She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
Hi, Erin :)
I have a rather complicated situation.
To be concise, first off, I grew up in an abusive household, where I was shown no example of love or selflessness, just greed and psychological terror. I carried that pattern into my relationships, having one or two abusive ones before I met a guy who actually loved me and treated me right. We were together for almost five years; I'm ashamed to say, for the first two years I was selfish and, at times, actually abusive towards him. He taught me, gradually, how to let go of that sh#t and was the most loving partner towards me. It breaks my heart every single day that I treated him so badly back then.
The story's not over: since we were both abused as kids, we both suffered from a lot of sexual repression, so through the good and the bad, our sex life didn't flourish. Unfortunately, I managed to break this pattern last year in the worst way: I cheated on him.
We've been apart since, but we never stopped loving each other. I, however, have been with other guys since then and discovered I have a much more passionate palate for sex than he does. I really feel that I love him deeply, but I have pretty strong attractions to other guys, and I'm not gonna kid myself, I usually end up loving someone if I get intimate with them. But I really feel this doesn't take away from the worth or the nature of my love for my ex.
I told him about the (possible) polyamory thing, and he said it was a deal breaker for him, which I totally respect. But I can't shake the feeling that our bond is so close it's meant for a lifetime.
Am I polyamorous?
Am I just f*cked up from all the things in my past?
Was I just so sexually repressed that I just need to fulfill this need before I can "settle down" and have a normal relationship?
Thanks for your insights,
A super-confused 31-year-old
It can be hard to let go of relationships that on the surface seem healthy and loving. And from what you’ve said, there was real love there. That said, the relationship was not healthy.
Why? Because you admittedly were treating your partner poorly and he accepted being treated that way for five years.
Whether or not you are polyamorous is not something I can answer. And I’m pretty sure you know that.
It seems to me that your confusion comes in for two reasons. First, you are looking for permission to pursue a polyamorous situation. Second, you are conflating your abusive past with wanting something other than what your relationship was giving you.
Both of these aspects need to be addressed before you move forward in a relationship with anyone.
Let’s look at the polyamory first. It is 100% okay that you want to explore this.
And I don't think we can or should link it to the abuse you experienced as a kid because pursuing polyamory doesn't mean that you are “damaged” or unhealthy.
What is unhealthy is trying to force your square-shaped relationship into a round hole. Your ex has told you that polyamory is off the table for him and, as you mentioned, you have to respect that. That doesn't erase the love you had or will have for him. But, that relationship wasn't healthy or working for either one of you.
Before you get involved with anyone, I do strongly suggest that you look into talk therapy for processing the parts of your past that concern you.
Many of us, myself included, have gone through childhood trauma that shapes and affects our romantic relationships. The sooner you face that stuff and recognize the potentially destructive behavior, the happier you will be.
I speak from personal experience. I spent many years being the the one in the relationship who kept an emotional distance, who cheated, who self-sabotaged. It came from unresolved emotional issues. And, it sounds like that is some of what you’ve been doing.
Again, I want to stress that this is separate from the polyamory issue.
Get some professional help to break the unhealthy patterns and then allow yourself the time and space to explore the possibilities of an open relationship with someone who wants the same things.
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