I have been a secondary partner in my poly relationship. Recently my boyfriend and his girlfriend have been having a lot of relationship issues. The rift between them has caused a shift in our dynamic.
We all live together, and even our sleeping arrangements have even changed. My boyfriend and I, I feel, have become the primary relationship, and theirs is crashing and burning. I love my metamour, and want to see them happy… Is there anything I can do, or should I just let nature take its course and focus on my relationship?
Dear Ms. RockAndAHardPlace,
The information you have given me is scant, and my interpretation necessarily coloured by my own history. I’ve been in this situation, you see, but in a cross-quad where both original couples became ‘secondary’ couples; thus I’ve been the ‘other’ woman (your position) and the ‘original’ woman (your metamour’s position). So from those perspectives, here are some things to consider. Firstly, and most obviously, the drama triangle.
The drama triangle consists of three positions: victim-persecutor-rescuer. We take up these positions as a matter of course in our adult relationships, because this was the nature of our formative relationships and a legitimate survival strategy. It serves our needs as children to ‘act’ as the victim because a crying child gets attention. A happy child, less so.
The crying child is ‘rescued’ by their parents. Or indeed as they grow older, accuses the parents of ‘being mean’ thereby positioning them as ‘persecutors’. We mimic this pattern with every relationship we develop, as does everyone else. So as children, friends will invariably be someone we rescue or who rescue us, bullies are those who persecute us unless we become a bully ourselves, and we will make friends with other victims, rescuers, and persecutors and usually form ‘gangs’. The in-crowd, the geeks, the rebels etc.
Because the drama triangle is so prevalent, it is our state of ‘normal’ and we often don’t recognise that it represents past survival strategies which–as adults–we no longer need, and worse do not serve us well anymore.
You have a position in the triad where it will be easier to fall into the position of ‘rescuer’ or ‘persecutor’. If you listen to your boyfriend when he speaks about troubles with the metamour and comfort him, you are likely to be acting as the rescuer. If your metamour detects what is happening, she is likely to position you as the ‘persecutor’ as she will perceive you are ‘siding’ against her (yes, you can be in multiple positions at once).
I must warn you therefore against being his (or her) confidante for their relationship issues. Not only will it drive a wedge between you and your metamour but in the long run, it will not be healthy for your relationship with your boyfriend. When a person rescues someone else, it has a tendency to turn into a parent-child dynamic since this is the most familiar pattern (and if this happens, it is likely that the romantic part of your relationship will deteriorate unless of course, you both get off on that). Your boyfriend and his girlfriend can choose to find others to confide in. Therapists, if they can afford them, if not, other more objective friends. My advice is to tell them both of your decision, ideally together at the same time. Don’t let them put you in the drama triangle and try your best to avoid putting yourself there.
Next, I want you to look at what you have contributed to this dynamic. All three of you are in this relationship, and therefore necessarily have created the current dynamic. This is not an attempt to ‘blame’ you or them, as I do not believe in blame or fault [please read this post for clarification around responsibility vs. fault]. In what way might you have facilitated the dynamic? What role do you play? What does this tell you about yourself? For example, if you have played the ‘rescuer’, why? What pattern in your past made you choose this strategy (probably unconsciously)? What elements of being ‘secondary’ appeal to you? Why? How would they change if your relationship was to be acknowledged as ‘primary’? Is it really what you want? If so, why? If not, why not? Be scrupulously honest with yourself. Do not judge your actions. Simply observe your past and present behaviour. What does it tell you?
Lastly (although I’m sure we could talk for hours), be conscious of potential objectification. It sounds likely that your boyfriend turns to you to get his needs met over his other girlfriend. Whatever problems they are having, one of the likely root causes is her insecurity as he turns towards you. Transferring ‘needs fulfilment’ from one person to another is objectifying. I’d like to direct you to Franklin Veaux’s article for some background on this. Briefly –
The need-based argument for poly (“one person can’t really meet all my needs, so I have more than one!”) is a direct statement of the notion that partners are need-fulfilment machines. It assumes as a subtext that getting someone to meet your needs for you is the entire purpose of a romantic relationship, and if one romantic relationship isn’t enough, you turn to more than one.
Whilst most obviously, self-esteem work will help your metamour deal with her insecurity, if he is acting this way, your boyfriend might also choose to work on his self-esteem so that the purpose of his relationships becomes less about finding someone (an object) to get his needs met, whilst you might also choose to work on your self-esteem so that you do not act as an object to fulfil his needs.
But (big but). Whilst you can bring this idea to the table, you cannot do the work for them or rewrite their experience if they do not agree with you. You can only work on yourself. Trying to ‘make’ them do the work, is an attempt to undermine their agency which in itself leads to objectification.
In answer then to your question, “…should I just let nature take its course and focus on my relationship?” Where relationships are concerned, I believe that nature does not ‘just take its course’. There are reasons behind what we do. My advice is to find them.
PPS. If you need to talk, I do free relationship chat every Thursday.