Lost my primary and secondary wants deeper relationship
Hi everyone. I'm new here, and have read some of the posts. I'm seeking advice on a situation that is tough for me emotionally. I'm sort of burnt out on it, so I'll try to be brief (not that it will work!), but can fill in more details if needed / wanted.
I'm in my mid-30s, and had been in a open / poly relationship with my primary partner, Ted* (currently my husband) since fall of 2010. At the time, we were not yet married, but had been together about 5 years, during which time we'd been monogamous. I had identified as polyamorous prior to getting into a relationship with him, but agreed to try to suppress my poly tendencies because I was so in love with him. I felt that if I had an emotional outlet for the times I was struggling with monogamy, that would be enough, and he agreed to talk with me about it and support me when I was having problems.
We went through a lot in the 5 years of monogamy, including years of infertility, 3 failed IVF attempts, and the somewhat sudden death of my father. In light of these things, when I most recently brought up my polyamorous feelings (for an old partner/friend named Leo), Ted suggested we try to open the relationship for my benefit. I was surprised and happy that he would do that for me, and began seeing Leo. I also developed a secondary relationship with Quentin (who is now just a friend) and things seemed to be going pretty well for me. I felt secure in my relationship with Ted and was seeing benefits of dating Leo and Quentin. Initially, Ted seemed to have some issues with jealousy, but he seemed to conquer those, and I felt that things were going well. But he was struggling more than he let on, and was also struggling with my success and his relative lack of success.
About 9 months into our open relationship, he met a woman, Barbara, and they fell in love. Their relationship was much more serious in nature from the beginning, and though Barbara expressed some interest in becoming a triad with me and Ted (which I wasn't sure I was interested in), she soon told him that she didn't want me to be part of it at all, and was insisting that he leave me. Ted tried to reason with her, and then with me, as I had become upset at Barbara's outright disrespect of my relationship with Ted. I felt that Ted should end the relationship with Barbara, but didn't tell him explicitly that he should because I knew how important it was to him, and how hard it had been for him to find someone compatible with him that he could love.
Over the course of about a year, Barbara and Ted's relationship went downhill. She kept insisting that he leave me for her, and eventually I became okay with it as I understood that she wasn't really a threat because he wasn't going to see things from her perspective in that way. This was especially the case after Ted and I finally got married in November of last year. Ted tried to keep their relationship less serious; he wanted to be with Barbara, but didn't want to become her primary.
By earlier this spring, I no longer had a romantic relationship with Quentin, who had moved out of town. Leo and I had always had a long-distance relationship and due to his schedule, our get-togethers were really sporadic, maybe one weekend every few months. I became interested in Barbara's ex (though still somewhat current secondary partner), Craig. Barbara confirmed he was interested in me, too, and she was happy to help set that up because she'd had little interest in Craig herself (and I am sure in her mind, she thought it would get me out of the way of her and Ted's relationship). Craig and I went out on a date in April, and had a surprisingly good time. We soon realized that we were falling for each other, though I was cautious about calling it the "L" word prematurely.
Soon after this, Ted sort of lost it. He felt really betrayed by both me and Barbara, for reasons I still don't fully comprehend. He and Barbara soon broke up, though he was continuing to spend time at her place as it suited him. He withdrew from me emotionally and physically, telling me that for the first time he hated me as well as loved me. I was crushed; apparently he had felt hurt for months by my negative reactions to his relationship with Barbara, though my friends assured me they were understandable given the character of their relationship.
Though I continued to date Craig, our relationship was strained over the next few months by the drama of my relationship with Ted. Ted was verbally abusive towards me, and relentlessly accusatory. I tried to put up with it because I knew he was hurting, and was hoping it would be a temporary thing as he processed some realizations about himself vs. other people that he'd gained over the course of his relationship with Barbara.
