After being monogamous for many years, my wife Jasmine and I decided to open up our marriage. While she wants to remain monogamous, she has been very supportive of my desire to explore polyamory and of my relationship with my new girlfriend. She is not, however, getting the same amount of support from her friends. They are telling her that she is being manipulated and disrespected. This is putting a lot of stress on a very new arrangement that we are still learning to navigate. What advice do you have for this situation?
Moving from monogamy to polyamory is often a difficult transition, even under the best of circumstances. Not only do you, as a couple, need to learn how to relate to one another and new partners in different ways, but you also have to undo cultural programming that has taught you that there's something broken about your relationship if one or both of you desire sexual or romantic diversity.
The situation is even more complicated when the dynamic is asymmetrical, like yours. While you are experiencing the excitement of New Relationship Energy (NRE — a term poly folks use to talk about the heightened excitement of a new relationship), she will need to shift some of her time, and her expectations of you, in order to accommodate the time you spend with your girlfriend. This is a process that takes a lot of care and communication, but can also be very worthwhile if it means that both of you are happier in your marriage.
I am not surprised that Jasmine’s friends are less than understanding. In our culture, we are led to believe that romantic love is monogamous ("If he just loved me enough, he wouldn’t want to be with them," etc.), despite the fact that in long-term relationships, sexual and emotional desires do not always line up, making monogamy feel really stifling.
I didn’t tell any of my friends when I first transitioned to polyamory. For years! I didn’t expect them to understand, and I didn’t want to feel pressure to explain myself, especially when I was still trying to sort my own feelings out. But this also took a toll; it is stressful to live a double life, to keep meaningful relationships a secret, and to hide large parts of yourself from people you care about. And depending on how serious your new relationship is, it may be unfair to that person to be kept in the shadows. So, I applaud you two for trying to be open not only to each other, but also to your friends.
I think that you two should communicate openly and honestly with each other about her friends’ reaction since they may be picking up some fear or hesitation on her part. This doesn’t mean that anything is wrong or that you should end your relationship with your girlfriend. It is normal to experience feelings of uncertainty or jealousy about your partner’s involvement with a new person. It is worth creating space where you two can explore her feelings since you are the one who made changes to your relationship structure.
But you should do this with each other, not with her friends. Ultimately, it is none of their business and you do not have to answer to them. It is nearly impossible for someone outside of a marriage to understand its particular complexity and those who are strongly tied to notions of monogamy will view non-monogamy as a problem. I also suggest expanding your social circle to include other non-monogamous folks that both of you can talk to while you navigate this new terrain. Groups like Poly in Pittsburgh are a great place to start. Good luck!