#1046 Ethical non-monogamy & a difficult conversation.

Dear Captain,

My partner and I have been together almost a decade and our relationship has been polyamorous all that time. For the most part (aside from perhaps two ‘near misses, completely, in fact) it has been me in other relationships (my partner has never been interested in looking, or hasn’t reciprocated others’ advances). Our stated ‘rules’ have been around safer sex, and a rule of not getting involved as someone’s affair. The latter rule sprang from me entering the relationship with her fresh out of BEING someone’s affair. We both decided we didn’t need that – there was potential for drama that would involve each other etc.

After almost ten years my partner just met someone (someone she already knew but who just declared an interest) she really wants to pursue something with. The catch? He’s married. of course. She tells me she doesn’t really care about the ‘affairs’ rule now – she knows I do but she doesn’t see why she can’t do this, given that it’s so rare for her to have these feelings.

It’s the first time she’s got this close to seeing someone and so I can’t work out what are my feelings about it being ANYONE, and what are my feelings about her becoming an affair.

I have two choices. I can either tell her not to do this (and I believe she won’t) and she will be miserable and resent me, or I can NOT do that, and I will be miserable.

This isn’t ethical non-monogamy to me. it’s not what I signed up for. I love her, but I’m aware that my thought processes have changed. I cannot currently say I feel proud of her, for example, and I hate that.

I guess I’m looking for some perspective?

Sincerely,

Not where I thought I was going (they/them)

Dear Not Where I Thought I Was Going,

I guess my question is, why is the pressure on you to compromise on the ethical rules you agreed to and not on this married guy to have some potentially difficult conversations with his spouse about about opening up their marriage?

What if you told your partner “It’s really important to me to not be party to someone’s infidelity. If this guy likes you and wants to be with you so badly, why does it have to be a secret? And why is that secret something you and I have to swallow, vs. him doing the right thing by talking to his spouse so he can come correct?

We can predict the answer to that, of course. The assumption is, if he has to ask his spouse, the spouse probably won’t agree to it, and it might ruin his marriage to even bring it up. See also: “It’s complicated.” “Their relationship is complicated.” “It’s not the right time.” “Spouse wouldn’t understand.” “You don’t understand.” 

I want to talk about your partner’s point that it’s rare for her to have these feelings. Pretty much everybody who gets involved in ethically questionable sex & romance has the same exact revelation as your partner: “These feelings are so rare and special that I have to act on them, even at the expense of the agreements I’ve made.” I believe people when they say that those feelings are intense and compelling (otherwise they wouldn’t risk burning down their whole lives to act on them). “It’s more complicated than that,” says everyone who crosses that line, and of course it is, it always is. But it’s also incredibly simple: We can choose not to fuck people behind their spouse’s backs. If we want to do non-monogamous stuff, we can choose to do it ethically, with honesty & care for the people we’ve made commitments to. We can treat it like a big deal and tread carefully and go slowly. When this married guy decides “Oh, it would just be easier to do what I want & keep it a secret so I get to have a fun relationship and keep my spouse while keeping them in the dark,” he is robbing his spouse of informed consent. He is deciding “My feelings are more important than the agreements I’ve made, and I know better than my spouse what information they need.

Letter Writer, I don’t know where this conversation with your partner goes. Maybe to a “miserable” place, if your partner decides to go for it anyway, or if she desists but somehow punishes you for standing in the way of what she wants. Whatever you decide, keep in mind that this married guy has choices. Your partner also has choices. If she wants to be more active in seeking outside relationships, she can do lots of stuff to pursue that while still holding to the “no monogamously married people” agreement you’ve made. She has the choice to not take romantic disappointments out on you.This isn’t the only sexy dude on earth, and the world doesn’t end if we decide not to act on attraction or romantic feelings.

 

200 comments
  1. c. said:

    LW, I feel bummed for your partner if she thinks one of her most exceptional loves will be with someone who won’t make the relationship legitimate and transparent for her, especially since you both realize together that there IS a viable, responsible alternative to monogamy. She’s kind of accepting the short end of the stick even more than a monogamous person who chose to be someone’s affair would be.

    I know we’re here for Team LW and I totally agree with CA. I’m squicked that your partner is even putting you in this position and basically saying the rules only applied until she met someone who fell outside of them. Good luck to you ❤

  2. Karyn said:

    Everyone has choices. He has choices–he can call this off, he can have the first of several difficult conversations with his wife, or he can cheat on his wife. Your partner also has choices. She can call this off, she can insist that he have those conversations before proceeding, or she can begin an affair with him without his wife’s knowledge and your blessing. You can tell her that you will leave her if she participates in cheating, you can tell her that you don’t know what actions you’d take but you will lose a lot of respect for her, you can figure out a way to live with it if she does this.

    The person who right now doesn’t have choices is the man’s wife. She doesn’t have choices because she doesn’t know there are decisions to be made. This is what the Captain is talking about with informed consent.

    • Nic said:

      I really like how you laid things out here. It makes it very clear.

    • Thankyou for this. Being someone’s affair *does* affect the nonconsenting partner. The nonconsenting participant doesn’t know the circumstances of their relationship so they can’t make a choice, and I can assure everyone (from personal experience) a cheating spouse will gaslight, put a person down and basically mess with their partner’s head in terrible ways. Even if they didn’t think they were going to.

      Being someone’s secret is not a benign action, it makes you an accomplice in an act of cruelty. So I don’t know where this leaves LW, but her partner is not choosing to act ethically. It sucks when someone you love heads down that path.

      • There’s another thing I have considered. These passionate feelings they have for the married person? Might just be getting groomed. Or at least, turned on by the forbidden. A person who wants to ensure their spouse can’t make a choice about the relationship is not a person to trust, and quite possibly good at playing other people.

    • Mary said:

      >>The person who right now doesn’t have choices is the man’s wife

      (or husband!)

      • Or spouse of some other gender!

        • ModestMouse said:

          😂

    • Light37 said:

      Well said.

  3. Jules said:

    “the world doesn’t end if we decide not to act on attraction or romantic feelings”

    +1000
    This this this this this.

    Your partner, and you, should not have to compromise over someone else’s lack of ethics. And he is not the only fish in the sea. If she’s feeling this, there’s some other person out there who will stir the same feelings. My partner and I have been poly off and on for 25+ years, there really are others out there who are interesting and not in committed monogamous relationships.

    Your partner probably won’t want to hear that, though. When talking to her, I’d focus on the ethics, and ‘how can you trust that he will treat you decently when he treats his long-term partner in such a hurtful way?’

    If she chooses to go ahead, be kind. Hormones can be hard to resist, and everyone makes mistakes. Even mistakes that have been pointed out to them beforehand in giant glowing letters.

  4. Thanksforallthefish said:

    I agree with the Captain! I can also understand the feelings of your partner how this one in a million opportunity has happened and the urges are soooo strooong. I also know that following the path of “I must act on this urge because it is so strong and so rare and damn all the rules” is how problems happen.

    I followed that path once and got kinda stalkery because dude didn’t return the feelings. I followed that path another time and it lead to an abusive relationship. I almost followed that path recently and it would’ve turned into an affair.

    My father had a few affairs with married women while married to my mother. My mother didn’t know about them until later. One time a husband walked in on my dad with the husband’s wife. My dad then ran home and hid in our house in terror. My mom knew he was terrified but had no idea why. Had no idea he was afraid the husband might come to their house with a gun. This is one of the possible worst case scenarios…a vengeful spouse with a gun.

    We make the rules while our head is clear so we can look to them when our body tries to take over. I recommend having that tough conversation. Perhaps you can offer to support your partner in exploring dating sites and meetups to find other options since this is a new sensation and maybe she’s ready to pursue the polyamorous aspect of your relationship.

    If you find yourself down the road having other difficult feelings because she finds someone to date. Then you can wrestle with that concept.

    Good luck.

    • Belle said:

      Oh my god yes this. LW maybe bring this idea up, you two made those rules for a reason, they weren’t just for funsies. She especially should know that she wanted those rules because she already experienced the inevitable emotional mess of affairs first hand, and I can’t imagine there’s any reason why this one should magically be different.

    • TootsNYC said:

      “We make the rules while our head is clear so we can look to them when our body tries to take over.”

      Such an important point!

      That’s what standards and values are: Things you hold to –even when– there are urges or pressure to do something that, in calm moments, you know to be hurtful or unethical.

      That’s what makes people be people of character and strength. People who only do the right thing when it’s easy are people who don’t truly have any values or standards.

      • TootsNYC said:

        In fact, I might say to our Letter Writer:

        These are YOUR standards. I’m not sure why there’s a question.

        Holding to your values and standards is an obligation for you as well. Even if it’s tough, and even if it means there will be loss or negative fallout.

        So I think that’s your answer. You can’t give your partner “permission” to do this. It would go against YOUR values, and your values are not something you change on a whim.

        The only other questions then are:
        -is there a way to handle this that will lead your partner to re-embrace those values?
        -is this the end of your relationship?

  5. mycrazyhair said:

    You know, it’s very hard to know what your risks are around safer sex if one of the people in the chain doesn’t know they’re in a chain. Just a thought, from a 15-year polyamorous person.

    • Alli525 said:

      So, so true. It’s not truly safe sex if one partner doesn’t know that the other is having sex with other people.

    • Nobby Nobbs said:

      And if another person in that chain is demonstratably willing to lie to at least one partner. If he’ll lie to his spouse, can your partner trust him to be honest with her?

      • tarma said:

        YEEEEEEEEES this, OP. Outside of the ethical issues, you should be asking *yourself* how okay you are in an (indirect) sexual relationship with someone willing to lie in order to keep getting the sex they want. Yes, your partner may *think* he’s being honest with her and ‘only’ lying to the person he’s married to (y’know, the one he presumably made some vows involving not lying and being faithful to the concept of the marriage they both entered into as presumably responsible adults OKAY STOP CAN’T GO DOWN THAT PATH IT’LL TAKE TOO LONG) anyway, what I’m saying is, what’s to keep him from lying to her too and having as many other sexual partners as he thinks his penis (whose happiness he has already demonstrably proved he values higher than the happiness and safety and health of at least one other person he’s in a sexual relationship with) deserves? OUTSIDE the question of ethics, which is certainly one I’d feel comfortable as being enough by itself, it’s a question of your own safety and health.

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          If he’ll lie to his wife, he’ll lie to you. If he’ll cheat on his wife, he’ll cheat on you.

      • lunchcoma said:

        I think that’s a good point, and I think there may be more than sexual health at risk here. It’s unclear if the other couple are straight as well as married and monogamous, but if they are, that’s an arrangement that society gives a lot of privilege to and places a lot of value on. A non-binary person in a non-monogamous, non-marital relationship aren’t likely to be treated nearly as generously in the court of public opinion.

        I think it’s worth some concern about how this man might react if his wife discovers the affair. Married men who are caught cheating have a certain amount of power to throw their affair partners and anyone who facilitated the relationship under the bus, and it’s not at all clear if this guy is someone who can be trusted to treat the LW and their partner well if things go wrong.

        • GreyjoyGardens said:

          Yes, this. “She/they tempted me! I’m an innocent lamb led astray by the Tempting, Conniving Other Person!” is something many, many cis men married to women will say when caught in an affair.

        • I entirely agree with you, you raise a great point and I’d go a step further. LW’s partner is asking the LW to expose themselves to a lot of risks here. There are the emotional and health risks of course, but lets list the others:

          Reputation/social risk: not sure if the LW is part of a larger poly community or not or if that’s important to them, but most communities that practice ethical non-monogamy want no part of anyone who compromises their values on consent and morals. Even if that’s not a concern it’s possible a wronged spouse could cause all kinds of headaches for you and your partner, outing you places you don’t want to be outed, calling employers, etc.

          Safety risk: there is a minor but nonzero chance any illicit affair ends in violence, sad but true, not the most common, but not rare enough that it shouldn’t be part of your mental rubric.

          legal risk: this might be the biggest one or the smallest, depending on what’s important to you but if this gets messy and ends up in a contested family court divorce, your poly-relationship could become part of the court record. This could be used against you in the future if you ever are involved in anything family court or child related, attempt to adopt or foster a child, etc. Depending on your state you might get dragged even further in.

      • like an angry apple tree said:

        >>And if another person in that chain is demonstratably willing to lie to at least one partner. If he’ll lie to his spouse, can your partner trust him to be honest with her?>>

        See also: But It’s Different, You’re Different, The Wife Doesn’t Understand Me Like You Do, That Means Nothing You’re Everything to Me, and all the other greatest hits of philandering dudes across the centuries.

        Granted, my POV is old school – I grew up in the 80s/90s with the adults around me on all sides of the classic “what even is informed consent” cheating style – but I bet dollars to doughnuts that some of those psychological tricks are still in use. Especially when somebody can use them to get what they want without having to, ex., have a difficult convo with the spouse.

        • Delilah Wood said:

          Yup, yup, yup, yup, a thousand times to the yup.

          Your POV is not so old-school: I grew up in the same period, but trust me, dudes still do this shit, hardcore.

        • Ros said:

          Oh, man. No, that’s still the calling card of the absolute cad.

          The last guy who tried to pull the “but my wife doesn’t understaaaand” me card got told “well maybe if you tried to talk to her she would”. He seemed taken aback at the response – I guess it wasn’t what he was used to. But I’ve got no time for nonsense pitting of women against each other for a random dude’s attention – seriously, bro, shape up.

        • lunchcoma said:

          Another voice here to confirm that all those shitty excuses are alive and well, as are all the old hoary sob stories about how divorce is absolutely impossible in that person’s particular situation, despite it being a common and socially accepted thing in society generally.

    • Caiman said:

      Hehe, wanted to give you probs for being good about this at your age! I had many friends who identified as ‘poly’ at that age, but mostly went about dating without regarding of boundaries or communication. As a result, it makes me happy to see kids who’re doing much better with it today, and come in with better guidelines on how to keep the situation from imploding with someone. You’re doing good, and I’m glad to see the next batch of young’uns handling this better. > : ) Keep on doing good.

