I’m going to answer your specific questions, but in a kind of non-linear way — a lot about people’s beliefs is informed by their experiences and I am no different. When I first realized that I was in love with the man who is now my other life partner, it made my husband pretty unhappy. He was willing to share me sexually but not emotionally. However, this relationship was incredibly important to me and to give it up would have made me miserable and resentful. We seemed to be at am impasse. Once James dealt with his societal programming, his insecurities and his possessiveness, he no longer felt threatened or unhappy that I also loved someone else. In other words, those feelings that felt like real boundaries for him weren’t in truth — they were emotional baggage. I had told him if he did the work around this and still couldn’t handle the situation that we’d re-evaluate, but I also knew him well enough to know that he’d be fine once he got through the “stuff.” And he was!
Same goes for me. Nat is very different from me and does “relationship” in ways that have taken me some adjusting to get comfortable with. As I said in another article, he loves me and respects me, but he does it in the ways that work best for him and who he is, and that isn’t always in the ways that I’d prefer. I could say that he’s taking me for granted because he doesn’t often tell me how he feels and doesn’t always respond to things like me wishing him happy birthday, but when I look more deeply, I see that this isn’t actually the case, and that those feelings were stories and not actual needs of mine. When I excavated my own “stuff” and really looked at what was going on more objectively, I realized that demanding that he love me in the way that I want isn’t pure love. Allowing him to love me in the way that he does and that is a true expression of himself is more loving and also more real and I’ve been much happier ever since. I’m not sublimating my true needs; I’m just looking under the layers of crap to discern what they actually are and realizing that we have a very beautiful and satisfying relationship that simply doesn’t meet my preconceived ideas of how it should go. I’ve adjusted to allow for this and now things are just fine.
What I mean by honesty and transparency is not just telling your partner where you’ve been but also engaging in more vulnerability than many couples routinely do. To talk about attraction or feelings for others openly, to talk about fears and jealousy openly, to talk about boundaries and why they are important to you, but then to be open to the possibility that those boundaries aren’t actually healthy but fear based — and to really work through that together as a partnership. It’s too easy to say, “Well, you are my wife/husband/partner so you shouldn’t do X or you shouldn’t want Y.” Meanwhile, human beings aren’t actually wired that way. That doesn’t mean that they can’t have monogamous relationships but to make someone wrong for even being attracted to someone else is not healthy or realistic. And maybe you don’t do that, but most people do. They get upset if their partner looks too long at someone else.
“My partner is still very good friends with his ex, and to me, this is actually a great sign that they are both mature people capable of conducting relationships responsibly. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to meet her this holiday season!” This is actually a great example and I agree that it speaks to maturity but many, many people would find that unacceptable and like putting yourself in a precarious situation to “allow” that friendship. This is what I’m talking about. Many people would find that a reasonable boundary and I don’t think that it actually is. It’s a fear based, insecure and controlling boundary. Why can’t two adults who used to date and fuck be friends?
I’m not purporting that it’s easy to leave a relationship if you really can’t work things out in polyamory, I’m just saying that my sense is that poly relationships are less likely to end around boundaries (if ethics is being adhered to) than they are some other form of incompatibility, whereas many, many monogamy relationships seem to end around infidelity and related boundaries. If you had provisions for taking into account the human desire for variety in an open and honest way, I think more people would have better relationships. Dan Savage doesn’t believe in all out poly with multiple partners on an on-going basis but he and his husband do from time to time see others, with knowledge and consent, as a way to actually foster the strength of their relationship. What a world that would be if more people took that on! But even if you never agreed to get together with other people, to be able to honestly talk about those feelings would be healthy. I’m pretty sure that most non-poly couples aren’t talking about that kind of thing. I certainly didn’t when we were monogamous. Every once in a while we might talk about someone on TV who we had a bit of a crush on, but never a real person in our lives. Now if we see someone we are attracted to, we point them out to each other and that actually strengthens our relationship because we are being more real and authentic. I guess that’s what I’m getting at with all of this. Whatever it is that fosters true authenticity is going to make for a stronger relationship because you don’t have layers of bullshit getting in between you and you can be close in ways that you can’t if you have to hide some part of yourself because it’s unacceptable to be partnered and feel or think that way.