The PolyBureau
by Alan Wexelblat

Answer Readers' Questions, Part VII

There are sometimes questions that require or deserve a longer than normal answer. This time I tackle a couple of those. In an effort to keep the columns at manageable length I'll answer fewer questions here.

Three-way Marriage

"C T" of gte.net writes:

We've been working on a poly relationship for about a year now. It's been a rough year, but after a lot of work, we've got a true triad. We're going to give it another year, and if it continues to work out, we want to make it permanent. The thing we're interested in finding out is: how do we handle the legal aspects, since polygamy's illegal in this country?

The short answer is that you don't. No relationship is permanent. The real question is how do you build, protect, and solemnize the relationship the three of you you want. As I wrote back in Column 10, there are several alternatives for commitment ceremonies you can explore. I recommend you check out the links I listed there for various legal forms you can use, such as powers of attorney, living wills, medical proxies, child care designations, tenancy in common agreements, and so on. Each of these forms takes time and energy to find, fill out, sign, get notarized, and so on. But they can be very important because they help you secure rights that aren't normally available to partners who aren't married under the laws of the country.

Once you've dealt with the issues of what the law allows, you will also have the question of how to formalize your relationship in the eyes of the world. In your case, since I expect all three of you wish to express your commitment to each other at the same time, you're pretty much going to have to write it yourself.

That doesn't mean starting from scratch, though. There are a number of good books out there on writing your own vows, oriented towards couples who want to say something more or different than the standard marriage vows. The best of these books will take you step-by-step through the traditional vows, explaining the sentiment behind each vow. You can use this a guideline to write your own vows expressing the appropriate sentiments.

I also expect the three of you have favored songs, prose, or poems. Use these, either directly or by taking the words as inspiration to write out what you feel, what you wish to promise, what you want to tell the world about your plans, and so on.

Opening up, a Step at a Time

"A R" of tea-house.com writes:

Recently my husband initiated contact with a former girlfriend for whom he admitted strong feelings. He admitted that he loves us both very much and does not want to be forced to choose between us. I agreed to try polyamory, including a sexual encounter between the three of us, but I am still very much uncomfortable.

We have been very open about all our fears and insecurities going into this, but I can't alleviate all of them. I cannot speak to my family about any of this, nor friends, mostly because I fear their reactions. I worry about all the feelings of the people involved and about how situations that are bound to arise are going to affect all of us (the prospect of more children, wanting time alone or without the third person, one person feeling left out), about how this situation will affect my son, as well as simply the health risks associated with adding another person to our relationship.

I may look at other men and have sexual thoughts, but I never imagine myself actually approaching that man. Because of that, I have a very hard time understanding my husband's position, although I empathize.

I have nothing against the other woman. She is a very nice person and I could become friends with her, given time. I don't really know her well. It sounds very possessive, but I don't like the idea of sharing my husband with someone else. This isn't what I expected when I got married. However, there is now an underlying ultimatum in my marriage. Either I accept this and deal with it, or I let him go. Neither of which is I'm particularly comfortable with right now.

My question is, how do I begin to deal with this? I know he won't go through with this if I tell him I don't want this, but I also know that he's happy with our current relationship.

The only way I can see to deal with this is to take it one step at a time. I sense a couple of confusions in your note and I'll try to work through as best I can.

The first thing I would say is that you shouldn't spend a lot of time worrying about the past. I agree that this isn't what you signed up for when you got married, but I don't think either of you signed up for stasis. People change, and we can't ignore that. This is a change in your husband's feelings, so I'd suggest working on that basis.

I think it's a positive sign that he's willing to discuss his feelings with you, rather than sneaking around behind your back as too many married people do. Likewise, I think you should continue to express your feelings, even the so-called negative ones like anxiety and possessiveness. The important next step is that you both treat each other's feelings with respect and take them seriously.

I think painting the situation as an ultimatum is probably unhelpful. You said that he wouldn't go through with it if you objected, so making yourself feel backed into a corner is not a positive way to view things. I think you have real and valid concerns, both for yourself and for your son. All the things you list are issues that will need to be dealt with at some point. However, they don't all have to be dealt with right now.