      • brandnewday said:

        I think they meant they’ve been polyamorous for 15 years, not that they are 15 years old and polyamorous. 😉

  6. Marthooh said:

    It’s the first time she’s got this close to seeing someone and so I can’t work out what are my feelings about it being ANYONE, and what are my feelings about her becoming an affair.

    I don’t think it matters for the conversation with your partner about her new love. “How would I feel if this guy were single?” is something you could productively ask yourself,
    but you don’t have to be free from jealousy or doubt in order to ask your partner to abide by the perfectly reasonable rules you both agreed to.

    You do have a special perspective on the matter, since you had an affair before your current relationship began. How did you feel going into that affair, and how did you feel coming out of it? Would it be worth sharing that with your partner? (I’m hesitant to suggest it, since it may sound like “Do as I say, not as I do.”)

    • B. said:

      I think it wasn’t the LW but their partner who had the affair and that’s part of the reason why she wanted to set the rule. If that’s the case, I’d bring it up, but very tactfully, so as not to make her feel judged.

      • Marthooh said:

        The latter rule sprang from me entering the relationship with her fresh out of BEING someone’s affair.

        I still read that as “I was fresh out of BEING someone’s affair when I entered the relationship with her” – but it is a little ambiguous! If you’re right, then yeah, that would sound unnecessarily judgy.

        • B. said:

          Yes, you’re right, the letter allows for both interpretations 🙂

          If the LW was the one who had the affair with a married person and wants to bring it up, maybe a good script would be “We set this rule because [reasons] and because I know personally how much it hurts and I don’t want to see you suffer through it”?

  7. lunchcoma said:

    In addition to everything else that’s been mentioned, life doesn’t exist solely at this one pinpoint of time. If the feelings are that rare and that special, I think there’s at least a chance that they’ll be there at some point in the future when this married man may have gotten his act together and arranged his life in a way that allows him to ethically date others. I don’t expect that your partner will find that very comforting, but it’s one way to push back against the implication that this is a stark choice between her never finding a second partner and her acting on this set of feelings despite her contemplated crush’s marriage.

    As the Captain said, there are other choices. I think the best one for her would be to put the married guy far on the backburner and do some thinking about why she hasn’t pursued other partners and whether this is a signal that she may want to do so in the future, but that part is ultimately up to her.

  8. Laura said:

    “I guess my question is, why is the pressure on you to compromise on the ethical rules you agreed to and not on this married guy to have some potentially difficult conversations with his spouse about about opening up their marriage?”

    I nearly stood up and cheered. What a concise, devastating question to ask.

    OP, I also urge you to reflect on this:

    “She tells me she doesn’t really care about the ‘affairs’ rule now – SHE KNOWS I DO but she doesn’t see why she can’t do this,”

    I emphasized the important bit. What on earth could she possibly mean when she says she doesn’t see why she can’t do this? She can’t do this because SHE KNOWS THAT YOU CARE DEEPLY ABOUT THAT RULE. How is this a conversation even happening?

    Stop thinking about this as your choice. It isn’t your choice.

    Tell her that if she does it, she will damage your relationship, and she will undermine your trust in her and your overall esteem of her. It’s HER choice, not yours – and if she chooses to behave in an unethical way that damages you, and damages the relationship… well, I hate to say it, but she’s told you something very important about the values she holds.

    • The “doesn’t really care about affairs” thing stuck out to me, too. Especially as LW’s partner _has been an affair partner in the past_.

      LW…is it possible your partner kind of…likes being an affair partner? I have a weird and unpleasant suspicion that they might be attracted to this guy specifically BECAUSE of the affair issue.

      • Solo said:

        FWIW, I read this as indicating that the LW was the affair partner: “The latter rule sprang from me entering the relationship with her fresh out of BEING someone’s affair.”

        I see the ambiguity though:
        “.. sprang from me [entering the relationship with her] fresh out of BEING someone’s affair.” (LW was affair partner)
        vs
        “… sprang from me entering the relationship with [her fresh out of BEING someone’s affair].” (LW’s partner was affair partner)

        • Oh, I could see that. In a way I hope that is the case, I have to say

      • jo said:

        This is what I came to say! LW, have you and your partner considered what it says about her that after years of no interest in outside romances, this married guy is the one who finally captures her interest?

        I’m NOT suggesting it says she’s a bad person. But I do wonder why she isn’t investigating what underlying issues might be causing this repeated desire to be someone’s dirty secret. Now that a pattern seems to be emerging, that’s work she should definitely be doing if she cares about you, your respect for her, and her relationship with you.

        • Cyberwulf said:

          Maybe the guy is devastatingly handsome and sexy and rogueish.

          • And is good at instigating affairs.

  9. I just want to leave a comment reminding posters that the letter never said this man is married to a woman. He’s married. We don’t know his spouse’s gender. Just fyi.

    • They also requested They/Them pronouns.

      • lunchcoma said:

        LW is they/them, partner is she/her, and the married person who’s a contemplated affair partner is he/him.

        • taggianto said:

          Yes, thank you for clarifying 🙂 After I posted I realized that Diedra was talking about the other marriage.

  10. Still said:

    If she goes ahead with the affair, will you be able to trust her the same way? Will you still be able to rely on her to uphold all the agreements that you have? Will you trust her to treat you and everybody else in a kind and respectful way? Will you respect her the same way? And how long could it last?

    If she doesn’t do it after all, how long will she be miserable? Will she get over it eventually or will she keep punishing you forever? And what would that tell you about her?

    I don’t think your potential “miserable” and her “miserable” are quite the same, LW.

    • Yes! I think this is a very important point!

      Partner’s misery at not getting the green light to do a thing that she a) knows is morally awful, b) has acknowledged invites drama not only for herself but for LW too, and c) has explicitly agreed to NOT do… even though she’s got a bad case of “but I reeeeeeeally wanna”.

      Vs.

      The misery that will come from caving in to Partner’s pressure and guilt-tripping, thus making LW an accomplice to something that both they and Partner know is morally awful and unsafe, all because now that Partner reeeeeeeeeally wants to get it on with this married dude, she “doesn’t see why” LW’s safety (STD risk of screwing a guy who lies to partners and also emotional risk of “drama that would involve each other etc.”) or pre-agreed standards of minimum moral behaviour should stop her from doing what she wants.

      These things are not really comparable.

      Also, I share the suspicion other commenters have mentioned: if partner is pushing this hard to get LW to “agree” to this regardless of how obviously unwilling said “agreement” would be… I wouldn’t be surprised if she has already slept with this guy and is now chasing the absolution of permission after-the-fact. Even if that’s not going on, LW, I think the way your partner is treating you about this is awful and inconsiderate and unfair, and I don’t think you’d be out of line or “overreacting” if you started bracing for break-up.

  11. Abbynormal said:

    CA’s advice is spot-on for this one. It might feel “mean” to stick to these boundaries (especially if your partner is implying/saying that you are), but both of you made these boundaries for THIS EXACT REASON. You made these boundaries because you both decided (and she decided from experience) that getting involved as an affair Ultimately Feels Bad. Boundaries are a reminder from Past You (or Past Plural You) that even when those Heartfeelings/Pantsfeelings feel really good in the moment, Doing the Thing Will Feel Bad. Sticking to boundaries that you made when Pantsfeelings/Heartfeelings weren’t there clouding judgement is the kindest thing that you can do.

    As someone who rarely experiences sexual attraction (demisexual-ish? Gray-ace?? idk, labels are confusing and I don’t like them), I get where your partner is coming from. I get that feeling of “ugh of course the one time I’m attracted to someone it’s in a way where it’s not possible/plausible to act on that attraction and I don’t know when/if that attraction will ever happen with anyone else ever again AUUUUUGH.” It’s frustrating. It’s lonely. There is almost always bad poetry involved. But…it passes. And that attraction almost always happens again, be it months or years (at least for me).

    But that feeling? That frustration/loneliness/melancholy(it may be a completely different feeling for her – who knows? Not me, a random stranger on the internet)? That wasn’t caused by you saying “no” and reminding her of the agreements you have. That feeling is not your fault. That feeling isn’t her fault, either – but it is hers to manage. And that management should not come in the form of blaming you. Let her make bad poetry (or medium of choice) and bruise her wounded feelings as she needs to, whether that’s a little distance or a request for some closeness. Be kind, not because you’re “making up for” saying no or balancing any scales but because she’s your partner and she’s sad/hurt/feeling a lot of feelings. And don’t let yourself be blamed for sticking to agreements that you BOTH – y’know. Agreed on.

    Wishing you good luck and good interactions, LW!

    • Violet said:

      “As someone who rarely experiences sexual attraction (demisexual-ish? Gray-ace?? idk, labels are confusing and I don’t like them), I get where your partner is coming from. I get that feeling of ‘ugh of course the one time I’m attracted to someone it’s in a way where it’s not possible/plausible to act on that attraction and I don’t know when/if that attraction will ever happen with anyone else ever again AUUUUUGH.'”

      Yeah, I have some empathy for the partner for the same reason. If I’m attracted to someone who isn’t available, it’s not as simple as shrugging and thinking “oh well, I’ll just join a dating site and find someone else,” because I know it’s probably going to be another five years before I encounter whatever mysterious combination of pheromones it takes to make me attracted enough to act on it. But, as you point out, those issues belong to the person who has them, and doesn’t make them entitled to other people’s monogamous partners, or to break agreements that were made in good faith.

      • Amy said:

        This same thing makes me sympathize too. But there’s also a part of me that wants to be like…OP’s partner, you have a partner who you presumably are attracted to! I get trying to prioritize attraction when it comes along, but doesn’t that also mean prioritizing the attraction-based relationship you already have?

        • Temperance said:

          It’s not really that simple, though. LW and their partner are non-monogamous, and LW has been taking advantage of their arrangement while their partner has not had the opportunity, for one reason or another.

          • tabbykat said:

            Agreed. Not condoning the affair, but have empathy for LW’s partner.

          • Underneaththeskein said:

            I gotta say, this really rubs me the wrong way. It isn’t about opportunity–the letter says their partner hasn’t been looking. Just because a new opportunity comes up doesn’t mean that all the times that the partner chose not to go out looking are suddenly reasons to allow this sort of absurdity. The relationship had an agreement, the partner now wants to void the agreement based on pantsfeels, and that’s not okay, regardless of how frequently those pantsfeels pop up. It IS that simple.

          • Amy said:

            I do understand that, and I’m not saying that OP’s partner should give up on the idea of another partner completely. But pursuing this particular potential partner requires violating a well-established boundary in their existing relationship. To me, that says it probably is an either-or; OP’s partner can either respect her existing relationship and not pursue this specific potential partner, or she can pursue this potential partner at the expense of her existing relationship. She might be able to do both with a different potential partner, but it’s not an option in this case.

            It sucks that that’s how it’s worked out, and I sympathize with that part. But I don’t have much sympathy for her decision to try and get out of having to choose by pressuring OP to stop having pesky needs that get in the way of her getting both things. That’s not a respectful or kind way to treat someone.

          • winter said:

            I 100% agree with Underneaththeskein. It is unclear if partner has been putting a lot of effort into meeting people. Just assuming that LW got hit with proposals left and right while partner was looking and looking and did not get lucky cannot be deduced from the letter.
            And even if partner put the same effort into looking as LW, on an ethical level, the amount of opportunities involved doesn’t really play a role? Yes sure, on an emotional level it does. But what I’m getting from the letter right now is that partner did not put the same effort in pursuing (or creating) opportunities but is still using LW’s relationships against them. Which is plain unfair.

          • I mean, also, you’re not necessarily with someone because you’re attracted to them? Like there are other reasons to be in relationships.

      • Ashbet said:

        I’m still on the fence about how I identify (largely allosexual in terms of libido with existing partners, but closer to demisexual in terms of how often I’m attracted to a new person — like, it had been 9 years since the last time, even though I was in polyamorous relationships that would have allowed me to pursue new attractions), but I do have sympathy for the “I don’t feel this way often” issue.

        HOWEVER, that still doesn’t entitle me, or the LW’s partner, to engage in shady and unethical behavior. I feel very strongly about not cheating on anyone, or enabling someone else to cheat.

        My former partner of 7 years and I had an agreement that we wouldn’t get involved with anyone with a contagious incurable STI (I’m immune-compromised), or someone who had an endlessly-open chain of partners and metamours, for safety’s sake.

        When he met someone who violated both criteria, but really appealed to him, he began lying to me, treating me badly, telling me I could veto the relationship but “it would damage my relationship with him and break his heart,” emotionally blackmailing me, engaging in unsafe sexual practices without informing me, etc. Our relationship ended after a consent violation and horrible breakup.

        He felt SO STRONGLY about this new person that our relationship, and the agreements we made, were no longer as important to him as pursuing this attraction.

        LW, I very much hope that your partner does not go down this path — but I can definitely say that there is a real danger when NRE and new attraction are powerful enough that a partner is willing to violate foundational relationship rules to be with them. :/

        • synchronicity said:

          “My former partner of 7 years and I had an agreement that we wouldn’t get involved with anyone with a contagious incurable STI (I’m immune-compromised), or someone who had an endlessly-open chain of partners and metamours, for safety’s sake.”

          I was in the same situation when dating polyamorously. I was told SO OFTEN that I was sex-negative, shaming, and/or controlling due to my similar needs. Often enough that I actually started to wonder a little whether it was *I* who was being unreasonable 😦

    • Gabriela said:

      Same here. I rarely experience sexual attraction, but when I do… OMG it’s overwhelming. Not just the attraction per se, but not knowing when/if it will happen again. Plus I have never been reciprocated so far, so that adds up to these mountain of feelings.

      For me, the idea of being with a committed person is a MAJOR turn-off and it kinda kills the attraction very quickly, but I do understand the overwhelming feelings of attraction. Not sure if that’s the case with LW’s partner, but if it is… I’ll just say how hard it is to get over it. From my own experience at least, it can be really blinding and hard to control. But if the whole situation is not ok with you, LW, I think it’s fair for you both to have an honest conversation, and see where this is headed. If it’s not headed in a direction you feel comfortable with, you might need to think about your choices I guess. Difference of values can really destroy an otherwise awesome relationship.

