My partner wants to get back with her ex, which I believe puts her at risk of getting hurt

One of my girlfriend's exes popped back up in her life and wants to date her. Exclusively. If that's what she wants I'd never stop her, but he's an addict that rides the sobriety line constantly. This factor has hurt her in the past and I don't want her to go through that pain again. Should I tell her I don't feel comfortable with her dating him because of his past? Or am I being controlling?

If he wants to date her “exclusively,” then she’d have to leave you for him, in which case, none of this would be your circus nor your monkeys. Of course you would “never stop her,” because it is impossible to stop someone from dating someone else, and it’s inappropriate to try.

It is not controlling to give advice, to remind her that he has hurt her in the past, and to encourage her to really think through what she wants and what choices are most likely to get here there. You can tell her that because you care about her, you’d recommend against this; that if you were her, you wouldn’t do it, etc. But people are going to make the decisions that they are going to make, and it’s ultimately not within your control, no matter how right, or persuasive, you are.

If I’ve misread your use of the term “exclusively” and the situation you’re being pitched is one in which she dates both of you, it’s within your rights to say “I’m not comfortable dating someone who is dating this guy,” in which case it would be on you to leave the relationship. You’re not threatening to leave her if she dates him, you’re not forcing her to choose - you’re making the best choice for you based on the situation you find yourself in.

My boyfriend got back with his ex, who I think is very bad for him

My boyfriend is poly, he has gotten a new boyfriend recently and he’s dated this boy in the past, he’s broken my boy so many times and apparently he’s gone to relationship counseling to fix himself. My boyfriend insists he has changed after three months of the counseling, they got back together a few days ago. He asked me if I was comfortable with him dating two other people I said this was fine but I didn’t ask who they were and finding out he’s with this guy again upsets me.

There first issue here is that your boyfriend seems to be lying by omission, saying “are you okay with me dating someone?” knowing that your answer will be “yes” in the general case, and neglecting to mention that it was this specific person. You need to make sure there’s an open line of communication between the two of you about your relationship, new partners, and concerns either of you have. If this is a pattern, you need to figure out whether he’s being evasive because he feels unsafe being honest with you, or just to avoid an unpleasant conversation, or what.

You can’t change your boyfriend’s mind about dating this person - but you can control how you respond to it. You can decide that this person is just not someone you want to be polyamorously connected to, and choose to leave the relationship if it means having him as a metamour. You could decide that you’re not willing to discuss this person with your boyfriend, and that includes advice, comfort, venting, anything. You could decide that you don’t want to be around this person. But all of those are your choices, based on the information you have: that your boyfriend is going to date this person, despite your objections.

Consider also checking your language: you say he has “broken” “your” boy, and that might signal some extremity in your perspective. Your boyfriend has not been “broken” - it’s pretty difficult to actually “break” a person - he may have been hurt, disappointed, angry, frustrated, sad, etc. Using clear, specific terms for feelings helps us address them better. And he is not “your boy” - he is his own person, and his relationships with other people are mostly his business. I don’t doubt you that this person is emotionally dangerous, but don’t make it worse with language that frames your reaction in extreme terms that make things harder, not easier, to address and resolve.

Instead of talking about what this person has “done to your boyfriend,” focus on the impact it’s having on your - “seeing my boyfriend so hurt makes me miserable, and I don’t want to be in this situation, having this person as a metamour is not right for me.” That’s a much better framing, because it focuses on what you can control in your responses.

One of my metamours treats me, and our mutual partner, terribly

my partner and i are both poly, in non-hierarchal relationships (i have one other partner they have two, and even though we’re not primaries, we’re the more serious relationship) but i Hate one of their parters. he treats me really poorly when we’re all together and i don’t like how he treats them either, but i don’t know how to bring it up without upsetting them cause even though they’re aware of how poorly he treats them and me, they feel like it’s worth it to stay with him and idk what to do.