My first suggested step would be to start forming a relationship with the other woman. You said that you find her a nice person, and that you could see yourself becoming friends with her. I suggest that this is a place to start. I would guess that she has many of the same concerns you have. I assume here that her desire is to add a new relationship, not to damage the existing one. Reassuring yourself of that desire is an important element in dealing.

While this relationship is being built I would not, in your place, engage in sexual or intimate situations with her. I would also suggest that you ask your husband to refrain. If he does, as you say, love you both I think this will not be a huge demand on him.

As you are starting to explore, I think you should work on discussing possible end goals for yourself. One option is that you may become comfortable with poly to some degree. You admit to having attractions to other men; perhaps it will grow to seem comfortable to you to act on these feelings in ways you consider safe.

Another option is that you don't wish to open up to other people, but are willing to make an exception for this one woman because of your husband's strong feelings and because she eventually fits within your safety and comfort zones. You may decide that their relationship is OK within certain constraints that you designate and all three of you agree to abide by.

You may also decide that you are, and wish to stay, monogamous. You need to make this decision for yourself, separate from your husband. His desires for poly can be dealt with separately. If you decide to be a monogamous person married to a poly person, you should take especial care to ensure that you are feeling treated fairly and that your needs are being met as well as those of your husband. He needs fair treatment as well - the key question is what agreements do you make that enable both of you to feel this way.

Who's Listening?

"MJCL" of aol.com writes:

I can appreciate the motivation of your organization and the ideas that it espouses. But, if you had done some research into the sexual psychology of our culture, and the attitudes toward sex that we have manifested in the past and at present, you wouldn't be wasting your time! A tenth grade European student has more maturity towards, and understanding of their sexuality, than most adult American men and women! We are the most industrialized nation in the world, our technology is second to none, but when it comes to sexuality, we are lower that some third world countries vis-a-vis attitudes and mental approach. We have the highest incidents of rape, the most abhorrent sex crimes convictions, and the highest number of people who either suffer from or are in therapy for sexual dysfunction. Your advice is falling on deaf and dumb ears!

I would agree that our culture displays far too many sex-negative attitudes and behaviors. I also agree that the incidence of sex crimes in our society is too high, though it is important to keep in mind that many so-called sexual crimes are actually crimes of violence and power, having little or nothing to do with sex.

I think, however, that you misapprehend the purpose of this column. My goal is not to "convert" anyone. I don't claim that polyamory is for everyone, or even for the majority of people. It is, like many other forms of alternate sexuality, a minority practice and will probably be so at least for our lifetimes. Polyamory is about responsible forms of nonmonogamy and most people already have enough to be responsible for in their day-to-day lives without adding the complexities of poly. To take on those extra concerns is a chore necessitated in part by a need to be true to who we are, what we feel, and how we relate to people around us.

If that's not right for you, then don't do it. I don't encourage experimentation just for the sake of experimentation, nor do I advocate poly as a "solution" to sexual and marital problems in today's society, such as high divorce rates.

However, you don't see my mailbox. It sometimes nearly overflows with questions of the form: "We live in ; how do we find other people like us in our area?" If I printed and tried to answer all these questions it would more than take up the space I have. I acutely remember going through a phase of feeling like I was the only one in the world who felt this way. I had no community for support, nor even any language to describe how I felt, what I wanted, how I behaved.

In time I came to find other people, learned a language, and found that many other people had passed through the same troubles as I had. I benefitted greatly from that knowledge. This column is a small attempt to give back a bit of what I've gained, an attempt to use the net and the Web to shorten the time others like me are no doubt spending trying to figure out who they are and what to call it when the language they were raised in has only negative harmful terms for what we are and how we feel.

I write because I feel I have something to share, not because I expect to change the world. I get the occasional letter of support and positive feedback, which are nice. Beyond that, the only thing I can do is lead by example. Perhaps you can join in that, as well?

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Copyright © 2001 Alan Wexelblat
The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author.

Last modified: Wed Jan 15 06:53:13 2003