    • Wulfwen said:

      LW, I am most terribly sorry you are going through this! You absolutely have a right to have needs and values, even if those are different from your partner’s. And as lots of other folks are saying, I also have a reasonable amount of sympathy for the scarcity mindset (Oh noes! This is my ONE CHANCE!), in large part because I am working hard to get rid of that mindset in myself. Seeing my world as a place where resources like love, money, attention, etc. are scarce has led me to choices that range from bad to catastrophic, in romance, in familial relationships and in staying in terrible job situations.

      I wonder if it would help shock your partner into a little bit of awareness (and/or help you internalize that you are doing NOTHING wrong by having a problem with this situation) if you framed your partner’s “This is my ONE CHANCE at happiness/sexytimes, and screw our agreements!” as the same kind of rationalization that helps people to be OK with committing crimes? “I’ve never had money before, and now I have access to the cash register at work! I’ve never had the opportunity to steal before, and may never have it again! You can’t possibly want to deny me this ONE CHANCE to get something to which I am entitled?!?”

      And maybe that’s what it comes down to, in the end – entitlement. I’m sure your partner is a very lovely human in lots of ways. But that doesn’t *entitle* her to any relationship at all, or to a specific relationship. It doesn’t entitle her to steamroll over your needs and boundaries.

      I hope you and your partner can reach an agreement that works for both of you. And if that involves your partner doing whatever she wants and you reluctantly breaking up with her, I offer you all the Jedi hugs, baskets of kittens and scones with clotted cream that you may wish from this sympathetic Internet stranger.

      • Caiman said:

        I agree with a lot of what you said re: entitlement! Partner here is definitely very much entitled to the idea that this is a relationship that she deserves and should be able to take. I understand a lot of the through process behind it – ‘ONE CHANCE’ and pantsfeels and all that, but it doesn’t make it a crap move. It’s this entitlement that’s making her feel okay to bulldoze through LW’s needs so much – it puts LW in a villain role. If LW opposes the relationship, LW is mean and doesn’t want them to have this one niiiice thing, and so on.

        I’ve had this form of entitlement with former partners. One of my previous relationships ended after they declared themselves as poly with no input from me and then proceeded to date someone underage. It was creepy as hell, but I still had similar through processes. Loving someone can suck at points, cause you are willing to go through these intense loops in your head to justify that what they’re doing is okay and reasonable, cause they’re someone you love. I want to say, it’s okay to still care for your partner through all this, it’s okay to feel horribly conflicted about potentially having to cut it off. You love em. However, be prepared for the possibility that this might be a time where caring for your partner and caring for yourself aren’t two goals that coincide.

        I do sincerely hope that talking with them manages to help! My current relationship has definitely had moments where I had to have tough conversations and the gf’s reply was ‘D’oh! You’re right, I screwed up.’ and everything proceeds to go swimmingly. Hard honest talks are hard, but its needed in this case.

        Re: comparing it to people who do crimes – it’s a good idea, but I’d be wary of doing this! It’s not the comparison is invalid, cause it 100% works. It’s just the kind of thing I couldn’t imagine being told and then not immediately raising my hackles.It might work more to focus the conversation as ‘Hey, I deeply care about you, but your actions recently concern me and make me worry that you don’t care as much about this relationship as I do. I’m hoping this is some kind of miscommunication, but you’ve been trampling on boundaries that you know are important to me, and doing things you know actively make me feel uncomfortable. I want to check if there’s some miscommunication, or if there’s some part of the story I’m missing.’

        This conversation is less about getting them to sotp, and more about giving them a chance to prove that they care about your boundaries and concerns. If they’re willing to have a solid talk about it when prompted, and listen seriously to your worries and concerns, that’s a good sign!

        If they blow it off, and more importnatly, if they make you feel like you’re overreacting or being a villain by being upset by this, that’s a sign that you might need to reconsider the relationship as a whole.

        I hope for LW’s sake it goes well! If it it doesn’t – take time for yourself. Talk to other people you love. Give yourself permission to not be okay a bit.

      • grr said:

        Yes, stealing is bad, but I had my eyes rolling at “Seeing my world as a place where resources like love, money, attention, etc. are scarce has led me to choices that range from bad to catastrophic” – believe or not, there do exist people in this world for whom money is scarce! No mindset-changing can muraculously save someone homeless! If matters of money and survival are entirely psychological for you, that’s nice, but please don’t rub it in our face. (But then again, peole dying of hunger might be committing the error of believing that food is scarce).
        Similarly, maybe you have a large dating pool, but scarcity of people ever being interested in one is a thing, and it applies exponentially to people in marginalized communities, whose opression includes things like desexualization and not conceiving someone as worthy of love. Yes, the spectre of loneliness does not entitle anyone to behave badly, but in the same time if, say, a person living in a tiny town who is too poor to move into a bigger place, maybe while also being part of a bunch of opressed minorites -if she tells you that her suitors of thin on the ground, then I will personally place legos under your feet if you answer with “it’s all in your head”.

        • Wulfwen said:

          grr, thank you for this! I worded that very poorly. Despite how I made it sound, my world *is* genuinely a place where resources like money and friendship and love have been incredibly scarce, and you are so right, I did make it sound like I didn’t understand that for others at all!

          What I was trying to get is, I think, that I was (and to a good degree still am) stuck in the mindset that all resources/good things will always be scarce *and nothing I can do will ever change that*. Maybe some things *will* always be super scarce – there are limits to what anyone can do to change that.. I’m working on believing that I can change *some* things.

          • grr said:

            Thanks for the answer, and thanks for being more civil than I managed to. And I’m honestly glad that you managed to get into a better place, and I wish you the best in the future. 🙂

        • It’s true and it’s not at the same time. I would argue a better phrasing “opportunities to move laterally are not scarce”, that may be from one homeless situation to another that’s better in some ways worse in others, or from one middle class job to another. But you should never, ever let yourself think that you’re locked in because no one will treat you as well as you’re being treated now. Not in a relationship, not from an employer, not from a friend. Now the difference is without a job you might literally die and without a relationship you can live quite happily but opportunity is out there to at least move laterally.

          Now, the issue is that opportunities to move UP are rare things indeed. The opportunity to move from homeless to lower class, lower class to middle class, etc are rarer and rarer as you move away from the middle of the bell curve: it’s really hard to start from nothing and it’s really hard to start from the middle and end up at the top.

          It’s not that there are ample opportunities for everyone, I’ll agree there. But at the same time there is no “this is my one chance to be happy, ever” for anyone, that is the fallacy that the poster is referring to. Our tendency to think “well, sure she doesn’t treat me well but I’ll never, ever in a million years find another geek girl that shares my interests and rare kinks so I’m stuck here” Or “sure this job requires me to compromise my ethics and they manage me poorly and that causes a lot of stress but I’ll never find another possible way to claw my way into the lower middle class so I have to hope they never fire me and put up with however they want to treat me.”

          • grr said:

            I, for one, live in a small country whose language is not used outside the borders, so if I am unhappy with my life here, I need to become an immigrant elsewhere, which comes with a lot of disadvantages. And I have a suspicion that, say, moving from one end of the USA to another still takes a ton of money, even if one is lucky enough to find a job. Please enjoy your cushy life where possibilities are infinite without shitting on the rest of us. (Also factors: leaving,one’s friends behind, leaving one’s ailing parents behind, etc.)

      • TootsNYC said:

        If this is her “ONE CHANCE!” then what is our Letter Writer to her?

        • Someone who she’s not sexually attracted to, but has other reasons for being in a relationship with? It happens.

  12. 30ish said:

    My first thought is that the boundaries you had established are exactly for this type of situation – it’s precisely because feelings for a person who is in a monogamous relationship could happen that you need the boundary in the first place, so for to say “but I have feelings for him” is a complete non-starter. In my opinion, something already went wrong that it even got this far. Unless the married guy proposed an affair out of the blue she has been getting close to him, knowing that he is in a monogamous relationship, and knowing your boundaries around affairs. It does not sound like she ever sought to address this with you before it got to this point, and she should have. I would absolutely insist on this boundary and seek an in-depth discussion about keeping things in check with married people right from the get-go. Doing so is key to avoid “temptation”.

    The boundary itself makes a lot of sense to me. Having secret affairs stands in contradiction with ethical non-monogamy. If she went along with this, she’d be hurting this guy’s wife, and she’d also help create a situation that could harm all of you. It seems very clear-cut ethically, and I think you know your position, so I am guessing the reason why it is difficult is because your partner has been trampling the boundary already and seems unwilling to now abide by it. But honestly, you have very little to win by allowing it – at least if you speak your mind there is a chance she will come around.

    • Solo said:

      “In my opinion, something already went wrong that it even got this far. Unless the married guy proposed an affair out of the blue she has been getting close to him, knowing that he is in a monogamous relationship, and knowing your boundaries around affairs.”

      Ehhh… I object to “something already went wrong” or that it got “this far.” I develop crushes (school crushes, friend crushes, work crushes, art scene crushes…) pretty easily. I’ve at times expressed my interest to crushes who did not in any way reciprocate. It wasn’t “out of the blue” for me but there was no amorous intention from the person I was crushing on. I assume that I also wasn’t giving off uncomfortable Crushing On You vibes to them because in most cases we continued to have a lovely friendship. I’ve also had people disclose their crush to me, with similar outcomes. (Granted, sometimes it *did* come with the uncomfortable vibes that I grace(ful/less)ly extracted myself from.

      I object to this in particular because I think it ties in to a really damaging idea that all forms of emotional intimacy in a monogamous relationship *must* be reserved for your monogamous partner [or special “safe” exceptions].

      • 30ish said:

        Hmm, good points! In my own experience, I’ve had several light crushes where I could sense the feeling was probably mutual, and in those cases I usually distanced myself because I was in a monogamous relationship (or both of us were). I don’t avoid emotional intimacy with friends at all, but when I start crushing on someone or feel that the other person is crushing on me that is a very recognizable and distinct feeling that I do actively try to stop happening by interacting less with them. And whenever someone said they had a crush on me, I absolutely saw it coming and I think it’s quite common for a lot of flirting to happen beforehand. Many people, especially if they are married like in this situation, are not comfortable expressing a crush when the chances of being rejected are high. More importantly though, when he did express the crush she did not immediately distance herself, and that to me is definitely problematic. At that point the line was 100% crossed.

        • thegreatdragon said:

          I would say that, given the severity of the pantsfeels (as in, strong enough to trample on preset boundaries) and how LW’s partner claims that this is exceedingly rare for her, there’s at least a chance that this isn’t a sudden crush. I think it might potentially* be worth questioning the circumstances that led up to this point.

          *emphasis on potentially.

          • spd said:

            At the same time, if she hasn’t had a crush in years, she might also not have recognized the early symptoms (I find that when I’ve been crush free for years one day I will suddenly wake up with a huge, unmanageable crush on someone and only then will I be like, “ohhhhh, that’s why I wanted to hang out three times last week.”)

    • TO_Ont said:

      “My first thought is that the boundaries you had established are exactly for this type of situation – it’s precisely because feelings for a person who is in a monogamous relationship could happen that you need the boundary in the first place”

      Yes, exactly. A promise that’s ‘I promise I won’t do this unless I really want to’… Not much of a promise, is it?

      • EmmaInfiniti said:

        Not endorsing the affair-having here, but a lot of people make sincere promises in relationships in the abstract that they have trouble keeping in real life later on. A lot of these promises or rules could potentially be revisited/ re-negotiated without either party being unethical. An example – “I would never ask you to put your career second to mine; we will always be equal” [5 years later] “I just got offered the dream job which would require me to move to another country; would you support me in this, even if it means you giving up your job?” [partners decide if keeping or changing this promise was essential to maintaining the relationship]

        • While your example is valid and reasonable, I would question whether it’s comparable/applicable to the LW’s situation. Priorities changing in ways that weren’t reasonably foreseeable when the relationship agreement was made is certainly a thing, but that’s not how I would characterize what’s going on here. It sounds to me like the LW’s situation is more that they and their partner jointly concluded that fucking around with someone who’s monogamously involved is a morally reprehensible and destructive thing that One Does Not Do (which is both true and significant, IMO), and now that that ethical framework is inconvenient for LW’s partner, she’s arguing for it to be tossed aside (and I get the distinct feeling she’s being pressure-ey and manipulative about it, from the LW’s wording).

          An ethical stance that suddenly becomes suspiciously flexible or gets discarded when it stands in the way of getting what you want… really is no ethical stance at all.

          • spd said:

            You totally articulated something I couldn’t identify that struck me as odd about this rule change even though I’m generally for asking to renegotiate stuff.

          • EmmaInfiniti said:

            I agree, that is a valid distinction.

          • QoB said:

            Like when I used to “give up” carrots for Lent as a kid.

            I never ate carrots anyway.

            I was not a good Catholic…. 😀

        • TootsNYC said:

          “An example – “I would never ask you to put your career second to mine; we will always be equal” [5 years later] “I just got offered the dream job which would require me to move to another country; would you support me in this, even if it means you giving up your job?””

          Ah, but did your example person ask partner to put their career second.

          Or did your example person ask, “would you be willing to?”

          There’s a subtle difference.

          And yes, this is ethics–or, what Any One Mouse said.

  13. Cautionary Tale said:

    TW: mentions of self-harm, cheating, pregnancy/abortion, issues of consent

    Speaking as the wife of the spouse who cheated with a poly person behind my back instead of coming to me about opening our marriage, I can tell you… Despite my husband saying, “It’s complicated” and “She (meaning me) wouldn’t understand,” I would have much, much, much preferred that they both came to me and gave me a chance to consent than take the “easy” path they did to just cheat and hide.

    Even though I have always been monogamous (but open-minded), at the very least I would have done is shaved my legs, gotten my hair blown out and a mani/pedi (just grooming standards I personally need to feel my most attractive) and taken the interested ladyperson out for a drink. Whether that drink would have lead to complex boundary discussions and negotiations, a friendly and honest metamour friendship, a sexy threesome or the very intriguing option of having freedom to explore my own bisexuality with my own partners, I can’t say because I was never given that option. While having that ability to consent taken away from me was not as violent as other forms of non-consensual actions taken in sexual interactions, it was pretty violation.