You can't control your partner's choices or thoughts - but you can control your own behavior. If someone treats you poorly, you can choose not to be around them. Tell your partner "I don't appreciate how Klavfin treats me and makes me feel, so I'm not going to be around him anymore." That's not you setting an ultimatum, or making a demand. You're not saying "stop seeing Klavfin," or "never invite Klavfin to a hangout" - you're just stating what boundaries you're going to hold. 

Your partner might feel frustrated by this, since it's difficult to accommodate around partners who don't like each other, but that's their response to choose. You're giving them information: that you don't want to be around this person. They can respond to that information however they choose.

People may accuse you of "starting drama," but that's not your problem. You get to decide how you want to be treated and who you want to spend time around. If that means you decline an invitation to a dinner, or make yourself scarce when he's around, that's fine! Don't try to get people to pick sides, or start a whisper campaign to oust this guy from your poly network - those usually backfire.

It's frustrating and painful to see your partner stay with someone who, from your perspective, is an ass. And there's a time and place to point out specific behaviors you have an issue with, and remind your partner that they don't deserve to be treated that way. But beyond that, remember that your partner is going to make their own choices, and all you can do is make the best calls for yourself.

Is there a third way out from having to choose between partners who want monogamy & partners who don't?

My wife and I are poly. She has a boyfriend, and I have a girlfriend. Neither the boyfriend, nor the girlfriend are involved in other relationships. They both want more. In fact, they both want to have monogamous relationships, but all of us will be sad if there are breakups. So, aside from either the girlfriend/boyfriend breaking up with us, or the girlfriend/boyfriend being "stuck" in a poly relationship, is there some sort of third option?

No, there is no third option. There will be sadness if breakups have to happen, but there will also be sadness if people are "stuck" in relationships that don't make them happy. There's a choice here that needs to be made, and there's no way out of having to make that choice. Life is full of tough choices, and each path we pursue comes at a cost. It's painful, but it's just part of being a human who has relationships. 

My partner is living with another partner who won't allow me in the house

Due to an emergency, my primary partner has to live with their partner (my metamour) for a few months while they get back on their feet. My metamour and I haven't had the best relationship because my introduction to and early experiences with her were traumatic, but I'm trying. Trust me when I say I want to be friends with my metamours. Now, my metamour has barred me access from her home and told our partner I'm not allowed to visit them in her house because she's not "comfortable" with me because I haven't tried hard enough to be friends with her. I think barring me from her home without opportunity for a conversation is unethical. Isn't it? Because the way I see it, regardless of how I feel about any of my metamours, I wouldn't forbid them from seeing our partner in a space that is my partner's and mine unless safety is a concern. I understand it's her home and it's her decision, but I think there's a right thing and a wrong thing to do. Not being able to see my partner, spend time with them, and just be home with them will weaken our relationship and my metamour knows that. I'm afraid this could cause my relationship with my partner to end; things have already been rocky for the past few months because of this specific metamour. Both my partner and I are talking to my metamour (separately) to have her understand that the circumstance she's putting us in is messed up. My partner is trying their hardest to get back on their feet so we won't have to endure this situation for long (but it could still take up to 6 months for them to be able to live away from this metamour again). What advice could you give me? What else can I do here? I'm losing my mind.

Okay, first things first - trauma is very serious. If someone in your life is traumatizing you, that is a crisis. Traumatizing someone - by definition, treating them in such a way that their psychological ability to cope with the pain or stress is overwhelmed - is abuse. If you are being, or have been, traumatized, you need to work with a therapist as soon as possible to start healing, learning to recognize your needs and set boundaries, and working on the patterns of thought and behavior that lead you to continue trying to be friends with people who traumatize you. (And if you feel that I am overreacting or the situation does not call for this response, then you need to not use the word ‘trauma’ - someone being rude, exclusive, unpleasant or nasty is not “traumatizing.”)

Second, you’re asking me to make a call as to whether this person’s behavior and demands are unethical and unreasonable, but it really doesn’t matter. Has this person said “oh, sure, I’ll amend my restrictions if you can get an internet advice blogger to agree with you?” Ultimately, you cannot change her mind or control her behavior. All you can do is decide what is best for you to do in this situation.