Eventually, Ted told me he'd lost faith in me, and in the future we'd planned together. I'd been in therapy for months, working on personal issues that became apparent from my reactions to his relationship with Barbara. I had some dysfunctional patterns from my upbringing that I had been making progress with in therapy. Ted refused to acknowledge that I had made any progress, and said that he had doubts that I would ever achieve my goals for the future (one of which is a major shared project / dream for the future).
About a month and a half ago, Ted hooked up with a woman named Deirdre. His intent was to have a fling, to get away from the drama of his relationships with me and Barbara. The relationship with Deirdre quickly turned serious, however. I had initially been supportive, but soon felt fearful because Deirdre was again openly disrespectful of my relationship with Ted, and advised him to end it. Earlier this month, I took Craig on a camping trip to an event that Ted and I and friends have attended on and off for years. Ted brought Deirdre to the same event. When he returned with Deirdre, Craig and I were already at my (and Ted's) house. Ted told me that the camping trip with Deirdre had "cemented" their relationship, and that his relationship with me was over, and he wanted a divorce. I was devastated and angry and emotional. After some angry conversation in the backyard, I told Ted to take Deirdre and leave my house.
He came back that week to pack up most of his things. I tried to talk with him and learned some troubling things about his relationship with Deirdre, including how possessive she is of him. He's accepting it, though, and is moving forward with her. He and she are moving into an apartment together. For reasons of location, it means I will continue to see them in the future (though not immediately) due to the plans he and I had for the future, which I plan on continuing on my own.
I am still dating Craig, and I love him, but it is really challenging for me to be with him as I am mourning the loss of my 6+ year relationship with Ted. Craig has expressed that he wants to become my primary, but I feel that we are incompatible in some important ways that affect our lifestyles. I feel that he should try to find someone more compatible, but he insists that he loves me and wants to be with me, and is willing to change in whatever way needed to do that. I doubt that he can change enough and fast enough to avoid major conflicts, and we are already having minor conflicts with him being around as much as he has been the past month.
I don't want to lose Craig as a partner, but I am not sure if we should (ever?) be primaries. I'm not sure how much of my doubt concerning him is rational, and how much is affected by my emotions. In the interim, I feel like I am being a bad partner (critical, irritable, depressed, pessimistic, etc.), which I feel is unfair to him. On the other hand, I need support right now, and he's willing to provide that. He's even said he doesn't mind my negativity and that he is "thick-skinned."
What are your thoughts about what I should do in this situation? I feel conflicting impulses, and I don't like being inconsistent with Craig. I'm also having a hard time dealing with the loss of Ted in my life. I'm dreaming about him, and missing him, and hating myself for missing him after the way he treated me, especially near the end of our relationship. Every time I need to be in contact with him about the divorce or tying up loose ends, it's hurting me all over again.
Thanks for reading and for your advice.
* names changed
I'd say you have to find some space in which to grieve the end of the relationship with Ted, first--and that means away from other love interests. It's not surprising that Craig is willing to provide support; the support you need, however, is time and space away from that relationship to work through the worst of the grief from the other.
So find somebody else to talk to about it. Limit the time you spend with Craig to an amount where you know you can be present for him and avoid unwarranted criticism and grumpiness.
Then evaluate what you want from relationships in the future and figure out how Craig fits into that. It's not for you to tell him to find other people to date, though. You can only establish boundaries as to what you will and won't do--he has to decide for himself what he's going to do in relation to those.
I agree with everything AutumnalTone said. I'll add a couple of things. The story you told has a lot of drama in it. I think that drama is caused by several things:
(1)You're not really sure (yet) what kind of relationship(s) you want. You've spent your past relationships exploring this question. You haven't answered it yet.
(2)You and Ted are not compatible. Sexual attraction by itself doesn't create compatibility. In fact, you can be totally incompatible with someone you're attracted to. You have been repeatedly.