    So, instead a covert affair involving violations of trust on pretty much every level all exploded when I was pregnant and lead to a massive crisis involving enough guilt to provoke threats of self-harm from multiple parties, STD testing, panic-driven investigation of termination options, and more than ten thousand dollars spent in couple’s therapy. I was exposed to STDs without my consent. I found myself incredibly vulnerable and devastated and expecting a consciously conceived a child with a partner who was lying to me the whole time we purposefully tried to conceive. I only share this because choosing not to do the emotional work to take care of all consenting adults’ and partners’ needs and agreements is never, ever the “easy way” out.

    If you partner really wants sexytimes with this guy, she will insist that he communicate, respect and get consent from everybody affected. Don’t be like us! We could have at the very least taken the tens of thousands of dollars we spent on post-crisis mental health care (so necessary and so, so worth it) and taken an amazing vacation together. Do the emotional “hard work” first and then be happy polyamorous people vacationing in, like, Hawaii or something.

    • Marna Nightingale said:

      *toasts marshmallows with you around a bonfire of The T-Shirts*

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        here here

        • Thanksforallthefish said:

          hear hear? lol idk

          • sistercoyote said:

            Hear! Hear! technically.

    • Angie said:

      That sounds incredibly stressful!! Sending you a Jedi hug if you wish—it sounds like the worst is over but I’m so sorry that you went through that.

  14. Claire said:

    I think it would be helpful to distinguish both issues when talking to your partner.
    Issue 1: putting this current relationship aside, what does she think about the ethicality of pursuing a relationship with a married man? Did she just change her mind about this or has she always had reservations about this rule? I think it is definitely worth it to put your foot down here. If she enters a relationship with this man then so do you and you have an equal right to consent or not consent to it.
    Issue 2: why does she feel like this is the only way for her to enjoy the non monogamy of your relationship? Does she feel that the dynamic between you two is unbalanced or unfair? Does she resent to some extent that you take advantage of this and she doesn’t? I would approach this conversation with a lot of listening and understanding and expecting that the conclusion might be that this isn’t working for her.
    You feel pressured to accept the violation of your morals and boundaries because you want her to be happy. But as the captain says there are other ways for her to be happy, but there might not be another way for you to not betray your values.

  15. Marna Nightingale said:

    Oh LW. That’s SO messy. The Captain has covered the ethical issues really well, and Laura has filled in some useful bits as have other posters in, so I offer, instead, the PRACTICAL case against to possibly put to Partner:

    I mean, let’s assume for a moment that neither you nor Partner nor, indeed, I have any ethics to speak of or at least that we all have no ethical high-ground (which I sorta don’t — as another long-term poly person (um, erk, 30 years omg) who spent quite a lot of those years learning it all the hard way in small-town SW Ontario I have been if not in all these positions at least position-adjacent, some of them more than once):

    IOW: “Honey. Do you remember WHY we made that rule? Like, the grim, miserable, sordid details of why? You could get the same result faster by shoving your hand in the blender and turning it to High.”

    Like, this not only won’t end well, it won’t START well and the middle will ALSO suck. Partner has a serious case of PRE (Potential Relationship Energy, like NRE but with more Yearning) and has temporarily forgotten this, but affairs with married people are unpleasant in general and especially for poly people, who have grown accustomed to a certain …spaciousness… in our emotional lives in this regard. This is partly because of the thin but unpleasantly-flavoured coating of ethical ick and partly because, well —

    Choosing to have a relationship with someone who is cheating, however cheating is defined, is *wilfully choosing to sleep with a jerk*. Cheating is Jerkish. People who do it are, not necessarily forever, but at that time, Jerks. Sleeping with Jerks tends to make a person miserable. To enter a relationship and realize that one is sleeping with a jerk can be considered misfortune but to wilfully drop one’s drawers for a clearly labeled Jerk looks like carelessness. Etc.

    At the end of the day Partner will do as they’ll do and you will do as you’ll do. I have not been in a happy, loving poly situation for [mumblety] years without each and every one of us pulling some seriously stupid and/or unhealthy and/or sketchy shit.

    So I guess it’s worth thinking about whether you’re willing to hang on through the inevitable messy denouement and let Partner learn the hard way or whether this is Too Damn Much.

    If, and only if, you are SURE it’ll be Too Damn Much, you should tell Partner so. I’m not big on ultimatums in general, but sometimes they’re what’s happening and the question is do you say so or not.

    So if your whole relationship is riding on this choice you should probably tell Partner that before, not after, they make the call.

    • jo said:

      *applause* for this whole thing (and extra bonus snaps for the Oscar Wilde reference).

    • ReanaZ said:

      “So if your whole relationship is riding on this choice you should probably tell Partner that before, not after, they make the call.”

      This… this is a really excellent framing on the occasional necessity of ultimatums.

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        agreed. There are Ultimatums and then there are deal-breakers and while no one should bludgeon another into behaving a certain way using them…dealbreakers are subjective and only require a vote of 1 to be valid.

    • Pobody's Nerfect said:

      Awesome and helpful comment but I just wanted to leave a reminder that the Captain has requested we not use “poly” as shorthand for “polyamorous” as it is also a pre-existing tag for the Polynesian community 🙂

    • Working Hypothesis said:

      You are awesome, Marna Nightingale! That was the most impressive instance of “what I wanted to say, but said a zillion times better than I ever could” that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in a looooong time… the part about all of us (in my particular poly cluster, anyway) having done some seriously screwed-up stuff along the way in particular.

      It’s way too easy to do. It never leads anywhere good.

  16. bostoncandy said:

    I’m about to get extremely concrete and practical.

    If your partner will not back down, I’d say something like this:

    “Okay. I get that you are considering doing the thing. You considering doing the thing is changing the way I feel about you. You actually doing the thing is going to change the way about how I feel about you further. I cannot predict where that will lead.
    You can still do the thing if you choose. I am not forbidding the thing. That being said, you doing the thing gets ZERO support from me. You need to pay any expenses for the thing out of your own money. You need to find a space to do the thing other than where we live. You need to manage your own emotions about the thing or enlist other people to talk to about it. You need to keep your other commitments to me while you are doing the thing. And if the thing fall apart horribly, that is your problem to worry about. If you aren’t willing to do 100% of that then we need to have a different conversation.*
    If you want to explore options other than doing the thing that might help you get your needs met, I would love to have a conversation with you about that.”

    I would also start using barriers with your partner if you do not do so currently.

    *In which case, dear LW, talk to a lawyer.

    • CleverGirl said:

      I really like this. I like this a lot.

    • mf said:

      I like this a lot: “Okay. I get that you are considering doing the thing. You considering doing the thing is changing the way I feel about you. You actually doing the thing is going to change the way about how I feel about you further. I cannot predict where that will lead.
      You can still do the thing if you choose. I am not forbidding the thing.”

      LW’s partner is setting them up to be the bad guy if they say “no” in order to stand up for their values/needs in this relationship, and that’s a shitty position to be in. This reframes the whole thing: it’s not about permission, it’s a question of the price Partner is willing to pay in her relationship with LW in order to have this affair.

      • bostoncandy said:

        This is my read too. With an outright veto, too, the partner would get “bonuses” like the spicy thrill of forbidden love, and being a martyr (about their partner being a human who has reasonable needs and boundaries). No, your love is not forbidden, it’s merely ill-advised. No, you are not a martyr, you are an adult making a choice knowing full well the potential consequences.

        • Yolanda B. Cool said:

          This is so well said. I wonder, along those lines, if it would be help to point out that there are (vanishingly rare) cases where an exception to this rule would be a reasonable ask: if the Spouse had dementia, and was incapable of informed consent, but was dependant on affair partmer’s health insurance, or if Spouse had gone missing years ago, but the toll for being declared legally dead had not yet passed. I bring this up because I wonder if being faced with the extreme circumstances under which this _might_ be an ethical grey area would help LW’s wife come to grips with the fact that hot, sexy potential affair partner has every opportunity to do the right thing, and is, in fact, a rather ordinary cad. If that realization didn’t cool off the attraction to this hot mess of an idea, it might at the very least strip away the pretense of martyrdom on LW’s wife’s part.

          • lunchcoma said:

            I find it more helpful to deal with those occasional rare cases by talking about “romantic relationships” rather than “spouses.” If you haven’t seen your spouse in years, you’re not in a romantic relationship, whether they’re missing and presumed dead or just living on the other side of the country and uninterested in filing for divorce. If your spouse’s dementia is so advanced that you can’t have a conversation with them about your marriage, you’re also not in a romantic relationship but rather in a caregiver one.

            When people start getting into specifics, I find that conversations drift into Dan Savage land where the lone exception for a partner who’s incapable of informed consent becomes a long list of disabilities, illnesses, economic entanglements, and child-rearing responsibilities that make it inconvenient for the couple to separate and then somehow justified for the cheater to not give their partner the option to even consider it.

          • bostoncandy said:

            Personally, I don’t think that would help. They already said they never cared about the rule, so I don’t think pointing out rare exceptions to it would move things. I also think that would be an invitation to the partner to explain a long sob story about why their potential sweetie Just Can’t tell their spouse, and how they’ll never meet someone like them and it has to be an exception… etc.

          • like an angry apple tree said:

            Out of nesting…
            >>When people start getting into specifics, I find that conversations drift into Dan Savage land where the lone exception for a partner who’s incapable of informed consent becomes a long list of disabilities, illnesses, economic entanglements, and child-rearing responsibilities that make it inconvenient for the couple to separate and then somehow justified for the cheater to not give their partner the option to even consider it.>>

            At one point, especially listening to the podcast, I started to suspect that Dan Savage would encourage a no-consent-from-current-partner(s), behind-the-back secret affair in literally any circumstances. It was like, “but I want to!” “Oh okay then, do what you have to.” Like… wanting to do the thing is its own justification, so the only time it isn’t an awesome idea is when… you don’t want to, I guess? So always, then. Apparently. Except we do lip service to lying being a bad thing, oh but the previous partner(s) brought it on themselves by not being chill enough. Argh.

            I quit listening and it STILL bugs me.

    • Yolanda B. Cool said:

      This comment is good, and you should feel good.

      • bostoncandy said:

        Thank you so much! Now I do feel good 😀

    • JB said:

      I love this framing. Thank you for articulating it so well.

      • bostoncandy said:

        My pleasure! Sometimes this is called the Popcorn Rule. Eg, “I think this is a terrible idea, you can do it, when it explodes I’m gonna watch and eat popcorn and I reserve the right to say ‘I told you so.'”

    • Lily said:

      I don’t think you can tell your spouse not to do X at your (and their!) home, provided that X isn’t directly dangerous. And “use your own money” is an acceptable idea if everyone has their own money AND LW doesn’t make significantly more money than her. (Which is not the case with a lot of couples.) Otherwise it’s financial abuse.

      • aebhel said:

        I think that people get to set reasonable boundaries around what they are and are not willing to have go on in their home. Not being able to do whatever you want whenever you want with no regard for how the other people in the shared living space feel about it is one of the trade-offs of sharing living space. There are lots of things that are not actively dangerous but that are likely to be disruptive to the home, and I don’t think it’s okay for one partner to do those things without full buy-in from the other partner. IMO, hosting an illicit affair definitely falls under that heading.

        Same with money, honestly. It’s not financial abuse to be uncomfortable with financially enabling behavior that’s likely to blow up in both their faces.

      • tsupertsundere said:

        I really, absolutely have to disagree here about the money aspect.

        It’s not financial abuse to say ‘you cannot use MY money to finance your affair’. I can’t imagine what world that would be.

        ‘I’m not forbidding you from doing this thing, but I’m letting you know I absolutely disapprove, wish you weren’t doing it, and will not facilitate you doing it’ CAN be used abusively if, like, ‘this thing’ is getting an education or a support network or self-confidence or whatever, but in this case, where ‘this thing’ is ‘have an affair’?

        It’s a hard no for me, lily.

      • thneedle said:

        I think that I can absolutely, at any time, tell my wife that Thing cannot happen in the house I live in. And I think that she can tell me the same. And we would each respect each other’s preference in that respect. Because honestly? There’s lots of world out there to do Things in. Our house is almost never the only place it could happen.

        Also, in relationships where someone has an outside partner, “not having sex with outside partner in shared house” is a fairly standard agreement. And if there isn’t a guest bedroom, “sex in the shared house” is actually “sex in the shared bed”, and for me, that’s a hard no.

        • KStanley said:

          I have to agree here too. Just because the spouse/partner is conceptually OK with an outside partner does not mean that they are comfortable with walking in on it.

      • bostoncandy said:

        Hmm. I can think of many examples of things that aren’t dangerous but that people would reasonably want input or be within their rights to not want in their living space. In my own life there was this one time with an uncured moose hide. I did in fact say, “Um? You are Not Bringing That In The House” and my then partner made other arrangements.

  17. CleverGirl said:

    Last Train to Nopesville!

    I just divorced a person who had super special rare feeeelings about someone she just HAD to share and then HAD to act on. We were in an open relationship, the other person was not.

    It was a clusterfuck from the word Go. I wound up hurt and humiliated, disgusted, feeling betrayed, because we too had set a “no infidelity” rule, but the moment this too-tempting person admitted she reciprocated my partner’s pantsfeelings, they crashed into each other like two trains on fire. Over my strident objections. My partner’s feelings were more important than my own, or the rules we had laid out years before, for OUR SAFETY and just because it’s fracking ethical not to sleep with another person’s spouse. Honestly, that is what hurt ME more than anything else: that my partner cared SO LITTLE about our relationship.

    Honestly, since ahe was breaking rules we had set out, she was being unfaithful to me. Just because you are in an open relationship doesn’t mean infidelity cannot happen to you. It can, if one partner knowingly chooses to break promises that were made.

    Bonus round: we didn’t know it until it blew up spectacularly, but my partner of 14 years had somehow acquired a serious STI that I luckily and through some merciful act of God managed never to contract, but she DID manage to pass it on to her new playmate! Even with protection! Thus jeopardizing the health of her fling’s partner, who in NO WAY consented to have HER agency violated in that way. It was frankly disgusting, and I was so pissed off I initiated divorce proceedings one month later and do not regret it in the slightest.