You could decide that dating someone who is dating or living with someone who traumatizes you and acts in a way you feel is unethical is not working for you, and leave the relationship. That is a choice you make for your own safety, not something anyone else is forcing you to do.

Or, you could decide that you want to try and make things work with your partner. Perhaps they are happy to spend lots of time where you live, and have sleepovers often. Perhaps they are willing to stand up to their partner/your metamour and say “I am going to have Salmertha over this Saturday to watch movies - you can make other plans to be out of the house if you want, but I’m not going to let you limit my ability to see my other partners.”

But if you ask your partner for that, and they tell you that they’ve chosen to give in 100% to the metamour’s demands, that’s their choice. You can’t control your partner, but you can control how you respond: “I’m sorry, I just can’t be in a relationship with someone who won’t risk any friction in another relationship to try and find a compromise for me.” Let go of trying to change someone else’s mind or see them as a controlling force in your life.

My therapist likes to say, of other people’s behavior and choices, ‘it’s all information.’ Your metamour has given you a lot of information about what being in a polyamorous network with her is like. Your partner has given you a lot of information about what being in a relationship with them is like. Now you get to decide, based on that information, what you want to do. 

It’s like if you interview for a job and they tell you “we’ll pay you a bajillion dollars, but to work here you’d have to come to work in five-inch heels every day and you’re not allowed to talk to your coworkers.” They’re not opening a debate with you, they’re stating their terms. You’d run yourself ragged trying to change their policy, even if you think it’s totally bonkers. All you can do is decide whether the bajillion dollars is worth it, or, based on what you know about this workplace, it’s best for you to decline their offer.

I'm okay trying out polyamory, but I don't like the person my partner is dating

My partner and I have been dating for a year and we both realized we are polyamorous some time ago. Some months ago, they started dating this other person, an older girl she met online. I was OK with it but I insisted I meet this girl. We got close, in a way, and I wanted that, I needed to trust my partner's partner otherwise I'd feel wrong with the whole deal. As I got to know her I realized she's a toxic person, she's possessive, overly jealous and plain rude at times. I can't even talk to my partner on social media without her throwing a tantrum about "not being loved by (my partner)". In addition to that, she has misgendered me a couple of times (I'm a trans boy) and done things that make me highly uncomfortable (and I've told her those things make me uncomfortable but she keeps doing them anyways). How do I talk to my partner about this? I am afraid to do so because they might think I am just not okay with the poly. And honestly I'm not too sure I am but only if they have a girlfriend as possessive as the one they have right now. I feel constrained and I am afraid they might hurt my partner.

It’s okay to just come out and tell her basically what you told me: “I have some concerns about how your girlfriend is behaving - it’s negatively affecting me. I don’t want you to think I’m not okay with polyamory in general, but polyamory with this specific person isn’t working for me and I need to talk to you about it.”

I’d advise against coming out and saying that this person is toxic, possessive, etc. - that’s too subjective and opens you up to unwinnable arguments. Focus instead on specific behaviors and examples. “When she misgendered me, that was painful and not okay, and makes her an unsafe person for me to be around. When I asked her to stop doing [thing] and she kept doing it anyway, it made me feel like my boundaries were being violated and that I can’t trust her to take my feelings or needs seriously.”

Be clear in this conversation about what you want from your partner: do you want your partner to stand up to the girlfriend more and say “hey, you can’t talk to my partner like that, please stop”? Do you want to spend less time interacting with this metamour and need your partner to help facilitate this space? Have you realized that you don’t want to be in a polyamorous relationship that includes this person, so you’re letting your partner know you’re going to have to leave the relationship as long as she’s involved? (Note that this framing is very different from “dump her or I’ll leave you” - you’re not making demands or threats, just identifying the right choice for you to make based on whether this situation is healthy for you to be part of.) 

I really dislike my girlfriend's partner - how do I feel compersion?

When I started seeing my gf she had just gotten out of a mono relationship and her ex was extremely mean to her after the breakup and I was there for her. Recently they have started a romantic relationship again and it is like all of that didn't even happen. My gf knows that I don't care for her now-gf because of that but I want her to be happy so I don't make a big deal of it. So my question is how can I feel any sense of compersion when all I have is negative feelings towards her?

