondary demanding to become a Primary. What did she think this was? What definition of “closed triad” were these people using? So it sounds to me like LW thought that the we-are-all-important-BUT-the-marriage-takes-precedence model is the same as a three-primaries model, when it actually isn’t (by definition, poly people correct me if I’m wrong?).

    It’s not really advice, per se, it’s just something that’s been bothering me about this letter.

  61. I think I’m a couple of days late to the party, but since there’s a lot of discussion about primary/secondary rights around this letter, I wanted to share a particularly relevant blog piece.

    It touches upon the concept of secondary partner’s rights, couple privilege, and other relevant topics, and it was a really eye-opening read for me.


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