    And also, LW, is Clueless Spouse someone in your friend group, even tangentially? Because if so, your partner is asking YOU to keep this massive Infidelity Secret for as long as you live. Dwell on that for a moment. I can tell you from experience that is a SHITTY place to be in.

    In short, you are within your rights to stand your ground and insist that your partner not violate your boundaries in this way, and if they insist on doing so, you are within your rights to leave!

    Also, please get tested regularly from here out. Hopefully nothing has happened between them yet, but better safe than sorry, and as I can tell you from experience, sometimes STIs can utterly surprise you. (Had my partner been tested, it would have showed up, it was just asymptomatic and dormant.)

    Protect yourself however you can, LW. Good luck and Jedi hugs.

    • bostoncandy said:

      CleverGirl: My sincere congratulations on your divorce. *tips hat* I suspect you will be amazed by how much weight you don’t have to carry anymore.

    • TootsNYC said:

      “Just because you are in an open relationship doesn’t mean infidelity cannot happen to you. It can, if one partner knowingly chooses to break promises that were made.”

      Actually, that IS what the infidelity is, in the traditional situation. In traditional marriage, a spouse makes a vow to keep only to their spouse.

      It’s the breaking of the vow that is the problem.

    • BoredNerd said:

      “And also, LW, is Clueless Spouse someone in your friend group, even tangentially? Because if so, your partner is asking YOU to keep this massive Infidelity Secret for as long as you live. Dwell on that for a moment. I can tell you from experience that is a SHITTY place to be in”

      This was one of my first thoughts too. Because if this is the case your partner is asking you to basically lie to someone’s face about something huge every time you interact with them.

  18. If nothing else, LW, please tell her that if she does start a sexual relationship with this man then any sex with you will have to be barrier protected and/or she’ll need to get herself regularly tested for STIs and/or sex with you will no longer be part of your relationship. This is not to punish her, it’s to protect YOU. You need to be sure your sex is safe and you don’t have to trust someone who you know is cheating to honour any agreements about safer sex just because she wants to trust him.

    If she wants to renegotiate the relationship boundaries you agreed on before, she can try to renegotiate. Agreements and boundaries needn’t be set in stone – and that means you can renegotiate too. If she wants to pursue a relationship with someone you don’t trust, you can renegotiate how your relationship with her will be going forwards. This doesn’t have to be “Let’s drop this agreement and keep everything else the same”, it can be “If we drop this part of the agreement we’re committing ourselves to, then I want to change X, y, P and Q as well so that our relationship can continue”.

    • JenniferP said:

      People are right to bring up the STI and safer sex angle. I want to talk about marriage, trust, and finances. I’m watching more than one friend go through a divorce where there’s been both sexual and financial fuckery. If you knew the other person wanted to be with someone else and didn’t think they had to ask you, would you continue:

      Sinking a ton of money into home renovations in the shared residence.
      Financially sacrificing to pay off their student loans.
      Working to support them while they “find themselves.”
      Planning to have a child or have another child with them.
      Leaving your job and city near your family and support system to move cross-country with them.

      I don’t want to totally catastrophize here but if you’re married to someone and assume that you’re building a joint life with someone, you make decisions differently than you would if you knew they had one foot out the door or if they didn’t think that it was worth giving you a say in things that are a huge deal. It’s okay to walk away from relationships when they aren’t working, or to try to renegotiate them. If you stay, relationships have to be based on informed consent. A person who isn’t into informed consent is not someone great to get involved with.

      • You are absolutely right on all this!
        It’s easy to accidentally hyper-focus on the sex part of cheating.

        If someone is cheating or has cheated and doesn’t see why LYING TO SOMEONE YOU LOVE ABOUT THINGS RELEVANT TO THEIR DECISION TO STAY WITH YOU is a bad thing to do, they are someone who cannot be trusted and who may well think other wrong behaviour is okay.

      • Erin McJ said:

        Yes, yes, yes. A marriage can definitely be threatened by sex, but what is threatened is so much bigger and all-encompassing than sex.

      • Red5 said:

        ” If you stay, relationships have to be based on informed consent. A person who isn’t into informed consent is not someone great to get involved with.”

        So much this. If this guy thinks his current spouse doesn’t deserve informed consent, what makes your partner think he will give her that consideration? If someone is willing to hurt another person for you, they will be more than willing to hurt you in the same way for someone else. Unfortunately, I’m speaking from experience, and just got the finalized divorce papers to show for it. 😦

        • Working Hypothesis said:

          And if the LW’s partner *herself* doesn’t think that informed consent is a big deal (which she’s basically just said, in announcing that she “never much cared about the ‘no infidelity’ rule in the first place), then maybe the LW wants to make their decisions differently around that, too.

      • Thanksforallthefish said:

        Ooh it never occurred to me that the fact that my father had affairs between the birth of me and my sister that it took it all to a new level. She’s all “let’s build a family!” he’s all “I just wanna have fun and not think about other people!”

      • hey nonny nonny said:

        This so much. My parents divorced over an affair; and the thing that still makes my dad angry and hurt, well over a decade later, is not the fact of the affair itself, but the straits my mum left him in by removing his ability to make informed decisions, and to plan for the future he was actually going to have, not the one he thought he was going to have. Things he would not have done if he had known about the affair include:
        -investing in remaining in this country when the rest of his family and support network was on another continent
        -having a child with my mum (#1 for her, but #4 for him)
        -supporting my mum for 8 years while she stayed at home to raise said child
        -allowing my mum to make expensive decisions about said child’s upbringing (private school, etc.)
        -sinking money into paying off a mortgage (on a house he has not lived in since 1999)
        -retiring early from an incredibly secure and well-paying job
        Of all these things, I think my existence is the only one he doesn’t bitterly regret.

      • Angle-a said:

        I always prefer an unpalatable truth to a palatable lie.
        I knew my relationship was over when my husband thought it was okay to lie to me rather than discuss his choices with me. When I raised the issue he defended his choices & resented my “interference”.
        Once respect & trust is gone, its damn hard to regain. Especially when it’s your partner who doesn’t respect you anymore.

        • Cautionary Tale said:

          “Once respect & trust is gone, its damn hard to regain.”

          I will say, however, that it is possible. I posted about my Dumpster Fire above, but I was able to repair my marriage, regain trust and rebuild respect. For anyone curious or going through this, it took a fuckload of work, time, money and therapy.

          It involved: cutting the cheating partner off completely and totally with no exceptions; months of monitoring all email accounts, passwords, social media, phone access and moving the computer to a common area indefinitely; temporarily separating our living arrangements; taking time off work and being cared for by a Team Me member whose primary job was to make pregnant me soup and prevent me from putting my pets in the car and burning my house down in revenge; coming clean to very immediate family about the crisis in our marriage and why it happened; seeking and actively engaging in therapy as a couple and individuals; intense mental health treatment to fight feelings of shame, address threats of self-harm and get to the root of long-buried trauma that led to some of our circumstances; knocking ALL the dirt off the boots of our marriages, basically burning it down and rebuilding with better communication skills, learning to fight fair, and realigning priorities, agreements and commitments; a complete battery of tests for STIs and HIV over the course of months; starting from scratch on all intimacy, starting with knocking on the door to the bedroom if it was closed and asking for permission before entering to earning the right to be in the room when the baby was born; temporarily suspending all engagement with a friend/hobby group while the affair person was still involved in the hobby until enough trust could be rebuilt to re-engage with said hobby in a new group sans affair person

          And it worked. The process wasn’t perfect. It took a long time. We cycled through anger and denial and forgiveness and back to anger again. And then we did it again. It cost a lot of money for therapy and treatment. I consulted a psychic because I was so desperate to know what the outcome might be. My marriage is healed, stronger, more honest, loving and smarter than ever. I have forgiven completely. I feel safer, more supported, better loved and wiser for the experience. I have the tremendous satisfaction of knowing I am loved for better or worse. Co-parenting with a partner that I communicate with expertly is glorious. I will never again judge a person like Hillary Rodham Clinton who stays in her marriage after trust violations and public humiliation. This life experience is beyond humbling.

          For anyone curious or going through this, my experience was that the true healing begins when the partner who violated the trust is able to put into words an understanding of the depth of pain and violation they caused the person who was cheated on. When they start being able to reflect back to you your own pain in words that demonstrate that THEY GET IT, that’s the moment you know you can start to breathe again. The healing continues when you see the cheating partner placed into a similar situation to those in which the violations occurred, and then make a different choice. When those different choices start being consistent behavior, you can rebuild. Of course, you gotta face all your own shit, too, whether that’s the way you communicate, emotional baggage from your past, or how you respond now that your consent has been so thoroughly violated. So that’s fun. Except, you know, not.

          If you are going through this, I am SO sorry. For anyone with intense pantsfeelings and/or a desire to open their relationship but terrified to have the conversation, for anyone flirting with disaster or engaged in a hobby or community that is all-encompassing you in a way that separates you from your primary partnership with consent-violating temptations; please, please, please learn from us. Your choices don’t just affect you. It will affect your immediate families, your hobby/friend groups, your health and fertility, your finances, your pets (our puppy stress-barfed and the cats stress-peed for a week following the Huge Revelation Fight), it will, to say the least, not leave your affairperson better than you found them. *Everyone* deserves better, but especially the voiceless affectees like fetuses, pets and children.

          TLDR; healing is possible. It can be the hardest possible road to get to the best possible place. SKIP THE DRAMA; HAVE THE CONVO; ALL ADULTS GET TO CONSENT.

          Dear LW: I send you the Jedi Hugs and encourage you to trust your instincts when it comes to boundaries and agreements. I wish I had trusted mine. Take care.

          • ModernCulture said:

            Much respect to you and thanks for sharing. Jedi hugs if you want them.

          • Angle-a said:

            Congratulations, Cautionary Tale. You are so lucky that BOTH of you were willing to put that incredible effort in to your relationship. I hope you continue to thrive. 😊

          • DV said:

            I admire you so much for making it work. I’d second that it takes the full committment and work of both partners to do it.

            The betrayed partner can be willing to forgive and totally on board with exploring their own contribution to problems which set the scene for infidelity and working on that, but if the unfaithful partner isn’t willing to be honest, genuinely sorry and committed to reconciliation and to building what is essentially a completely new relationship (ie they want you to forgive them and just go on as things were before), it’s a process doomed to failure.

      • Forrest said:

        Yep, this just happened with two of my friends. Partner A initiated a divorce out of the blue, and announced their new serious relationship six weeks later. The official story is that nothing *technically* *happened* until after they’d moved out, but it’s pretty clear that Something Happened, even if it was”only” getting closer and closer and lots of confiding about the Awful Difficulties of Living With Spouse and accidentally tripping up and landing on the Sofa of Plausible Deniability. Meanwhile, Partner B thought they were married and was pouring their savings into the house they were going to live in for the rest of their lives and then suddenly discovered that they were going to have to sell the house and bye-bye ten years of savings and the money they inherited from their very beloved grandparents. Even without the *technical* cheating, it’s a very shitty thing to do to someone.

  19. vwolfe said:

    I second the idea of using protection if she decides to go further a person willing to lie to their long term monogamous partner would not have a problem with also lying to the person they are sleeping with on the side.
    As a person who is mostly monogamous I would rather my partner at least discuss it with me and give me a chance to possibly work out a situation that would work for us all and not in that you either let me do this or I am leaving kind of way but more in the I would like to consider opening our relationship, I don’t feel entirely fulfilled or whatever
    Because as a fairly open minded person I would probably not have a problem with my partner fullfilling some needs outside of our relationship but would be deeply hurt if they went elsewhere for other needs

    I think the only person that feels nice in “cheating” situation is the “cheater” the person who is the “other” may feel guilty and used and the spouse/partner will feel deceived or like they are not enough

    I would generally rather know the truth no matter the hurt because it would probably hurt more if i found out later

  20. Drew said:

    I guess my question is, why is the pressure on you to compromise on the ethical rules you agreed to and not on this married guy to have some potentially difficult conversations with his spouse about about opening up their marriage?

    Absolute mic drop. Well done, Captain.

    The most benign possible answer is, “Because our relationship is already open, so it’s not like we’re REALLY breaking any rules here.” But I suspect the real answer is closer to “Because they have an ACTUAL marriage and ours is more of a friends-with-loads-of-legally-binding-benefits thing,” or even grosser, “Because the man’s rules are more important than the woman’s.”

    And maybe, LW, you need to unpack the exact reason down the road. In the short term, though, I think the Captain’s question is an absolute must, along with “I don’t understand why you’re more interested in protecting him than us.”

    Jedi hugs, dear LW. I fear you’re going to need them.

  21. notadoctor said:

    Dear LW, when was the last time you and your partner rehashed your ethical nonmanogamous situation? Since your partner has effectively not been interested in exercising her options for as long as you’ve been together, it makes my antennae twitch that now all of a sudden the ONLY way she can imagine being non-monogamous is to break a Big Rule. Is there something about her, or you, or your communication dynamics together, that breaking the big rule is her way of signaling that your current status quo is No Longer Working for her? I totally agree with the Cap’n that your partner can choose not to bonk this dude…. but your partner needs to feel confident that you are capable of listening to *all* of the reasons she so desperately feels like she needs to.

    • slfisher said:

      It is never a good idea to (re) negotiate a polyamory agreement when there’s someone waiting in the wings.

      • spd said:

        Yep. In a healthy open or polyamorous situation, one partner is never sleeping with or crushing on someone AT their other partner(s).

        If LW’S shepartner is finally seeking another partner at this particular moment as a way to communicate with LW, this particular moment is an exceptionally bad time for LW’s shepartner to actually have their first additional partner in a long time. If LW’s shepartner isn’t able to communicate with LW about their existing relationship, LWs shepartner will probably be even worse at it once they’re managing the existing relationship+a jerk and his victim.