It’s typically an exercise in futility to try and force yourself into a feeling you don’t have. You don’t need to try and conjure a sense of compersion or a feeling of goodwill about this person who you have every reason to dislike. 

It sounds like you’re doing everything right here - not “making a big deal of it,” letting your partner make her own choices, and just sitting back and staying disengaged from a situation you find irritating and frustrating. 

Try to re-frame this as not being about the metamour, but about your girlfriend. She is making a choice that she thinks is best for her, and all you can do is support her in that, recognize her agency, give her space to make her own choices. Sometimes people we love do things that we wish they wouldn’t. Sometimes they make choices that we think are bad choices. But that’s the beauty and the aggravation of having relationships with people. They insist on being their own people and doing their own thing even if it means refusing to quit a job that clearly makes the miserable or dating someone you don’t think is right for them.

And you seem to have that pretty well figured out - you’re leaving her to make her own choices and figure her own stuff out, without adding pressure or ultimatums or futile cajoling. Give yourself a break for not being able to feel thrilled and excited about this situation. If it starts to negatively impact you, set the boundaries you need to set; otherwise, no one can really fault you for only being able to achieve a sort of detached neutrality at best about this person’s re-entry into your girlfriend’s life.

Someone I was dating stopped speaking to me after one of her other partners decided he didn't like me

At the beginning of the year i met a wonderful poly woman online who is married and has other partners. we met in person (we are many states away) and i think we really hit it off and her family was totally welcoming and i felt super at home. As soon as i got back she confessed one of her boyfriends had some issue with me and told her to stop talking to me. so she did. I am hearing from our mutual internet friends that she seems very depressed and is kind of isolating herself. I think he is showing some abusive behavior, and have thought that for some time, but she's blocked me everywhere. What do you think I should do? is there anything I can do from this far away when none of our friends are willing to talk to her?

If she has blocked you everywhere, then that’s a pretty clear boundary that she has set. You can think that this boundary is unreasonable, or that she set it for reasons that are unhealthy, but right now, she has made the decision to stop speaking to you, and there’s not much that you can do about that. And if your mutual friends are unwilling to have this conversation, there’s not much you can or should do to try and push them into being an intermediary in a situation they don’t want to be a part of.

It is so, so painful to know that someone you care about is out there in a bad situation, or making bad choices, and there’s nothing you can do about it. It feels agonizingly frustrating and helpless. I know. But sometimes that’s the place we find ourselves in. It’s okay to feel angry or sad at how things worked out, through no fault of yours, to be painful for you.

She may be in an abusive situation; or she may simply be in a relationship that isn’t compatible with her seeing you - either way, she has decided to end contact with you, and your mutual friends have decided that this isn’t a safe, healthy, or worthwhile situation to try and step into. It sounds like the best thing you can do is try to let go. You don’t have the ability or obligation to ‘save’ her; nor do you have the right to change her mind even if you think the choice she’s made is unfair or unhealthy. 

Partner is new to poly & he sometimes fuck up, like everybody does & can do in poly. He & his other partner are Mono(she)-poly(he) relationship. My partner isn’t all that great at the full on communication & check-in thing but we are working on it & finding solutions. However my metamour isn’t really getting that communication can still go wrong. Both of their communication is unhealthy sometimes & I find myself to pick-up the pieces afterward. We talked about it but what else can I do about it?

Give yourself permission to stop doing that cleanup work after he makes mistakes. It is not your obligation or responsibility to manage your partner’s behavior, or his metamour’s feelings. Decide what is a healthy boundary for you to set and set it, gently but firmly.

For me, personally, I have a policy where I can hear and receive and empathize with my partners when they have an issue with another partner, but I do not give advice or share my own perspective. This can be hard and frustrating when they want to ask “what should I do?” or “do you think they’re being unfair?” but I hold to it, because I’ve found that it just gets too messy otherwise. I’m not saying this is a good rule of thumb for anyone but me, just giving an example. 

