Help! Should Our Power Exchange Couple Date As A Couple?

In Advice Column, Epic Relationships by Louisa Leontiades

Dear Louloria,

My husband is very poly and has no jealousy issues. I am situationally poly, in that it is not an absolute necessity to me. My questions arises in that we are a power exchange couple. My husband has another woman in his life that is his submissive. They are not sexually involved. I started out in a friendship with her prior to their dynamic and then it fell apart. She has multiple mental health issues and often resorts to ‘little’ behavior.

It’s very frustrating to have a potential poly love forming between them and I stress that she will become a permanent part of our lives. Ideally I would like to have poly relationships that are healthy where we are at least friends. We have decided to date in the future as a couple to perhaps alleviate problems. Can you provide any insight or advice on this?

Ms. Power Exchange Poly

Dear Ms PEP,

Yours is a complicated dynamic to untangle, but I’ll do my best. I see your question in two parts – firstly the interaction of you (a sub), your partner (a dom) and your metamour (a sub). And secondly the query about dating as a couple.

There’s a theory ((The Familiarity Attraction Principle)) that we are attracted by people because there is some facet or pattern that we identify as familiar and which makes us feel secure. For example, you could imagine that you feel secure because a partner exhibits a behaviour pattern similar to a parental figure. This means that you feel less stressed, and your body relaxes as your adrenalin levels fall. This relaxed, happy feeling, you might attribute to a set of circumstances or to a person – to which/whom you become attached.

You can see that people therefore seek out experiences and people who generate a certain physiological response in us (we are after all, a walking bunch of hormones ((The Chemicals That Make You Happy))). Your partner has sought to create a bond with the woman you mention and I’m going to take your words at face value – after all – I cannot verify multiple mental health issues or ‘little behaviour’. For some reason, the dynamic they create together makes him happy – whether you understand why or not. It’s difficult to ascertain if your unhappiness at this relationship adds to his happiness – e.g. as a concrete assertion of his dominance – I will leave up to you to evaluate, because this has the potential to be abusive rather than an exploration into power exchange.

In my experience, unless the person with mental issues is able to assume the emotional risk of their own mental health, they will often seek to find someone on whom to shift it – or to rescue them – which means they start operating within the drama triangle. In your situation, I believe that you are in danger of taking the position of ‘persecutor’, where your partner is the ‘rescuer’ and his submissive is the ‘victim’. Whilst operating in the drama triangle occurs often in every type of relationship, it can lead to horrible cycles of destructive behaviour, especially if you are in a D/s power exchange relationship, where you have consented in certain circumstances to give up control of your life.

I want to be absolutely clear, that even though you are in a power exchange relationship, this does not mean you have to give up control of your life all the time. In a healthy D/s dynamic, you have the option of stopping the play at any given moment.

And it sounds like his involvement with this woman makes you feel unsafe. However, even if you remove this element from your power exchange, I do not advise vetoing his relationship with her. You are not one person, you are two separate people. The fact that you are feeling bad, does not give you the right to dictate whether she is part of his life, only whether she is a part of your life. I can see that as you are in a P/E relationship, you may have difficulty distinguishing yourself from one another as your established D/s dynamic makes it seem as if you are two parts of one identity. You aren’t.

Questions you should be asking yourself are –

  • Do I feel like I have a choice to stop the play (is it a consensual relationship)?
  • Are my frustrated feelings about my metamour a form of disguised jealousy (am I afraid of being replaced)?
  • If yes, can I resolve them by working on my self esteem, or are we simply incompatible ((How To Manage Deeply Incompatible Metamour Relationships))?
  • If not, what is it about her that triggers me?

Take this latter as an opportunity to work on unresolved issues from your past – if possible – and see if you can’t develop some healthy coping mechanisms.

On whether you should date as a couple… well, I’m pretty much against it in general unless it’s purely for sexual purposes and everyone is aware of the dynamic. Why? Because it infers a ‘conditional’ love which defines that your (mutual) partner needs to be attracted to both of you/spend the same amount of time with you both, doesn’t let each of you develop the relationship according to its own pace and prioritises the couple’s needs above those of your partner.  There’s a huge amount written about this dynamic under what is commonly known as ‘unicorn hunting'((Unicorns-R-Us)). I’m not saying that it can’t be done, I’m saying go into it carefully and without conditions which will pigeonhole your prospective partner into someone he or she isn’t before they even arrive on the scene.

What you’re seeking to resolve out of this idea is what Kimchi Cuddles refers to as Kitchen Table Poly ((Kitchen Table Poly)).  I love this idea, but you cannot contrive this situation and believe in egalitarian polyamory at the same time, as to do so is to remove the agency of the individuals in limiting their behaviour to particular patterns as a prerequisite. It does of course occur when all parties have the same goal and an ability to be open about the issues which arise in all relationships. But to go into relationships with the demand that it must be one form or another, is to be attached to the form a relationship will take in advance and will institutionalise inequality (known as couple privilege). As opposed to strengthening your relationship as you hope to do, I have found that more often than not, it weakens it and leaves it inflexible to inevitable change.

So what are your options? Communicate your fears to your partner, but understand that what works for him is not necessarily going to be beneficial for you. You will need to work on making sure that your power exchange couple is a consensual arrangement which means you feel free at any time to say, ‘this is not ok for me’… and be able to limit your power exchange to situations where you do completely trust him to act in your best interests. Lastly, dating as a couple to find a perfect match for both of you is fraught with complication and privilege. Read up on it before embarking on the journey.

Good luck,

Louloria

PS. I’ve included a whole host of references for you to read – please scroll down to the end of the post.