        • Claire said:

          Its still a good point though. They shouldn’t renegotiate the boundary of not getting involved with a cheater but it’s worth having a conversation about the whole open relationship thing if it’s not working for LW’s partner. It’s not LW’s fault at all if their partner didn’t communicate that but it might be constructive to talk about it now.

  22. Dear LW,

    I suspect that unless you threaten to leave, your partner will bang the married man. In fact, I suspect she already has.

    The questions that I’d ask now include:
    – Do you want to stay even if she breaks (or has broken) your agreement?
    – What actions would bring back your respect for her?
    – What kind of sex (if any) do you want to have with her?
    – How long before this affair is common knowledge in your social circles?
    – How much does it matter to you that it will be known?
    – How long will living with the mess be tolerable?
    – How can you move away from resenting her for asking this of you?

    I can’t answer for you.

    Jedi hugs if you want them.

  23. Gentlewoman Otter said:

    Oh geez, NOPE. So much nope here. Being someone’s affair is never a good idea. If someone wants to cheat with you, it shows they don’t respect their spouse *or you* enough to 1. Let the feelings dissipate, or 2. Talk to their spouse about an open marriage. Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt. He was twice my age and married. He told me he couldn’t just be friends with me. He told me as long as we didn’t kiss or have sex it was okay. He told me he’d lost his chance at so many other women and how could I let him down. He told me it was my anxiety. It… Obviously wasn’t okay, and it blew up both our lives(mine more than his).

    So my advice to LW’s partner is to run. Run. Don’t look back and run for the fucking hills. This is not worth it. And LW? You do not need to condone this. Tell your partner that you will not be a party to infidelity, because it is never worth it. No matter how nice it is when you’re with someone, the feeling of a relationship that is suddenly secretive and wrong is just awful. Your partner can do better. And if she won’t respect your boundaries and feelings here, *you* can do better.

  24. e271828 said:

    Mm hmm. These “complicated” men. Always a disaster for everyone around them.

  25. Tepid Tea said:

    I agree 100% with the captain on what the ethical and wise choice would be for LW’s partner to make. And I agree with the captain’s read of LW’s potential lover.

    With respect to how LW should approach this issue with their partner: talk it out, yes. However, I just get the sense that partner is not going to give this guy up easily, and will feel resentful if she does. Thus, if the relationship is something that LW really wants to keep, this issue might have a deleterious effect whether or not LW comes down hard on the “don’t be a person’s affair” rule.

    A possible middle way: in the past when my loved ones have had their hearts set on questionable choices (on the level of an affair) I’ve had success with saying, “OK, I get why you want to do this. Go in with your eyes open, though. There are likely to be x, y, z challenges. I think if you know that they’re coming, and have a plan in place for dealing with them logistically and emotionally, you’ll be golden. Do you have a sense of what those plans could be?”

    This tactic doesn’t stop my loved ones from making the choice at issue, and it isn’t intended to! I have been told afterward that it made the challenges easier to bear and limited the emotional fallout. I suspect that it helped some of them extricate themselves more quickly too, because they didn’t have an extended period of questioning their perception of the difficulty at hand.

    This situation is a little different, because partner’s choices will have a direct impact on LW. However, it may be that if LW talks pragmatically about the downsides of being someone’s affair, and asks partner to envision realistic solutions pre-affair, partner will end up using her head to guide her heart-slash-pants.

    • moss said:

      I have zero experience with this kind of thing and I think it’s awesome that your suggestion worked but that sounds like the kind of thing that I would say to my child, not to my partner. I think if my partner put me into this position I would be really frustrated that I had to basically babysit them to this extent.

  26. Amy said:

    You should decide what you can and can’t agree to while maintaining your own happiness in this relationship. You should communicate that clearly to your partner. Be as honest and clear as you can be; make sure you’re coming at it from a perspective of ‘these are things I need’, rather than ‘the thing you want is inherently bad’ (which might be true but also makes people pretty defensive). Talk things out and see if there is a way that you can both get your needs met in this relationship.

    Maybe the answer will be yes! Who knows. It never hurts to ask.

    Maybe the answer will be no, though. If she decides that dating this guy is a need for her, and you know that ‘no infidelity’ is a need for you, and there is no way for her to date this guy without him cheating on his wife….then you and your partner’s needs are incompatible. At that point, I think you guys would need to seriously consider breaking up. That would be really sad, because you love your partner, but ultimately you both deserve to be in relationships where your needs are getting met. If that’s not possible in your current relationship, then I personally think it’s better to acknowledge that and end it while you still think well of each other, than to try and hold on until one or both of you are miserable with the other.

  27. H.C. said:

    On top of feeling miserable, I’d be scared if the affair guy’s spouse found out and decides to inflict maximum damage for all parties involved – which may include you too.

    • Caiman said:

      I feel like this might be villainizing the spouse a little bit? I get the point, but this seems to frame the reactions of being an asshole as being worse than the actual act of being one. They’re both people having their boundaries broken, anad people being hurt by this situation.

      It might help a lot more to consider the spouse as a potential ally, in all of this. If LW’s partner doesn’t show signs of wanting to respect boundaries, you’re gonna have to answer the question of whether or not this is something you want to inform Dude’s spouse of. It’ll be messy and awful, but its an important part of informed consent.

      Actually, now that I think about it, one good boundary to put in about this whole situation might just be. ‘Hey, I understand that you got pants feeling for this dudes, but there does need to be informed consent with the spouse. If you don’t take the steps to be ethical with this relationship, it will force me into a position where I will need to inform her.’ This isn’t an unreasonable boundary if she refuses to respect the first one. You aren’t willing to b privy to cheating, and in my experiences, people are 100% willing to start the conversation themselves when they know someone else will if they don’t.

      Obviously there’s a million and one reasons to be hesitant doing this, going from ‘shoot the messenger’ to the fact that the spouse will be inclined to believe her husband more than some rando without proper evidence. However, I feel like if the situation escalates, LW 100% is in the right to contact spouse.

      The spouse isn’t a mean villain in this situation – she’s someone else who’s suffering and having her ability to make decisions eroded. Of course she’ll be mad if she finds out eventually, that’s a normal human reaction. It’s nothing to be villainized. Talking to her is a way to help give her some control over the situation. As others have said – what happens if she’s trying to get pregnant, or paying off loans, or changing jobs for the convenience of their future plans?

      • Yeah, I feel like it’s unfair to villainize the spouse here. They’re breaking her boundaries without her consent or knowledge, and that risks huge repercussions for her. Being angry would be an expected reaction, and in my view totally understandable and justified.

        • I agree, but I read the earlier comment not as villainizing the spouse but as basically saying, don’t assume that you won’t get drawn into things. If there’s messiness, you might be in the splash zone.

  28. You know, I was kind of in the partner’s position once. My open relationship was either over or so near to over that it played no role, but I was dancing around feelings for someone with a monogamous partner. I felt such amazing synergy with him, at a really lonely and scary time for me (the partner/ex-partner was about to land in hospital and our lives were crumbling). He said he wanted to talk to his partner about them opening up so we could explore it, that didn’t work out. Then we went to the same party, and we let something happen.
    It only happened once. It wasn’t very high-risk physically. But the result was just devastation. I was depressed with the shame of it for months, I was more isolated than before; I put their relationship in danger, and hurt his partner, who I liked and still really respect (though obviously that’s not necesary for treating her right). After a disastrous and drunk attempt to talk to the couple about it I removed myself from their lives; I lost people. Their relationship of several years ended a while later.

    I guess I say this to make the point that the LW’s partner has something that I didn’t: a loving, supportive, engaged, ethically concerned partner. Someone who sees this whole thing from outside the bubble of I’ve-never-felt-this, some-cosmic-fuck-gravity-is-drawing-us-together-and-who-am-I-to-quibble-with-it myopia.

    I don’t want to imply that you are responsible for their behaviour or that you can stop the train of their lovin’ by flinging yourself in front of it (neither is true). I guess I just want to say that the situation may be making you feel like the Bad Grump or the Perfect Ethics Police and you’re really just being a partner who loves your partner enough to speak up. That’s a good thing to remember if you use any of the great scripts here. You are strong and good.

  29. Nopetopus Cowgirl said:

    I think when one partner is saying that they no longer care at all about an agreement that is fundamental to the relationship, it is worth considering whether that is their way of hitting the eject button on the relationship.

    Maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s just a crisis of hormones and desire that feels so consuming that it leads to some very bad decisions. I suspect few among us have not had (at least) one of those!

    But it could be a way of saying “I want you to break up with me and I’m going to come at this obliquely.” She may not even realize that this is what she’s asking. I get the vibe that LW feels that it’s on them to make this work one way or another: to allow/veto, to approve/disapprove, to cope with losing respect or not… Whoa. That sounds like partner isn’t doing her end of the work in thinking through consequences, taking responsibility for decisions and, most worryingly, caring about what’s fair and right. Sounds like she might be asking LW to do lots of complex, grown-up, emotional work alone–and this is what leads me to think she might shy away from the responsibility of saying “I think I might want to break up.”

  30. IrishEm said:

    I’m not sure if what I’m saying has been said already, but what’s curious to me is that your partner is placing all (or most of) the emotional labour of making this decision on you, LW. Now, I’m sure that’s at least partly due to your agreements and decisions and your partner making a show of respecting them, but there’s an awful lot of “if I answer this way that will happen, but if I answer the other way then something else will happen,etc” in this letter, and in LW’s head and heart, I’m sure. I wonder if your partner has done a fraction of the actual thinking through of all the implications of the conundrum that you are, and that is deeply unfair. Maybe I’m off-base and the two of you have discussed the issue together, but I see you performing a lot of emotional labour/mental backflips to try and make everything go smoothly so Partner gets what Partner wants and you try to not hate yourself, while all I know about your partner is this problem is Partner’s and Partner gave it to you to have the final word.

    And I think that’s quite unfair.

    In a relationship of equals should both parties not put an equal amount of thought into Major Life Decisions? Maybe it’s different in the Polyamorous community, or in this specific relationship (and god knows I’ve never had a relationship longer than a single date so I’m probably standing in a glass house throwing stones – I hope I’m not treading on anyone’s toes here) but it seems like LW’s partner is having Pants Feels and is giving the heavy lifting of the decision making to the LW so she can enjoy her Pants Feels. LW, I really hope that this is not part of a pattern of behaviour from your partner, because I have had friendships where I’ve been doing the feelings work for a friend and it sucks. It must suck so much worse to be doing the feelings work in a relationship where rules that were clearly set out are being walked over because of Pants Feels. 😦

    • tabbykat said:

      It seems that the partner is making the decision to pursue the relationship, unless LW objects, because they agreed to input on their outside relationships, as a condition of a poly relationship. I don’t think the partner is asking the LW to decide, but the LW does get to object to outside relationships.

      • IrishEm said:

        Okay, that makes more sense than my take on it. It does still feel like LW is being forced to either make an ultimatum or go with it and neither of those seem fair to me. 😦

  31. tictactoe said:

    It’s a slippery slope!

  32. JustAnonforThis said:

    So, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m coming at this as a woman who has been cheated on while in a monogamous relationship, and I am not in, nor have any desire for an open/polyamorous relationship – so I’m using my experiences as a template here.

    LW, your partner is gearing up to cheat on you, if she hasn’t already. And it is cheating, even if you are not monogamous. Others have said it better than I will, but your partner has told you that she is both willing and willfully ready to discard your INCREDIBLY simple rule of “don’t fuck married people” so she can go after a sleezeball. And that’s what this dude is, a sleezeball – and if your partner is willing to violate the clear-cut rules of not only your relationship but his as well (and it wouldn’t be an affair if the other couple was non-monogamous and all this was above board) then she is too. Your partner’s complete disregard for agreed upon rules and more importantly, your and his spouse’s ability to make informed decisions about your relationships don’t speak very highly of her version of ~ethical~ nonmonogamy. I can’t force your hand in any way, but I know I’d be asking myself some tough questions before anything actually happens. And please, please be sure to get yourself tested for STIs and make sure you have financial security/your shit together if things go badly.

    Your partner has put you in an extremely tough place and placed an unreasonable amount of emotional labor and stress onto you. And I may be projecting but I can only imagine that if/when you confront your partner about her feelings and possible shitty decision-making skills that she’ll heap more and more emotional turmoil onto you as a way to deflect from the fact that sleeping with this married dude is generally Not A Good Thing To Do. I saw that you noted that you’ve taken greater advantage of your relationship’s open status than she has, but guess what? That’s not your problem, she has just as much agency as you do to seek out AVAILABLE partners. If she does bring up your past/present relationships outside of this one, none of that matters because none of your other partners were cheating on their spouses. And in fact, I’d repeat that ad nauseam: “These are not comparable relationships, none of my partners were cheating. This is. It’s not the same.”

    If your partner has truly decided to enter into this affair, you won’t be able to stop her, and it won’t be your fault. What you can do is allow your partner to experience the natural consequences of her choices, like others have said above. And honestly, sometimes in a relationship ultimatums are not a bad thing – if your partner’s actions mean you will no longer be with her, let her know, and follow through.

    And this is the part where many people may disagree with me, but again, as a woman who was cheated on, I have a soft spot for the asshole dude’s spouse – You can’t stop her from cheating, but on that same note, she can’t stop you from telling his spouse. Especially if you run in the same circles or are even just far flung acquaintances, if his spouse knows what’s going on, you can step back and let chips fall where they may.

  33. Sunshine said:

    Cheating on someone is an incredibly cruel act. It involves repeated, carefully-planned lying, betraying, backstabbing, embezzling time and money from the marriage for use in the other relationship, gaslighting, conning the spouse, skewing their life choices, inflicting emotional abuse, endangering their health, robbing them of their autonomy, stealing power from them, eroding their self-confidence and trust, etc. Basically, when you cheat on your spouse, you are constructing a fake, imaginary world around them, so that they are not living in the world that they think they are living in; their life is no longer based in reality. This is an enormous mindfuck. And when the cheating is discovered, and they realize that it was their soulmate, their life partner, the person they love and trust more than any other human in the world who was the architect of their deception, mindfuckery, and abuse, it is absolutely soul-crushing.