Drama is always caused by unresolved issues in a relationship. In fact, I'm going to take a leap here and say I don't think Ted was really poly at all. His poly was not real inside of him. It was a coping mechanism (reaction) to your poly. Why else would he consistently draw people to him who didn't respect your relationship with him? The answer to that question is - because deep down inside he didn't want them to respect it. Where does a deep down inside desire to find another woman who wants YOU out of HER way come from? From feeling rejected, deep down inside, by your wanting to be poly. He drew people to him who wanted to say to him "you are valuable, even though your fiance doesn't think you are". The women who were willing to say that to him also had their own baggage. Part of that baggage was their desire to get you out of his life. Getting you out of his life was their way of saying to Ted: "see, I told you that you are valuable to me". One of them was far more effective in convincing him than the rest. He wanted to be special, by being the only one. He found someone who wanted to give him that.
I'M NOT SAYING you actually felt or thought any of this. I AM SAYING this kind of stuff can easily happen with someone you are not compatible with.
Again, sexual attraction itself does not mean compatibility. Healthy relationships have issues to, but they are talked about so quickly and honestly that drama doesn't have a chance to happen. I think its time for you to step into your own private emotional space and ask yourself what you really want. Until your find your own true answers to that question, you will continue to draw people into your life who you are not compatible with. All of these people will generate drama. Craig is one of these people too. The problems you'll have with incompatible Craig will be different than the ones with Ted were, but the intensity will be the same. That's my way of saying you won't be happy with Craig in the long term either. Different person, same pattern - incompatibility.
So, get into your own calm, centered emotional space, and get to know yourself. Happiness starts right there.
I think you need to find the time to find comfort in just yourself for a minute . The colleague of relationships you described has got to have a toll on both of you emotionally .He may or may not return but if Ted does you need to set ground rules that you both agree to and abide by. If he doesn't then if you are going to free flow in relationships like these maybe try a 10 year plan the next time make no promises and whoever sticks around for say ten years and still is okay with your choices is the ones for you. The relationship you had was a leaking ship from the time you said I was willing to suppress my poly. life. Anything suppressed will come up sooner or later.
1) Start expressing your wants, needs, limits more clearly. That would have helped with the thing with Ted and Barbara cowgirling him somewhat.
2) If you play here, you play in the spectrum, and that includes breakups. ALL relationships come with a clock attached. Even in a polyship of just 2, the math breaks out as
me to me as part of a couple (vs me to me as a footloose single)
him to him as part of a couple
me to him
him to me
us as a duo working as a TEAM
ghost layer: when it ends, what we hope to be to each other. If it has to end differently than our "best" end, how to cope with it and still part as friends.
Then should that come even if we do NOT want it, there's a map to follow.
3) Do not rush Craig. Be alone, in the Hang Time at the Forge of ending the Ted thing. That is important. And that is the VERY THING that you struggled with Barbara. The other one not respecting your rship with Ted.
So if Craig loves you, he can negotiate on that.
He has expressed the WANT to be more to you. He's playing fair.
Has he expressed a NEED to know by a LIMIT date/time? Or he's just floating it out there?
What are YOUR wants, needs, and limits? For the HARD limit of the next 12 mos? 6 mos? 3 mos?
Are there soft limits within there?
Pull out how you play, make the adjustments that maturity/experience/knowledge demands.
So far my communication gamebook is serving me well with few tweaks over the years across many types of players -- my lovers, my friends, even my KID.
#1 is still my #1 full on hard limit. I keep testing it, and I keep finding I play well.
Everyone hold your own bag! We all have baggage. To sift and sort over time and friends can help you unpack and discard things that no longer fit or serve. But YOU pack it back up and carry it about.
Everyone hold their own bag. Hold it well.
I don't know if that's solid enough. I'm tired and tend to wax and wane philosophical.
Know I hear your sorrow and feel your pain. *hug*
Thanks to everyone who has responded to my original post. I appreciate your thoughts on my situation, and your advice about what to do now.
