I explained to him that i cannot stop. He just tends to suck it up and sulk, so it makes me feel like crap. But i cannot leave him. I love him. Am I in the wrong?

I believe this is a follow-up to this message. The thing is, sometimes “love” isn’t enough for a relationship to work out. If he has a tendency to sulk and guilt you about your own feelings, and if his method of dealing with issues is to be this immature and make you “feel like crap,” that is a huge problem.  

It’s not about who is “in the wrong” - it’s about what you’re willing to tolerate in a relationship. There is no magical, Correct Poly Procedure you can take to solve this situation. You have not somehow failed to do the right thing and therefore caused his behavior. He has made the choice to demand that you “stop” being poly and to sulk and make you “feel like crap” when you don’t meet that demand. Your choice is: do you want to be with someone who makes you feel like this? 

Hi Zinnia, first I wanted to say that I like reading your blog. I really appreciate how you always give matter-of-fact advice, and I agree with you most of the time. What I don’t always agree with is that I don’t think that we as a community - we as a society - should necessarily look at people’s behavior and just say, “Well, that’s what they want, so you have to take it or leave it.” Let me try to explain.

Imagine a man whose dream is to have a stay-at-home wife with three children. Now let’s say that, after five years and two children, his wife wants to go back to university, or resume her career, or maybe she no longer thinks having a third child would be a good idea. Would it be okay for the man to say, “Well, that was never what I wanted out of a relationship, so goodbye”?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that he shouldn’t be allowed to leave. At the end of the day, it is his choice. But I think we can all agree that he is at the very least a bit of an asshole? And we can criticize the relationship model he subscribes to, where he sees people more as instruments to achieve his ideal life than living, breathing individuals with their own hopes and dreams?

What first got me thinking about this was this post of yours. I’m just going to quote it here:

Me & my husband have been together for 4 years & when I first got with him he was in a poly relationship with someone else. I allow him to date other girls & I know that I can date other girls too. Idk if I can date other guys tho & that’s not fair.

If you don’t know, the solution is to ask him! Ask whether he would be okay with you dating men as well as women. If he is, problem solved!

If he’s not, and you feel that’s unfair, there’s more talking to do. Ask him why he feels that way, and see if together you two can get to the bottom of his discomfort and find a way to help him work through it.

If he absolutely will not budge, and you think those terms are unfair, you have a decision to make: stay in a relationship under terms you find unfair, or don’t.

I agree that if he won’t bulge, those are her only real options. But even then, I would find it hard to tell her to make that decision and live with it. I do believe in being a little more judgemental and adding, “You are right that this is not fair. You are right that your relationship is not symmetrical, and it shouldn’t have to be this way.”

I guess what I’m trying to say is that no, he shouldn’t be coerced into a type of relationship he doesn’t want. Ultimately he will do what he has to do. But it still feels weird to allow him to believe that the type of relationship he wants is perfectly okay and fair just in virtue of him wanting it. He can date girls. What makes him think it’s reasonable not to let her date guys? Shouldn’t we be encouraging guys to see this as an issue they have to work on rather than a simple matter of preference? Shouldn’t we as a society be saying, “Not cool, man”?

totally agree with above commentary. I rly want to emphasise the point that relationships can’t be build around a mentality of ‘this is my Relationship Format and i will only stick to this’. Everyone has their boundaries and expectations and that’s totally fine and healthy, but yeah if you are thinking in terms of relationship structures and not thinking in terms of individual people with unique needs, then it’s not going to work. A big problem in mono/poly combo relationships seems to be more often than not that the mono person wants the poly partner to ‘try’ being mono with them but the poly partner usually sticks hard to wanting to only be poly. That’s absolutely fine, but if you’re trying to stay in a relationship where your partner isn’t happy then you’re definitely in the wrong. You can’t say ‘i love him and don’t want to leave him’ but also say you can’t stop being poly with him because what you’re saying is that you’re fine with staying in a relationship with someone who is deeply unhappy with your behaviour- that is literally abuse. Staying with a girlfriend who wanted to be in a poly relationship with her was horrendous for me because she knew that it was tearing me up and she was regularly making both me and one of her other partners cry, but she made no effort to change her behaviour. Obviously she wasn’t happy making me cry either, and to get around this she would hide details of her other partners from me and I ended up being largely kept in the dark and misled. 

