When is it okay to add a new mate to an existing relationship?

Question:

My mate and I have been exclusive with each other so far in our relationship, but I think I am falling for a friend of mine. My mate is open to the idea of a poly relationship, but how do I know if that is a good idea for us? I don’t want to jeopardize my relationship with my existing mate — I love him very much.

Received via Telegram (Anonymous)

Answer:

Knowing when it is a good time to add partners to a relationship is one of the most challenging parts of being polyamorous. Adding a partner at the wrong time can be a surefire way of creating drama and destabilizing the existing relationship(s) in which you and your mate(s) are involved. Unfortunately, there is no way to 100 percent ensure that adding a new mate won’t jeopardize your relationship, as a new person can be a real game changer. That said, for many people, the rewards of bringing in a new person far outweigh the risks. Fortunately, there are steps you can take that are likely to minimize the risk adding a new partner poses to your existing relationship. There really aren’t any hard and fast rules about when it is okay to add a new mate, but there are definitely some times when it is not a good idea.

If you and your primary mate are in a very new relationship, it’s usually a good idea to stay focused on him for a while, until the relationship has settled down and “New Relationship Energy” has begun to wear off. Otherwise, your existing mate will feel your absence particularly acutely while you’re off having fun with a new partner, and he may feel like you aren’t really committed to your existing relationship. If you guys have been mated for a while, this is likely less of an issue, as your mate will feel comfortable with how committed you are and will hopefully have learned to trust you. People build trust and commitment at different rates, but, as a general rule of paw, I wouldn’t recommend adding a new partner if you and your primary partner have been together in a serious relationship less than a few months at the very least.

It’s also a bad idea to add a new mate if you and your existing mate are under a lot of stress or are arguing a lot lately. If you feel like your existing relationship is not on solid ground, adding a new mate can reveal the fissures in your relationship and widen them further. Trying to distract yourself with a new, shiny lover is not going to fix your existing relationship, and you do a disservice to your new mate by brining him into a dramatic situation with your old mate that predated your new partner’s presence.

If in fact you have been with your mate sufficiently long to build commitment and trust and you and your mate aren’t fighting frequently, then you can move on to consider whether now is exactly the right time to bring in a new mate.

First off, it is really important that you consider whether you have the resources to invest in a new relationship without harming your existing one. Resources to consider include time, energy, and emotional bandwidth. If you are very busy with school and work in addition to an existing relationship, perhaps you don’t have enough free time to do right by an additional mate. If you’re very introverted and all of your social energy is going into friends and spending time with your existing mate, perhaps you don’t have the energy for a new relationship. If a couple of your friends are having crises and they depend on you for emotional support, perhaps your emotional bandwidth has been exceeded and you won’t be able to really be there for a new mate. Remember too that you need to leave yourself some alone time to recover energy and be with your own thoughts and hobbies; don’t add so many relationship partners that you no longer have any time for yourself! If you end up overcommitting, you will end up feeling frazzled, and all of your romantic connections will suffer.

Secondly, it is really important that you make sure the new partner you are considering will be respectful of your existing relationship and be able to get along with your existing mate without feeling tremendous amounts of envy. Bringing in a partner who only pretends to be okay with polyamory long enough to try to sabotage your existing relationship and steal you for himself is a very bad idea, so make sure the person you are considering isn’t the type to try to do that. Beyond making sure the new partner won’t be a dastardly saboteur, it is a good idea to consider whether he and your existing partner might be able to get along or even become friends. Your mates don’t have to be lovers or particularly good friends, but if they’re at least able to talk to each other civilly, you run a much lower risk of being thrown into dramatic situations in which you are expected to play peacekeeper (Protip: mediating between your lovers is almost always a bad idea — encourage them to work things out with each other if they ever have a conflict).

Thirdly, make sure you and the potential new mate have aligned your expectations. Is the new partner content with being in a secondary role, with your existing mate maintaining primacy? Does your new mate eventually hope to be equal in importance to your existing partner? Does your new mate want to move in with you, or does he want to keep things somewhat more casual for the foreseeable future? Obviously you don’t need to plan out the next two decades of your lives together, but it is a good idea to make sure there isn’t a horrible mismatch of expectations. If you and your existing mate intend to keep all other relationships casual, and you aren’t able to offer a secondary mate much in the way of commitment, be honest about that and make sure he is still up for being with you in that capacity. Personally, I don’t set limits for how far new relationships can go, and I make this clear to new partners so they know where they stand. If you do have limits, you owe it to your potential new mate to tell him that.

Lastly, make sure you and your existing mate discuss how you will handle likely “poly noob” scenarios before they crop up, as you can avoid a lot of drama this way. Game out scenarios that each of you might be afraid of. What happens if your existing partner has a fit of jealousy and suddenly feels awful while you’re out with your new mate? Does that mean you have to cancel and come home, or does it mean you do something special for your jealous mate to let him know he is still very important to you afterwards? How would you handle it if your new mate decided he needs to be closer to you than your limits allow? What happens if your existing mate also discovers he has feelings for your new partner? What if they end up hating each other? What safer sex practices are important to you, and what happens if someone slips up and/or contracts a sexually transmitted infection? Discussing how you’d handle situations like these can make the whole idea of polyamory seem less scary, and you and your mate will both be glad you talked.

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.