My mate and I are exploring polyamory, and he's upset now that I've slept with someone

Question

My mate and I are beginning to dabble with polyamory. I'm built for it,  he's not.  He has a secondary partner as well as me, and we have someone we see together. We have clear rules, which are working. He usually sets the rules, as he is less comfortable in general, and we have been taking baby steps. Yesterday I slept with my first other partner, with consent from everyone, and I followed all of our rules. My mate reacted very badly and has since requested that I stay at home and away from him, telling me that he needs time to process it all. He's feeling angry and jealous, and doesn't want me to see him that way. He's considering breaking up with his other partner and saying that he can't handle this. I'm just at home feeling sad is all. I'm used to spending every night with my mate snuggled up. I feel I've betrayed him because I could have avoided this by not being polyamorous at all. What can I do to feel better, and to help my mate feel better?

Received via Telegram (name withheld)

Answer

Thanks so much for your question! Exploring polyamory together with a mate for the first time can be incredibly exciting, but as you are discovering, it's incredibly easy to encounter emotional pitfalls that both you and your mate had no idea were there. Indeed, it sounds as though your mate was intellectually okay with you seeing your secondary partner alone, but when it came down to encountering the reality of the situation, your mate had an extreme emotional reaction that neither he nor you were prepared for.

I'm sorry to hear that your mate is suffering emotionally, but it is important that both you and he accept that you do not have a time machine, and what is done is done. Neither of you could have predicted that your mate would respond in this way, and it certainly wasn't your intention to hurt your mate at all. You even had his permission! So, no, you have not betrayed your mate, and you need to forgive yourself for what happened. It's extremely unfortunate that your mate is having to cope with negative emotions such as envy and jealousy and anger right now, but it is your mate who is responsible for his emotional state in this situation, and not you.

It's perfectly understandable that your mate would want processing time to deal with his emotions privately without inflicting them on you, and honestly that's probably much healthier for you and for your relationship than your mate blowing up at you would be, but it's important that he include you in the processing at some point.

Tell your mate that you are happy to give him some space, but you'd like to unpack his feelings and discuss them together when your mate is up for it. Whatever conclusion your mate reaches on his own, your mate needs to be able to share his feelings with you, so that you can proceed together and, if necessary, revise your relationship terms to reflect your mate's new understanding of his emotional needs and personal boundaries — an understanding that he arrived at through self-reflection during his processing time alone.

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Tell your mate also that it is a bad idea for him to change his relationship status with you or with his other partner while he is in a heightened emotional state. Your mate's other partner has done nothing wrong, and you have no bad feelings towards your mate's other partner, so there is no need to punish your metamour as a result of this unfortunate emotional situation between you and your mate. Doing so simply spreads pain around without improving the situation in any meaningful way.

As we discussed on the podcast this week, there is a difference between equality and equity, or between equality and fairness. In this case, you don't need things to be equal. You need them to be fair. Your partner's outside relationship isn't hurting anything, so there's no reason to end it. What you yourself are doing with outside partners is unrelated. Deal with each of these situations separately, as they are indeed separate relationships. If you are in fact actually bothered by some inequality in your relationship terms, which you say your mate more or less wrote, discuss that at another time when you're both calmer.

As for what you can do to feel better and to help your mate feel better right now, you should both focus on taking care of yourselves until bad feelings have calmed down some. Encourage your mate to read a book or watch a movie that he knows you wouldn't like, or encourage him to pursue one of his hobbies that requires some alone time. Meanwhile, you can do the same thing. Spoil yourselves with personal care and "me time."

You can also ask your mate what you can do to help him feel better. If his request is reasonable, try to grant it. Your mate might ask for some space, or ask you to take a break from seeing other people until he's feeling better. These are both fairly reasonable requests.

While you are taking time for yourself, plan how you and your mate might be able to reconnect once you're ready to see each other again. Perhaps you could plan a weekend getaway, or make reservations at your mate's favorite restaurant. Perhaps you could write a love poem or a romantic short story or you could commission artwork of your fursonas being romantic with each other. You know your mate best, and hopefully you know what love languages work best with him; do something that will make him feel like he's a priority to you, like he's special, and like he's someone you truly care about. Special attention is an excellent antidote to jealousy and to your mate's potential fears of being abandoned or replaced.

Lastly, reassure your mate that you will do your best to make sure that your actions do not provoke such strong negative emotions in him ever again. Tell your mate that you love him, and that his feelings truly do matter to you. Tell your mate that you will wait to be sexual with your secondary partner until your mate is back in control of his emotional state, and that when there is a next time sexually, it will be with your partner's approval, at a time when your partner feels more comfortable.

Perhaps as a temporary accommodation you could offer to only see your other partner when your mate is out with his other partner, or perhaps you could give your mate "right of first refusal" to any date night you might plan with your other partner. You might say something like, "Hey, would you like to spend time with me tonight? I was thinking I would like to go out. If you aren't interested, I might see a movie with [other partner's name], but the two of us could go out if you're in the mood to do that tonight instead. :3"). A few words of warning, though: Only ever offer this kind of "right of first refusal" if you can do so genuinely and enthusiastically. If your mate tells you he does in fact want time with you, and you are visibly disappointed, resentful, or otherwise upset, your mate is almost certain to pick up on your negative emotions, and his feelings of jealousy, envy, and anger will intensify rather than decrease. Never offer your mate something you can't give him enthusiastically, or you will ultimately damage your own integrity and your mate's trust in you and faith in your love for him — very counterproductive.

Hope that helps, and happy holidays! If you have any follow-up questions or comments, please use the comments section below or get in touch with us again directly via our contact page.

Viro the Science Collie

Viro Science Collie is a PhD virologist and medical writer, experienced in teaching, technical communication, and writing for the public. He has been active in the furry community since 2012 and has been happily and ethically non-monogamous for much of that time. His interests include non-traditional relationship structures, technology, biological science, and tennis.