If you’ve seen a pattern that is starting to bother you, speak up - but stay focused on you and your partner’s relationship. “When you’re having a fight with Blargaret, you get snippy and withdrawn around me, and then I feel like I have to facilitate you two making up so I can get you back. I’m no longer going to take on the emotional work of resolving a situation that I didn’t create and have no control over. Let’s talk about how we can solve this, together.”

It is great that people who are newly polyamorous often have experienced polyamorous partners to ‘guide’ them, but be mindful of how much emotional labor you’re doing on his behalf. If you’re the training wheels, you gotta let him do the pedaling. And if, ultimately, it becomes unhealthy or untenable for you to keep dating someone with a tough metamour situation, it’s okay to end the relationship.

A few months ago, my partner’s wife said and did some really abusive things to him in front of me. I had to be in charge of stabilizing their really scary situation that badly triggered my domestic violence PTSD. For weeks she refused to talk to me or apologize, and instead of acknowledging what I did and how hard it was, he panicked and gave her all the attention because she was the one demanding it. How do I cope with this resentment/anger/feeling abandoned before it eats me alive?

First, please see a mental healthcare professional for help with your PTSD. This is not something you should have to deal with alone. Treatment and recovery options for PTSD are out there - take care of yourself. Check out these apps, this resource index, these resources, these self-help modules, or this workbook.

Second, tell your partner that this was a triggering situation for you and that you need his help and support. Try to be clear about what you need from him. 

Third, seriously reconsider whether this is a healthy relationship for you to be in. If your partner is making choices that put you in unsafe situations, or if your partner is unable or unwilling to support you when you need it, that’s not healthy. You may need to set new boundaries, like refusing to be around an unsafe person. If he cannot respect those boundaries, this isn’t a safe or healthy relationship.

I’m polyamorous and I hate my metamours. It’s not coming from a place of jealousy or hating them just because they exist, but because they have displayed inappropriate behavior towards me (disrespecting clear boundaries several times, displays of dominance, disrespecting my time with our shared partner) or have displayed manipulative/abusive/neglectful behavior towards my partners. It started with my boyfriend’s partner, I gave all the resources I could but when he ultimately decided to end the relationship his partner became physically abusive and dangerous. Now, my other partner is terminally ill and her partner doesn’t do anything to care for her, support their household (won’t get a job), and is self-centered and delusional. But, when I say anything about my metamours my partners defend them. How can I take care of the people I love when it’s not my place to tell them to break up with their partners but their partners are toxic to them and our relationship?

First, you gotta care for yourself. If someone is creating drama and tension in your life and your relationships, you have the right to step back from that. It can be maddening to see someone you love in an abusive relationship and not be able to convince them to leave it - but, ultimately, the only person whose choices you can control are yours.

Set clear boundaries for yourself and stick to them: “I’m happy to help you strategize about leaving Jern, but I cannot simply receive your venting about him mistreating you. If you only want a sympathetic ear, I am sorry, but you need to find it elsewhere.” Or, “I made plans to spend time with you, and if Jern is going to demand that you text him the whole time, I’m sorry, but I’m going to leave.”

Sometimes it’s necessary to take some distance from a toxic situation so you can breathe clear air for a while. You are not obligated to stay mired in someone else’s drama just because you care about them. You cannot force them to leave their problematic partners, but you can refuse to engage with the situation according to whatever boundaries you set. 

Within those boundaries, you can continue to be there for your partners - be a positive, supportive voice, continue reminding them that their metamours’ behavior is not okay and not something they deserve or need to endure. But it’s possible that these are wounds you alone cannot heal, and this is a problem you cannot solve even if you throw 110% of your emotional energy and time and effort at it. 

If someone is being threatening and physically abusive or dangerous, call the police. It may seem like a drastic move, but if you are concerned about domestic violence, it’s time to get the authorities involved. For your partner who is terminally ill, you may be able to get help from Adult Protective Services or a social worker at the hospital where they get treatment. But again, it’s nearly impossible to help someone who won’t let you - if your partner doesn’t want that kind of help, you may not be able to do much. 

Please check out some of my previous answers about similar issues: