My wife is interested in and I'm open to polyamory with a second man. How do you bring a healthy third person into an existing marriage? We are not having children and are not close to our biological families, but all of our friends have or are moving away. We miss having “family” and there are times that two just doesnt feel like enough. We both have attraction to men but have no desire to replace the other.
I’m answering this because I see this sort of thing all the time, where someone asks “how do I?” about polyamory, and a bunch of people say “you’re going about it the wrong way, do it this way instead” and the person asking the question gets upset that no one is validating their approach.
Which is ridiculous because the person asking the question is asking that question precisely because they don’t know the answer. Listen to the collective wisdom of those who have been there, done that.
The word polyamory has been around for 27 years. We’re now onto multi-generational poly people. That’s a LOT of accumulated wisdom. Don’t dismiss it just because you don’t like what it says, the way so many others have.
I’m answering this to add one more voice, so that it’s harder to say “these are all just opinions and I don’t have to listen to them”. It’s not *just* opinion. It’s *experience*. And it’s experience earned the hard way.
Don’t try to “bring someone into our marriage”. You can’t. It’s impossible. You do not “add a third” to an existing relationship, you create all new relationships. Even your existing marriage will be recreated as a totally new relationship that’s now “open”. Treat each dyadic relationship (of which there will be 3) as their own entity that requires nourishment and care, and then treat the relationship among the 3 of you (whether it’s a triad or a Vee arrangement) as *it’s* own entity that needs nourishment and care.
Yes, you read that right, when 3 people get into a relationship, you have 4 whole new relationships to care for. You do not “add a third” like simply pouring in a new liquid into an existing drink and it all blends together into one drink.
The phrase “healthy third person” reveals a pretty sex-negative, abled bias. That’s going to come across pretty poorly when you start engaging with poly communities. Go do a LOT more research on sexual stigma, body positivity, and ableism.
Join poly communities - as many as you can make time for (at least one being in-person). Regular discussion group attendance is not everyone’s cup of tea, but you really need to know other poly people to develop good poly skills. You need to see how others are succeeding (or failing) and you need to know people who understand and accept polyamory as a choice (because even compassionate mono people just don’t have that mindset or that experience to really empathize and see the joys and problems of what you’re about to experience).
Being isolated is one of the tools of abuse. This doesn’t mean that I’m saying you’re being abusive. It means that abusers understand how important it is to have a support network and to have more objective sets of eyes looking in on a relationship to see things that the people in the relationship are too close to the situation to see. Abusers understand how important these things are, and that’s why they try to remove these things from their victims.
You don’t want to unintentionally put yourself in the same sort of dangerous situation that abusers try to create intentionally. You need a support network that extends beyond your romantic relationship and you need people who can see your relationship from other angles outside of the relationship. That’s a tool for mental health and relationship health. Join communities to meet other poly people and build a support network. If you don’t like structured discussion group meetings, go long enough to make friends and build up a social network through the group.
Don’t join groups for the purpose of meeting your potential partner. Sure, if you want to meet someone who is open to polyamory, you’ll have more luck if you’re in spaces where poly people gather. But going to these groups in order to *use* the group as a dating service is usually both poor etiquette and off-putting (unless the group is specifically labeled as some kind of poly dating service).
In general, going out for the purpose of finding someone is less successful than just being yourself and doing things socially. People don’t generally like being interviewed and then hired for the job of Your Next Partner, and that’s what it feels like when you go out “looking”. But people *do* generally like meeting people who share their interests and values and are interesting people doing interesting things. So go out and be interesting and meet people. Dating partners will *eventually* follow from that. And if you just go out and be interesting, you might be surprised at all the different places you will end up meeting partners.