    In fact, I would take the Captain’s comment, “Although If we want to do non-monogamous stuff, we can choose to do it ethically, with honesty & care for the people we’ve made commitments to,” a step further and say that it’s not just people we’ve made commitments to that we should treat with honesty and care. We should aim to treat all human beings with honesty and care, whether we know them or not. Obviously, it’s not just our friends whom we shouldn’t rob; it’s everyone. This is basic human decency. But what the LW’s spouse is poised to help her proposed lover do to his spouse, in order to get her sexytimes needs met, is downright immoral, plus insensitive and disrespectful to her own spouse and their marriage rules and boundaries. It is understandable why this would make the LW feel differently about their spouse.

    • Angle-a said:

      Sunshine, I really appreciate this comment. It encompasses so much. Thanks.

  34. Anon said:

    One of the joys about being polyamorous is that we’re out to our friends, so I can openly be in a relationship with both my partners.

    LW, if one of my partners was considering being someone’s affair, I’d ask him to think about what he’d be missing out on and how long he was going to be ok with the secrecy.

    Your partner may not have thought about that because she’s got used to ethical non-monogamy and isn’t thinking about what would be different – that she’d never be able to talk to friends about the relationship, always have to tiptoe around hiding it, never be able to flirt with affair-partner in public, always be nervous about being caught, feel guilty, have affair-partner’s needs/plans take backseat to hers, be unable to openly negotiate her needs.

    That’s a lot of pain and frustration she may not realize she’s signing up for.

    • Cyberwulf said:

      Actually I have a feeling LW’s partner has convinced herself that, since she’s got a primary, open relationship, whatever she does with Mr. Married is “just sex”. Oh boo hoo they can’t hold hands in public, he won’t leave his spouse – it’s just sex, she doesn’t expect that, etc.

  35. Healy said:

    Guys, can I ask where y’all are getting this information that the married dude and his wife are monogamous?
    Consenting polyamory in married couples is a thing, and the LW doesn’t actually say whether that’s a factor in play.
    LW if you’re going to talk to your partner about this I’d suggest some clarity for yourself about whether your boundary is “no non-consensual poly” or “no married people even if everyone involved consents.”

    • JenniferP said:

      The Letter Writer is giving this information to us by telling us that it would be an affair situation and go against their rules about this. If it weren’t a matter of affairs/secrets/not cool, then there would be no letter.

    • TO_Ont said:

      We don’t know whether they are monogomous or not, I suppose, but the entire point or the letter is that this relationship would be an affair, i.e., go against the potential guy’s vows/agreement/commitment and would involve lying to his partner about something he explicitly promised never to do.

      That’s the whole point of the letter.

      • Healy said:

        I get that what partner is asking to do is against LW’s boundaries – that’s totally clear. What’s not clear to me is whether “affair” to the LW means “cheating” or “married, even if it’s consensual.” That might be a language barrier thing.

        It’s totally ok to have a boundary about either or both of these things, but (as a very poly human) I would negotiate them both very differently.

        I’m not as squicked out as some people here seem to be by “Hey I know we have these rules, but my circumstances have changed and I wonder if there is space for renegotiation.” I also think LW has the absolute right to say “No, I like my rules just the way they are, thanks.” The spirit of my question was to help LW clarify exactly what they are and are not ok with.

        • NotThatGardner said:

          not trying to be overly nit-picky, but Captain has asked we use the full term – polyamory/ous – rather than just poly, here.

          • Healy said:

            I’m sorry! Can I edit?

        • TO_Ont said:

          An affair means unconsenting. That’s pretty much the definition of an affair.

    • TO_Ont said:

      It isn’t consenting, that’s what the entire question was!

  36. slythwolf said:

    I’m having trouble with the whole concept of “oh these feelings are rare, that means I get to indulge them without regard for ethics”. Like: I personally am not usually into hot dogs, but occasionally I want one. The fact that I don’t usually feel that way doesn’t mean that on a day I want a hot dog, I get to steal someone else’s.

    • roramich said:

      *snerk* so true!

  37. Indie said:

    If he’s *already* so important she’s willing to throw a spanner in the works of your marriage rules, I think it’s a decent assumption that it’s because it’s *already* an affair. Maybe not physical (though probably) but she’s pretty comfortable defrauding an innocent bystander. Is she comfortable hiding an emotional affair she didn’t plan on from you? Likely so.

    She didn’t come to you while he was still just ‘some dude with potential’ for your opinion. She waited until he was ‘OMG too special to turn down’. This means two things:

    1) She doesn’t openly share her thought processes with you, even when contemplating matters which affect you. (Does this happen with money too?)

    This is because – who cares about your thoughts! – she will do as SHE pleases. She ‘doesn’t care about affairs’ because duh its not affecting HER. She might care if one of your relationships did affect her, ie her employment. I think it’s okay to say ‘I want you to care about my feelings, even ones I can’t justify. I feel like you don’t, even when I have great justifications such as not trusting a cheater!’

    2) She falls in love unexpectedly.

    I’m wondering if she’s actually any good at being poly (disclaimer, I’m not). It would seem to be that you’d need a bit of foreplanning and discussion before a poly person gave their heart away. You’re not the only one who will be sweeping up any pieces, so even a hint of a no should be completely respected. Tldr: she sucks at enthusiasic consent simply because I REALLY REALLY WANTS IT MOMMY. She’s not a pre planning poly gardener. She scatters her seeds to the winds and this will definitely always land in the readyspread manure pile of That Fucking Guy. You up for much of that?

    Conclusion: “I’m not okay with how you’ve been obviously secretive about the lead up to this. I’m not okay with the fact you don’t care that my consent clearly wouldn’t be enthusiastic. Can we survive all of that? I guess we’ll find out”.

    But honestly I think these are her habits 😦

    • Wulfwen said:

      Indie, that was stated so well! I particularly liked the last bit: “Conclusion: “I’m not okay with how you’ve been obviously secretive about the lead up to this. I’m not okay with the fact you don’t care that my consent clearly wouldn’t be enthusiastic. Can we survive all of that? I guess we’ll find out.”

      That is something I really could’ve used at the beginning of my own poly journey, when my husband went wild over someone who was treating him like dirt…and then things “just happened.”

      • Indie said:

        Sympathies! Been through a similar ‘it just happened!’ Seems like Cupid’s arrow is real and truly instantaneous. Not like it took hours of flirting and sharing or anything. Surely not.

  38. Working Hypothesis said:

    Mary Renault paraphrased Socrates:

    “If we come into the company of [a true and honorable lover], it seems to me that one of three things will happen. Either he will succeed in making us his equal in honor; or, if he fails both to do this and to free himself from love, seeking to please us he will become less good than he was; or, if he is of stronger mind, remembering what is due to the gods and to his own soul, he will be master of himself, and go away… so, then, it now appears that the price of an honorable lover is to be honorable ourselves, and that we shall neither get him nor keep him, if we offer anything less.”

    Both the LW and the partner who wants to date a monogamous occupied man are facing that choice. They can seek to make the other their equal in honor by insisting on honest behavior from them; or, if they fail in this, that can master themselves and go away; or, if they do neither, they will contort their own ethics to become worse people than they are now. I’m sorry for both, since it’s a sucky situation to be in, but I don’t see any more available alternatives than Socrates did.

    • Indie said:

      I love this.

    • crooked bird said:

      All the upvotes! Socrates FTW!

    • Light37 said:

      Beautifully put, both Socrates and you.

  39. bopper said:

    I wonder if the partner is getting involved with a married man as it is “safe”…the man is already married so he is not as completely available to them…and the partner can also stay /have time for the OP.

  40. cactus cacti said:

    *It’s the first time she’s got this close to seeing someone and so I can’t work out what are my feelings about it being ANYONE, and what are my feelings about her becoming an affair.*

    Well. You’ve gotten a lot of feedback backing the anti-affair thing. Let’s consider you wholly supported by a LOT of people, and wholly supported in your right to be safe. 🙂

    So for balance…

    I actually read this as, “Huh, you don’t actually like it if your partner of ten years for the first time REALLY wants someone else, do you.” But then I’m not polyamorous in mindset so I wouldn’t know how you think you are “supposed” to feel. I do get a little whiff of my-world-order-has-been-challenged from your letter, both unsaid and highlighted by you. I could easily believe that for the first time your position in the relationship is threatened or frail, and that it’s uncomfortable (no matter about rules-feelings of the anti-affair thing).

    When I read you letter, I also keep wondering if your partner actually truly is as polyamorous as you are. Maybe affairs/cheating to transition to new relationships is her thing – that IS some people’s thing. It seems that your relationship has consisted of YOU having several partners, and that her experience is from being in non-successfully-trying-to-be-faithful couples. Your deal has worked out well for you so far, but IF she has basically agreed to this based on ideas of principle (“rational!, smart!”) rather than knowledge of her own system of attraction (“regular shiny people for me!) there may be a mismatch of what you two have been getting out of your agreement so far. A mismatch she may or may not have inadvertently resented.

    Ten years is a long time for a consensual polyamorous relationship to be poly for just one of you.

    So I guess my question is, in stead of just of examining the ethics of the “rules-break”, how about examining how your general agreement is working for your partner since she has not been “taking advantage”? No candidates in ten years? Are there other ways for her to be fulfilled by your agreement, any tweaks that can facilitate her getting her non-you deal as well? To what extent is it relevant that the potential cheater is both a friend, and non-available?

    • Inky said:

      That is beautifully expressed! My thoughts exactly. I too thought your partner isn’t as “poly” as you thought. Ten years is a long time to be basically monogamous while your Other is living the lifestyle. Maybe, just maybe, she originally signed up for an open marriage because she thought she’d be into it. But after ten long years she is probably rethinking the whole thing. Now she is acting out, with a married man no less! A lot of resentment and entitlement here. Smacks of a spoiled teenager. Ask her why she considers the married man’s wife as essentially a non-entity?

      • Mary said:

        >> I too thought your partner isn’t as “poly” as you thought. Ten years is a long time to be basically monogamous while your Other is living the lifestyle.

        Hm, I think this misunderstands what polyamory is. It’s not just “yay, getting to shag lots of people”, and if you’re not shagging lots of people you’re “basically monogamous”. Being in a relationship with someone who is shagging lots (or >1) person is also being polyamorous. It means your relationship with that person is defined by something other than monogamy, that your partner is getting some of their needs met elsewhere rather than just you – not just sex, but potentially emotional and other needs too – and it also creates new types of metamour relationships for you. You’re not “not really doing polyamory” just because you’re not sleeping with anyone else.

        • I.R. said:

          I agree with Mary. Not being attracted to people often is a real thing, and it can create a gap like this. My boyfriend had been polyamorously married for many years when he and I got together, and yet I am his first girlfriend. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t doing the emotional work of being in a polyamorous relationship, relating to his wife’s metamours, and so on.

          • vortexae said:

            Mary said: “You’re not “not really doing polyamory” just because you’re not sleeping with anyone else.”

            I can’t agree strongly enough.

            I’m in a 20ish-year polyamorous relationship in which only my spouse has had additional romantic/sexual relationships, and I really get tired of people who, learning this, either assume that I’m a just a “baby polyamorist” or “still in training” or a “late bloomer,” or – on the flip side – “Sure, suuuuure. An ‘open marriage’. I get it. That’s a euphemism for ‘He gets to cheat,’ right?”

            No. It means fidelity in our relationship is not defined by monogamy, and either of us is free to pursue other relationships, and both of us are OK with the other pursuing other relationships. I don’t have to act on that second clause to be “truly polyamorous,” (I really like what I.R. says about doing the emotional work of being in a polyamorous relationship. Because there’s a lot of it that doesn’t necessarily involve being in additional romantic or sexual relationships!)

            In the “maybe she’s not *really* polyamorous if she’s never acted on it until now” I’m hearing a sort of parallel to assumptions that a woman isn’t really bisexual because she married a man and has never dated a woman. (That’s another assumption that hits me where I live.)

        • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

          You’re not “not really doing polyamory” just because you’re not sleeping with anyone else.

          This. Relationship != having sex with someone. Otherwise ace people would never have relationships, and they do. And on the flip side, having sex with someone != relationship – sometimes, it’s just sex.

    • Amy said:

      The long gap didn’t particularly wave a red flag for me. OP’s partner did say it’s “so rare for her to have these feelings”, which makes me wonder if some form of ace-ness is in play here.

      I’m a like 90% asexual person, and it’s entirely normal for me to go many years without experiencing attraction to new people, or without experiencing attraction to people who would be viable dating partners. With the right partner and the right negotiation/poly style/boundaries, I could imagine successfully being in a poly relationship. I wouldn’t expect to find another partner myself (the odds are just very low, regardless of whether it’s technically ‘allowed’), but I don’t object to a partner having sexual and/or emotional relationships with other people, as long as I’m still getting my needs met in the relationship. (If I’m not, that’s a problem, but it’s probably a discussion about our boundaries and what kind of poly-ness is and isn’t workable for our relationship, not a general ‘poly can’t work, have to be monogamous’.) I wouldn’t consider them finding partners more easily than me unfair, per se–my lack of attraction to people is a reality, not a matter of fairness. As long as we’re both getting our needs met, I don’t see what would be ‘unfair’ about having differing numbers of partners.

      Of course it’s also possible that I’m coloring this too much with my own experience/feelings. But I think it’s at least a viable read, and I wanted to point out that it’s not necessarily shocking to have no candidates in ten years, depending on the individual and how they experience attraction.

    • Indie said:

      I see what you’re saying about their partner perhaps leaning more toward monogamy and tend to agree. But I think you’re being unfair ascribing the OPs objections to a ‘cake and eat it’ desire for wanting to be the only poly person. This proposed relationship crosses RIGHT across the main boundary/rule they had set for themselves. They set it because deceit cheating is genuinely a big deal to them (as it is to most ethical people). Yet they are still tying themselves in knots trying to save their partner the fleeting resentment that would ensue from saying ‘not this particular guy’. I think we can believe that the op would be ok with a more ethical choice.

    • I’m currently in a relationship which, from your perspective, probably looks like one sided polyamory. I have a girlfriend, and she has another serious partner, plus 1 or 2 more casual partners/comets.