AutumnalTone, what you said about my relationship with Craig makes a lot of sense to me. I too was feeling that I should take some space to be on my own, and only be around him when I am capable of being a somewhat normal girlfriend to him, rather than being mopey, angry or bitter. When things were just tense with me and Ted, I tried to limit my time with Craig in such a way as to allow me to be as pleasant around him as possible. When things started to get really bad with Ted, I took Craig up on his repeated offers to "be there" for me, even though I knew at the time it was probably not the best thing to do. It was helping me to get through a really stressful time. I've let Craig know that after his current visit to me ends early next week, I'll want to spend some amount of time apart, but that I will stay in touch with him, and I'm not ending the relationship. He took it fairly well, and was generally understanding, though he seemed a bit disappointed.
snowmelt - thanks for your comments, too. The angle of incompatibility is interesting. I'm wondering in what specific ways you mean, whether you mean just mono/poly or general desires for relationships, or other issues. Ted and I were compatible in some ways, and incompatible in others. I feel every couple has areas of incompatibility, however. If these get in the way of what the couple wants to do together, then its a problem. I was willing to accept my incompatibilities with Ted in some areas because we were able to live mostly harmoniously, and in addition to sexual compatibility, we shared common beliefs that shaped our shared lifestyle and future plans. These common beliefs were and are important to me, and they are the areas where my relationship with Craig is particularly challenging. He's offering to try to change his lifestyle for me, but I feel if his underlying beliefs don't change, it's not right for him to change his lifestyle.
Your point about Ted never being poly at heart may be true. I know that my polyness hurt him more deeply than he let on, but I only found this out more recently. I was willing to suppress it and stay in a monogamous relationship with him for years because to me, our relationship was more important than being able to act on my poly tendencies. I know I am not the only poly person who has done this or for whom this was true. He was aware that I was sacrificing that to be with him, and claimed the most recent time I brought it up that he was no longer comfortable with me sacrificing that part of myself. But perhaps it was some subconscious desire on his part to bring an end to our relationship. I'm not sure. That's not how it was presented.
As far as knowing what I want, I think that has been pretty clear to me in terms of configuration. I was content with a primary partner, and additional friends/lovers for myself, though I am not sure that that's what I want in future. I had hoped that my primary would have been on the same page in terms of other relationships, but I know that the level of relationships / depth of feelings can't be controlled. Given that, if I get into a similar model in the future, I would want better agreements in place as to what the desired trajectory is and what we will do in various scenarios. Ted wasn't willing to work through that with me; he claimed that there were too many unknowns and situations that could not be foreseen, and that we should just play it by ear. I was uncomfortable with that, but agreed to go along with that since he refused to do otherwise.
archbishop69, thanks for your advice on centering myself. I appreciate that. I'm not sure if there's any chance of Ted returning. His friends and family have been pretty critical of his actions in this situation, and have expressed to me and likely to him that they feel he's making a mistake and being very rash. But he has decided that he's going to go with his emotions for a change (he's always been very rational - INTJ), and this other relationship with Deirdre is apparently what his heart wants. He told me he still loved me, even up to the end, but that Deirdre forced his hand. I don't know how true that is; maybe he's just trying to let me down easy. In any case, if his relationship with Deirdre (which is currently monogamous) ends, I don't know if he would try to come back to me. He doesn't seem like the type. I was hoping he and I could at least have a friendship, but he claimed that we were "never friends" and that it would be hard for him to spend any time with me because Deirdre hates me. So...yeah. If he ever wanted to be in my life again, there would be a lot of heavy conversations and trial runs and etc. I don't know honestly if I could ever trust him to be my primary again.
GalaGirl - Thanks for the advice and comments, too. I'll try to respond to your different points.
As far as figuring out and expressing wants, needs and limits, I agree that this would have helped, and is helping now in my relationship with Craig, though my wants/needs/limits are changing from what they were pre-breakup of my marriage.