Speaking of job positions, don’t treat people as things. Again, people are generally attracted to those they find interesting. They are not here for you to use. They do not exist to fulfill your desires. They are not supporting characters in your story. They are whole and complete humans and deserve to be treated as such. They are the main characters in their own stories. A lot of newbies go out and say “we’re looking for someone who can do these things and be this way and likes this stuff”. Try shifting your perspective away from what the other person can do for you, to what *you* can offer in a relationship to another person. That’s not the end, that’s just the start, but do that first before you get to the next part of that equation.
Don’t decide ahead of time what the relationship ought to look like and then try to find people to fit into that idea. Again with the “the people you date are real people” thing. The happiest, most successful relationships are those that built organically, over time, based on what *all* the people in the relationships want and need and negotiated. Just meet people and listen to what the *relationship* is telling you that it wants to be. Most people find themselves surprised to be happy in configurations that they didn’t anticipate, mainly because people really suck at predicting what will make them happy. It’s not the configuration that brings happiness, it’s the people. The “correct” configuration develops from the people, not the other way around.
Don’t try to “protect our marriage”. You can’t. Even if you remain monogamous, you can’t. Shit happens and Game Changers exist. All the promises you make to each other don’t mean anything to the #10 bus with broken brakes that comes careening around the corner and into your car. All the rules in the world won’t save you from cancer. All the agreements you agree to won’t stop one of you from leaving if you change who you are or what you want over time. Ask anyone now sitting in divorce court how well that “promise to love and honor until death do we part” really lasts when someone decides it’s not what they want to do anymore.
Your marriage will work, or not work, because of the two of you in it, not because of some other person. If you try to “protect” your marriage against your third person, first of all it won’t work because it has nothing to do with them, and second of all, you can’t ever fully engage in a romantic relationship with another person if you are simultaneously viewing them as a “threat”. That is a barrier to intimacy and a Sword of Damocles hanging over their head. Most people will not want to take that role anyway, and those who do will be in a fundamentally disempowered relationship.
If you want someone to give you their heart, you have to be just as vulnerable and just as intimate as you expect them to be. They can’t open up and fully trust you with their heart if you think of them as a threat and put up barriers to them in the interests of “protecting our marriage”. Their relationship with you deserves all the same potential to develop as your marriage did when you first met your now-spouse.
Which also means that once you decide to “open up”, if you leave yourself a back door by agreeing to dump partners if one of you thinks it’s not working out, or if you think you need to “work on our marriage”, you’re treating other human beings as disposable, which is not giving them the same potential, not treating them as whole human beings deserving of intimacy and vulnerability, etc. Don’t do this.
If you decide to “open up”, then you’re open. If you’re not involved with anyone else and you want to go back to monogamy, that’s one thing, but dumping existing partners for the sake of your marriage is doing all of these things here that we are all saying are bad ideas. Frankly, your other partners deserve better than what you’re offering if you’re willing to do this.
And related to the previous one, don’t do “rules”. Don’t even make “agreements” when the “agreement” is something about what you can or can’t do with another person, especially if that other person isn’t yet present to give their input. Talk to *each person* (your spouse, your future partner, etc.) about how *they want to be treated*, and then treat them that way. “I want you to not have sex with that person” is not a statement on how I want to be treated, just FYI. Discuss what things you can and can’t do *to that person directly* - that’s what getting consent looks like and that’s what boundaries are. But don’t make decisions (whatever word you use to label them) with one person about what you will or won’t do *with another person*. That’s treating people as things, which we’ve already discussed in several comments and at length in this own comment.
Nobody should have less power to negotiate what you can and can’t do to or with them than someone who isn’t you or them.
If the people in the community are telling you that an idea you have isn’t a great idea, listen to them. They’re probably telling you that for a reason. And being new to the community, no matter how smart you might be or how much you’ve thought about the idea, the collective experienced community is probably in a better position to be able to predict how well your idea will work in practice. Lots of things sound good on paper, but when the rubber meets the road, we already know how it plays out because we’ve done it and seen it a million times before.
Don’t “add someone to our marriage”. Start a whole new set of relationships with your spouse and your future partner.
Also, read More Than Two (www.morethantwo.com)