Also the pattern of men demanding that their female partners don’t date other men (/can only date women) whilst they can date other women is a MASSIVE problem in the poly community and is a product of misogyny and lesbian erasure (eg. men often don’t see lesbian relationships as a threat as they don’t believe it to be as valid as a hetero pairing, therefore they say their female partners can engage in same sex relationships) and we can’t gloss over it like it’s totally normal and healthy. You can’t demand that monogamous partners critique their relationship procedures without examining your own once in a while. 

Okay, I have a personal policy not to reply to or get into arguments with people who take issue with my advice, but these comments really bothered me and I think that I have an opportunity here to clarify two things - the limits of my personal definition of abuse, and the philosophy that sets the foundation for how I give advice here in a way I think is healthy and appropriate.

On abuse: I believe that simply doing something your partner doesn’t want you to do is not abuse. Do not cheapen the concept of abuse by equating it to “not obeying every single request from your partner” or “doing or being anything that your partner doesn’t like.”

If my boyfriend decided to become vegan, and wanted me to become vegan too, he has the right to ask that of me, but I have the right to say no. He can say that he only wants to date vegans, and he wants to date me, therefore I have to become a vegan - but that does not obligate me to change my diet. Me continuing to eat meat and dairy does not constitute abuse. If my partner decides that omnivorousness is a dealbreaker in a relationship, he can leave it. If I decide that my partner constantly pressuring me and guilting me about my diet is a dealbreaker, I can leave. Something being a dealbreaker or a catalyst for a breakup is NOT synonymous with abuse.

Forcing someone to stay with you - threats, coercion, manipulation, blackmail, isolation - that is abuse. Simply staying with someone despite unresolved conflict in a relationship is not abuse. Trying to find a way to work things out while recognizing your non-negotiable boundaries is not abuse. It is up to each individual to decide when it’s no longer worth it to try reconciling needs that seem irreconcilable. Someone not following your suggested timeline on making that decision is not abuse. 

On my advice philosophy: In the “don’t date other men” letter, I did suggest that the letter writer start by trying to work through their partner’s issues with them seeing other men. I have covered this type of issue elsewhere in my blog as well, and people are welcome to look for resources. True, I could have done more to point the letter writer to articles about how to talk to their partner about men wanting their partners to only date women - but I get lots of repetitive questions on this blog despite my FAQ, I try to update daily, and sometimes answers are less comprehensive than they could me. Remember that this blog is entirely free and written in my spare time.

I think it is unfair and out of line to tell someone to try and change their partner’s behavior and stay in a relationship on unfair terms. This is an advice column. I advise the people who write to me. I do not think it is remotely okay to tell someone that society as a whole is negatively impacted if they can’t change someone else’s mind. If the guy himself had written to me, I would have told him “not cool, man!” But making that someone else’s responsibility? No. Accepting that we cannot change other people’s behavior and we are not responsible for other people’s feelings or choices is a major part of emotional health, and I try to promote that. I will never tell a letter writer that they have some kind of moral obligation to get someone else to think differently.

I try in my personal life and in my non-advice writing to be critical of gender roles, patriarchy, etc. - but when a specific individual in a difficult situation asks me for specific advice, I try not to put the pressure on them to “turn the personal political” when that is not what they asked. I do believe that I make a good faith effort to discuss larger-scale issues in my answers where appropriate. You are welcome to feel that I am obligated to do more, and we can disagree on the most healthy way to give advice. As my mother says: “that’s what makes horse races!” You are welcome to start your own advice blog where you give answers that do more to take a stand on who is in the right and infuse critiques of gender, politics, etc. and it sounds like you would have an audience - we may just be serving different niches.

I also try not to act as an arbiter of emotions or a validator of feelings here. I try not to position myself as someone who can say “how you feel is normal” or “you are definitely in the right” or “that demand is unilaterally unfair” unless I really believe it’s crucial to say that, like when the situation actually is abusive. Two people having different preferences or boundaries and struggling to reconcile them is not inherently an abusive situation. Instead, I advise people to leave relationships that are not working for them without making a sweeping claim that said relationship would be unhealthy for anyone ever. That is how I prefer to run my free online advice column, and if you think there are better ways to give relationship advice, you are free to start your own!