I had wanted to make more explicit agreements about these things with Ted when we started exploring polyamory together, but he was pretty against that, as I mentioned above. Because the polyness was new to me, I was still trying to figure out some of those things, and it's not easy for me to figure things like this out hypothetically; unfortunately, I'm the kind of person who needs to be in a situation to know how I'll respond or what I will feel or need.
Craig hasn't said that he needs to know by a certain time. He's been very patient with me. That's one of his good qualities. The flipside of that is that he's kind of passive and perhaps too accepting of bad behavior on the part of his partners (Barbara's in the past and mine, currently).
I struggle with the whole bag idea. What belongs to your own bag vs. what is in that of others? Is there something that is not in anyone's bag, but sort of hangs between / outside? I hear a lot of "be responsible for your own feelings" etc. but it seems like this is sometimes abused in the sense of, "Well, if you have any negative feelings about something I did, that's your problem." Any thoughts on that, or recommended reading?
No, it is OUR problem. We must sit down to talk it over and DISCERN where to park it. If you punch me in the face at dinner and I want to eat dinner in peace with you, we must talk about this face punching. Can't you punch a pillow? Then you get to punch and I still get to be with you for dinner unpunched and yay! We can still be in right relationship to each other. All win with the happy medium solution! Cupcakes for all!
In my play book, I am responsible for my own and my partner(s) safety in all the buckets : mind, body, heart, and soul.
If I hurt a partner by mistake in mind, body, heart or soul? And they feel negative? They have the responsibility to REPORT THIS. I am not a mind reader.
Upon hearing this, I must at least acknowledge the hurt. Say I am sorry they are hurt. I see/hear they did their job of weather reporting. Thank you. (Because I have the right to clear communication, feedback. They have the right to support, nurture.)
Then we must enter the Area of Discernment / Conflict Resolution. And agree to appointment for that.
Is this just an announcement thing? You hate my polka dot socks? Alright. Thanks. Hate em. I like them. So mote it be. We can agree to disagree there. I will hide them when you are around but I am not throwing them out.
Is this a conflict thing that cannot be let go? Requires more? Alright. Take it to the negotiation mat!
Stuff like that needs acknowledgement. That is why it is called "the overlapping area of discernment" to me -- there's this THING here. Who will own it then? Cause it is THERE. Cannot pretend not to see. Cannot sweep under rug. We can TRIP on that. Let us discern then, who will own which parts? TOGETHER. With intention.
What bag gets what if we break it down into bits? Because an elephant in the room is one for ALL to carry and be aware of. Many hands make lighter work. In service to the greater polyship relationship of all parties, even if you do not LOVE elephants ? You may have to hold the trunk of the elephant in your bag. I may have to carry the tail. Other partner may take an ear. Because we love each other. If this polyship we choose to be in? This too we must choose to do. We pay the price of admission.
Or we can choose to leave this polyship with grace because the other players are no longer up for sharing the joys and burdens of it. Fair enough. Disband as friends.
Because if we want to stay in right relationship to each other in all stages of it? While moving it from friendship to fly the polyship, while inside the polyship configuration we agreed to, when landing the polyship back to earth and moving out of it when the relationship ends?
We want to nip it in the BUD and not let it fester into pus infection in the system.
It is lame and a cop out not to address this just because nobody wants to be the first to crack it open, break the elephant down to manageable sizes and own some of that elephant! It is lame to fob off your own behavior causing someone pain without stopping to see WHY the pain is being caused and if it is reasonable to adjust a bit so your loved one is less pained.
That sort of polyship is doomed before it even takes flight if the players are not willing to play fair and play well while learning to love each other as best as possible. That sets up a skewed dynamic where someone is bound to get shafted. Ugh.
GalaGirl - Just wanted to say that your post was so helpful to me! Thank you for all the effort you put into it. I'm going to save this to refer to in future. It really helps to understand that it's (as I assumed) a copout to assume that the person raising the problem is the one responsible for dealing with it, alone.