      I also really wouldn’t be surprised if it looks just as one-sided in 10 years. I’m a conventionally attractive 20-something woman living on the edge of a big city, but before this relationship, I was single for 8 years. during that time there were no flings, no one night stands, and no pressing reason I felt I had to stay single right now. there were maybe 3 unrequited crushes. now, I’m in much the same position but with a girlfriend. some of us just don’t fancy many people. the LW says partner has had some “near misses”, and that sounds entirely plausible to me. it’s not quite “no candidates”, it could be “only a few one-sided crushes”

      your comment reads like a lot of monogamous assumptions about why people want to be polyamorous. it’s not always about having lots of shiny new partners. a few months into our relationship, my girlfriend met a cute anime fan she had chemistry with. I encouraged her, partly because they were cute together & partially because I’m not an anime fan and her having someone who’s not me to geek out with about that is great. I really enjoy our triple dates. there are a lot of things I get out of being polyamorous with 1 partner. if the LWs partner hasn’t been getting any benefit out of their relationship, that’s really on the partner to communicate.

      (also, cheating may be some people’s Thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s an OK Thing)

      • vortexae said:

        “partially because I’m not an anime fan and her having someone who’s not me to geek out with about that is great.”

        I just wanted to say, I *heart* this so much. It reminds me of how happy my husband is hanging out with his girlfriend watching TV shows or going to movies that are so very much not my taste. He can still have romantic dinner-anna-movie nights around movies that would make *me* actively squirm with pain if I were forced to watch them. That sort of thing is just as important as the sexual experiences he has with her that he wouldn’t with me.

  41. BigDogLittleCat said:

    Asking to renegotiate rules = A-OK
    Asking to get involved with a cheater = highly problematic
    “doesn’t really care about the ‘X’ rule now – they know I do but doesn’t see why they can’t do this” = probable serious damage to our relationship.

    If they came to their senses quickly – ‘omg I must have been out of my flipping mind last night!! I’m so sorry!’ – it would probably pass just as quickly. But if they pushed, the more they pushed, the more damage to my trust.
    I do not want to have any connection to a cheater, and I *won’t* have any connection to someone who is willing to stomp all over my boundaries.

    • Indie said:

      To me it all boils down to enthusiastic consent. That a lack of it means ‘this shall not pass’. OP cant fake a true yes so she should be upfront about that now instead of waiting for resentment to simmer. Spouse should put on her big girl pants when confronted with a nope. This plan is unworkable and realising that makes room for other plans/lovers/possibilities. Charging ahead over her partner’s happiness does not.

      • BigDogLittleCat said:

        Exactly.

        I’d be disturbed if a partner even asked to get involved with a cheater, because by definition a cheater doesn’t care about consent. But if partner tried to talk me into grudging consent or consent by absence of veto, then our relationship would be in a world of hurt.

        “I don’t care about rules” is consent-stomping, regardless if we’re talking monogamy or polyamory.

        • Anat said:

          “But if partner tried to talk me into grudging consent or consent by absence of veto, then our relationship would be in a world of hurt.”

          Funny, that’s exactly how I’d feel if my husband came to me and asked to change our marriage to an open one. I have no objections to arrangements that other people make and that work for them. But it is really, really not what I signed up for. I would almost rather he just cheated on me, in full consciousness of breaking the rules and hopefully with some guilt, than tried to convince me to be a consenting party to such an arrangement. That would say to me not only “I want to be with someone else”, but also “and you don’t have a right to feel angry about it.” It’s a request to be with someone else in such a way that all the bad feelings would be mine alone.

          But this way I’d get to say no, you say? Of course. But there is simply no way I could trust him after such a request. I would always think that next time (or maybe even this time), he just wouldn’t ask.

          All this to say, I think the LW’s partner should stay away from the married man, and pressuring him to pressure his wife would not make the situation more ethical. There’s a reason they had these rules (and good for them).

          • TO_Ont said:

            Great comment.

            I am sometimes shocked and horrified by how casually I sometimes hear people suggesting someone ‘talk to their partner about opening up their marriage’. It’s one thing for people to go into a relationship where they both want that, but to me the moment one person is ‘asking’ the other to do this in an existing monogamous relationship, it would, to me, be more honest and so so much kinder to just break up.

          • Vicki said:

            Answering TO_Ont:

            I think this depends partly on specifics of the people involved: are they monogamous because they discussed that and one or both of them actively wants it (in which case you’re probably right, though what someone wanted, or thought, ten years ago might not be what they want now) or is t by default: e;g;, they went from dating to agreeing on cohabitation, marriage, and/or children and just assumed that meant exclusivity?

            Part of why some polyamorous people will suggest “talk to your partner about opening the relationship” is that it’s possible that neither of them actively wants monogamy. Yes, there’s a significant chance that the answer will be no, but even there, is it kinder to say “I’m breaking up with you” rather than “I’ve been thinking, and monogamy isn’t working for me anymore. Would you consider opening the relationship and staying together?” But it should be a question, meaning the asker realizes that the possible answers include yes, no, and “I’ll think about it, but I really wasn’t expecting this, and you’re sleeping on the couch tonight.”

            If a person is going to take that route, I think they need to have an idea of what they’re asking for, and what they’re willing to give. (I’ve been polyamorous all my adult life: that doesn’t mean my partners have no say in my choices.) Back on the Usenet group alt.polyamory, we would occasionally hear from someone whose relationship had gone from closed (sometimes more or less by default) to open at the request of one partner, who then turned up unhappy because they (usually he) hadn’t considered that what he was suggesting meant that both parties might have other partners. Or unhappy that their partner had found other people to date and he hadn’t. (Someone in a previous Captain Awkward thread mentioned an ex who wanted to have several partners, all of whom were involved only with him, and actually thought that this quasi-harem was what everyone wanted.)

          • TO_Ont said:

            Replying to Vicki:

            It’s possible that neither actively chose monogamy, but I have heard too many stories when that was not the case to not be very sceptical when I hear another story… To me when someone talks about asking their partner to open up the relationship, what they are saying is that they want to end the existing relationship. But that they hope to begin a new relationship with the same person.

            I don’t think this is impossible – I know more than one person with a long marriage who describes the experience as a series of new marriages with the same person.

            But I think it involves taking responsibility and accepting that what they are saying does effectively end the existing relationship, and that there is no guarantee that their partner will want a new relationship with them.

          • Out of nesting, replying ot TO_Ont–

            “To me when someone talks about asking their partner to open up the relationship, what they are saying is that they want to end the existing relationship. But that they hope to begin a new relationship with the same person.”

            This is what I wish my ex had said: “I no longer want to be monogamous, and therefore I am leaving our relationship. If you are interested in starting a new relationship in which I have romantic and sexual relationships with other partners, and you are welcome to do so as well, that is great– I would like you to be *a* partner of mine, just not my *only* partner.”

            That would have been honest. And it would have been helpful, because for him to acknowledge that he was severing the relationship we had already established would have made it clear to me that he understood why I might feel a sense of loss. He really never wrapped his head around that in the remaining two and a half years (I KNOW) that we stayed together.

            But he didn’t declare that monogamy was not feasible for him anymore. Instead, he pressed me to find the limits of my own comfort with polyamory and then steadily pushed those limits. If he had been more honest with me, I would have been likelier to tell him to go pound sand, instead of trying to figure out how I could be content and healthy in a relationship that bore little resemblance to what I’d signed up for and had become a source of great pain. We’d still have broken up, and it still would have sucked. But that ending wouldn’t have played so hard to my own weaknesses (tendency to overaccommodate people I care about).

          • Emmers said:

            This comment is very validating, Anat. Thank you.

          • I must admit I have… concerns about this comment by Anat and the sub-thread stemming from it. (Out of nesting so I’ll consolidate my reply in one comment.)

            @Anat:
            To start with, I agree fully that tossing around “just ask your spouse to open the marriage” as if it’s a casual, no-big-deal thing to ask is unrealistic, insensitive, and arguably irresponsible.

            But! “I would almost rather he just cheated on me… hopefully with some guilt”!? I am flabbergasted. Am I misreading you, or are you making the claim that one partner knowingly violating the terms of the marriage, unilaterally exposing their spouse to outside STI risks without their knowledge or consent, and deliberately deceiving their spouse can in *any* circumstance be considered a lesser evil than raising a conversation that might lead to the conclusion that the two spouses have fundamentally incompatible desires and it’s time to go their separate ways? Because if that is what you’re saying, I most vehemently disagree, regardless of how much guilt is or isn’t felt by the cheating partner.

            If the mere raising of the topic would make *you personally* angry, nobody has any right to deny you your anger! Your feelings are very much yours and there is no “right to feel angry” that can be granted or revoked. But it seems like what you’re saying here is that your need to make him the unmitigated villain and hate him for suggesting that your monogamous marriage is not enough (in this hypothetical scenario) would be *so big* it would outweigh all standards of moral conduct such that that him cheating on you (so he gets to feel guilty and you get to have your anger untainted by any inconvenient details like him having approached the thing-you-can-not-abide-under-any-circumstances with a degree of decency) would be preferable to honestly raising his wants/needs and thus respecting your agency to say yes or no or “fuck you for even wanting that I’m calling a divorce lawyer”.

            I think you’re absolutely right that LW’s partner should simply stay away from this married man (not least because he has displayed contempt for informed consent by his stated willingness to cheat), and also that anyone pressuring anyone is way outside the bounds of “more ethical”. Consent attained through pressure, deceit, or other forms of coercion… is not legitimate consent.

            I think also that it’s important to own our dealbreakers, though. If the mere mention of the possibility of opening up a currently-monogamous marriage is enough to trigger “there is simply no way I could trust him after such a request”… well, that’s your prerogative, and nobody gets to tell you not to feel that way. However, I really *really* don’t agree that bringing it up honestly is bad and unfair and somehow deprives you of your right to be angry.

            @ TO_Ont and whollyword:

            Approaching the subject of opening up a monogamous relationship as wanting to end the existing relationship and ask your partner if they want to join you as *a* partner in a new and different relationship strikes me as a very insightful way to frame the situation. I think it really captures how major and fundamental (and scary) a thing it is to ask in a relationship.

            I’m pretty sure I would *not* open the conversation with it literally though, because it seems needlessly cruel to open with “I’m breaking up with you” when the actual intent is “I want to ask you about making a really fundamental change to the relationship, and will understand if your answer is ‘I’m out'”.

            I’m open to understanding how simply breaking up with a partner who you love and would much rather continue to have *a* relationship with is more honest and kinder than laying your cards on the table and granting them the informed choice to say “wow I want that too but was too scared to bring it up” or “hmm that’s scary but also intriguing” or “nope! Monogamy or GTFO” or “hell no I’m outta here” or even “fuck you for even wanting that”… but so far, I really don’t see it.

            I do *definitely* agree that downplaying the significance of asking to open up an established monogamous relationship is dishonest, manipulative, and shitty, and that pushing at the edges of a partner’s boundaries to nudge them into agreeing to something they aren’t actually okay with is pretty much the opposite of honestly expressing your wants and needs, and I would call it a clear violation of informed consent.

  42. jamiego said:

    One thing I haven’t seen addressed at all is LW’s predicted reaction from their partner. LW says if they say no to this metamour then their partner “will be miserable and resent me.” You cannot give honest consent when there will be consequences to you not agreeing to do what your partner wants. If LW says that they would rather stick to their previously agreed-upon rules, then it is their partner’s job to deal with any feelings of disappointment without taking it out on LW. Anything less than that crosses the line into coercion. Polyamorous relationships rely on trust and communication and a relationship without an honest ability to give consent contains neither.

  43. AndTheRest said:

    I apologize if someone already pointed this out, but I’d like to point out the “someone she already knew but who just declared an interest.” So Married Man seems to be the one who prompted this, although I have no idea how much interest he had to declare and in what way to get LW’s partner so hung up on him. I’ve got a bad feeling about this…. this is total conjecture, but maybe MM looks at LW’s partner as an attached poly woman down for NSA fun times (a married man’s perfect affair partner, from his point of view), but from LW’s letter, it sounds like partner’s feelings go way beyond what he might have in mind.

    LW, go with the Captain’s advice — MM seems to have opened the door to all of this, and it would be best for this to get booted back to him. Plus, it’s good to remind your partner where the trouble starts. It sucks that your partner is in a very unethical and selfish place right now*, but keep in mind that so is MM, and your partner stands a real risk of getting emotionally hurt, in addition to all of the other things that could go wrong. I think you will have to decide what your course of action will be if partner decides to go ahead with the affair, if this means the end of your relationship, and if there could still be enough love and forgiveness to help your partner and youself pick up the pieces when the affair blows up everyone’s lives like an atomic bomb.

    Best of luck to you, LW. I am hoping your partner will regain some perspective ASAP, but in lieu of that, please take good care of yourself.

    *Like others, I have had super strong feelings that have put me in a similar mental and emotional place. Fortunately, I never had opportunities to start something, and I’d frequently remind myself of the type of person I didn’t want to be, so I didn’t create any opportunities to act on those feelings either. Eventually, feelings change or fade, and I remind myself of that, too.

  44. Light37 said:

    You and your partner made an agreement when your heads were clear and pantsfeelings were not involved. She now wishes to end that agreement because her pantsfeelings want this married dude who’s lying to his wife.

    She’s choosing to do something she knows you are not OK with, and she’s putting the emotional labor of not being OK with it all on you to resolve instead of choosing to not cross that boundary. And it is a choice. I’m some sort of ace and rarely feel any kind of physical attraction. The last time I did, the person was otherwise involved and monogamous, so I never said anything because the person who sets out to cause problems in other people’s relationships is not the kind of person I want to be. She is choosing to be the kind of person who is OK with her lover lying to his spouse because it benefits her. I’d think very carefully about what that tells you about her character and ethics.

  45. Max said:

    Being the one who has to “forbid” sth to stay safe while SO and random dude are already mentally unbuttoning their pants is just horrible. And mean. Did I mention that this is really, really mean of your SO?

    Been there and a tad emotional right now. Jedi Hugs if wanted.

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