What happens when two people in a polyamorous relationship with a third have a mutual understanding that negatively impacts the third party, who had no say in the creation of the agreements?
It was an important question. It can be painful and feel unfair to be limited and impacted by agreements that we had no voice in and no opportunity for input. Assuming the agreement meets criteria in my previous articles about healthy compromise and boundaries, there are two ways this could come up: when the third party is a new person, or when the third party is a committed partner in a triad.
Let’s say my partner asks that I don’t jump into bed with someone that I’ve just met. She’s not asking for decision-making power. She’s just wanting to know in advance.
First of all, when discussing why I won’t have sex with the third person who I just met, I should present it as my limit and not throw my partner under the bus. It’s poor form to say, “I’d love to have sex with you right now, but I can’t because I agreed with my partner to not do that.” Instead, own it: “I would love to have sex with you on a second meeting, but I have chosen to not have sex with anyone on the first meeting… for reasons of my own.”
It’s also important to present my decision as part of a healthy, secure attachment in a relationship and how partners should be striving to create that. The third person then has all the information and can accept or reject further interaction.
The situation is very different when you are already involved with a third person. Once they are in your life, they become part of your relationship agreements. There needs to be open communication with them about all relationship agreements that impact them. The third person doesn’t’ have veto power any more than the other two partners, but renegotiation between all three may be necessary.
Just like a two-person relationship agreement, an agreement between three or more people, needs to take each person’s feelings into account, and it needs to be based on honest, clear, and timely information. It must be agreed to freely and not as a response to internal or external negative pressures. If someone is accommodating others, it needs to be recognized and appreciated as a gift.
There will be times when the honest answer is that a person is willing to accommodate one person more than another. It may be due to the degree of investment in one relationship over another, the depth of feelings for one person over another, or the perceived strengths and weaknesses of one person versus another. There will be times this does not feel fair.
If one person ends up feel shorted despite their clear attempts to ask for and negotiate for what they need, use it as a learning experience and a reality check. Either you renegotiate based on the experience, or you can accept that the agreement in practice is not what you expected and adjust expectations.
Of course, there will be times when one or more people in the relationship are unhappy. Maybe the two metamours have opposite interests. If you are the person in the middle, ask yourself what you truly want, then add what others want into the equation.
Try to keep the focus on what each person does want, not on what they don’t want and be willing to accommodate those desires in others. In counseling, I notice people are more willing to accommodate others when they feel their needs are being met. If you are getting resistance from someone, ask if they feel their needs are being met, and seek to find out what they feel they need. You’ll be amazed how much more generous and flexible they are!
Finally, treat all parties with compassion and respect. It costs nothing but a bit of time to hear and validate each person’s feelings (including your own!), rather than dictating to them what they are and are not going to get.
Alexandra Tyler is an LGBTQ, poly, kink, sex worker supportive mental health therapist in Atlanta. Find her on Twitter and Facebook. Read her full columns on her website, . One-time reprint in Q magazine and on theQatl.com with permission.
This column originally appeared in Q magazine. Red the full issue below, and pick it up at LGBTQ-friendly venues each week.