Since we opened our relationship, and maybe even before, it seemed Ted's attitude was, 'Well, I'm not breaking any rules, so I shouldn't have to deal with or hear about any of your feelings about what I'm doing.' That's a simplification, but that's how it came across. He kept his hurt feelings and adjusting attitudes mostly to himself when I started seeing other people first, and it was then encumbent upon / expected of me that I do the same when he started dating someone else. But I just never did and still don't work that way.
It's much better to acknowledge the hurt, break it down, and decide together, as you noted, who is going to be responsible for what part. It could still come out that the feelings are not reasonable based on the causes, but it's better to figure out together whether they are or not.
Anyway, I need to do a lot more thinking about this, but I really appreciate your answer to my question.
I read your very sincere and articulate reply yesterday. As I was reading it, I got the feeling I should wait until now to reply. I didn't know why. I honored that feeling. I now know why. I was just sitting down at the computer getting ready to answer your "how are we incompatible?" question, when I read your latest reply:
The answer to why are you and Ted incompatible is - the combination of the words I quoted, and YOUR ATTRACTION to someone who operates this way. Add them together and you get the drama of incompatibility.
You said all relationships have a degree of incompatibility to them. This is not true at all. There is no "natural" degree of incompatibility to all relationships. You have convinced yourself of this because all of YOUR relationships have a degree of incompatibility to them (a large degree). Instead of continuing to make this assumption, I highly recommend you take a clear look at yourself and ask the question I posed earlier: Why are you attracted to someone who operates this way?
I'll say it again:
Until YOU discover in YOURSELF the reason YOU are attracted to people who operate like Ted, you will continue to draw people into your life who you are not compatible with. Those relationships will continue to operate on drama. Look at this. Learn from this. Find what you need to find in YOURSELF, so you can move away from the drama and live your life JOYFULLY.
That's interesting. I didn't see this as an attraction to angry people. She's not having a cow thing with Craig.
I see this as people who do not have good conflict resolution skills. And people who are struggling to play like honorable Star Wars Jedi together. (BOTH)
I see some use of the word "incompatible" where I would use "conflict." DH and I are very compatible. We are not conflict free. It is HOW we navigate through areas of discernment/conflict resolution that make us great together. Not that we are conflict FREE. Who is THAT? Dead people? (I joke to keep it light.)
Then all this happened. And now you have learned the value of obeying YOUR OWN LIMIT and not moving something forward despite misgivings. That stuff bites you in the ass later. (I mean this kindly, not judge-y at all.)
I also see this -- Ted NOT OWNING HIS BAGGAGE. He does not clearly KNOW and state his own wants, needs, and limits. Ted was witholding information -- it is a lie of omission. Not expressing feelings or what their internal weather is like right now. Expecting mind reader-ing. Then playing Mr Avoidy? Then playing Mr Resenty? (All unspoken until he blows? Yargh.)
Ok, you could have listened to your own gut that was sending you a LIMIT flag. But HE was not being honest with himself about his own limits/fears. Did not own his responsibility to REPORT. Could have just spit it out to you "Baby, no way, Jose! I do NOT want to open. Not now, ever. That is MY hard limit. It is not a soft limit that can be negotiated over time!"
Ted doesn't sound like he knew himself well. Well, that is over.
Do your work to know YOU better.
There is no way you can predict every possible scenario that happens in a polyship. You can try to get a few common ones down. But better still is to agree to your rights and responsibilities for how you agree to be together in polyship. That's how I roll. Clear enough, but flexible enough.
When we hit an area of discernment/conflict resolution place? I go with something like this. Everyone owns a piece of the proverbial elephant in the room.
Then Life can carry on mostly alright at the happy medium most of the time. Yay. Cupcakes for all!
*hugs* I know you hurt. Remember to breathe.
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