Ask PolyAnna: What is “Poly Guilt?”

Question: What is poly guilt and how does one deal with it

Answer – This was January’s topic at our local poly meeting. I am sharing it here because I think many of us deal with many of these manifestations of poly guilt. At the meeting we explored three main manifestations of poly guilt which members of the group felt were significant.

1. Guilt about hiding your relationships from monogamous friends and family members. For many of us, whether or not we have identified and lived a polyamorous life our entire lives, this can be very tricky. I have feelings of guilt associated with feeling that I am being less than honest with a few very close friends. On the flip side of that, many of us work in environments where having more than one life partner, romantic partner, lover or non-traditional living arrangement, might not be view favorably by the boss. In these cases issues of guilt might spring up, when the husband/wife by default gets to attend business and work related functions, and the other partner has to sit these events out.

Another case of this is holidays and family events. Many poly people might or might not be out to their families and if they are, perhaps their families have a variety of responses. These dynamics can be another source of guilt. Naturally we love our parents and brothers and sisters and we do not want to cause them pain or concern and yet we know that not being true to ourselves is not the right answer either.

None of these situations comes with an easy solution, since so much is tied to the reactions of others, very real concerns about jobs, and family rejections. Some people choose to live “out and proud” and are living very productive lives as out poly people. Others choose to straddle the monogamous world and the polyamous world. There are many social and legal implications to these choices and none should be taken lightly.

The best course of action is to speak with your partners and make choices that you can all live with at the end of the day.

2. It is gut wrenching when someone you love is disappointed or sad. It is very challenging when that person is sad and perhaps your choices have played a role in that sadness. We called this at the meeting, “You are going out on a date and here I sit” guilt. One of the first people I met, as I entered the poly community said to me, “It is never even Steven, even when you want it to be.” He was right. Sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, someone in the tribe/family/quad/marriage might be home alone. For some people, like me, I sometimes enjoy my alone time. I get very little of it, other times, I do miss not being able to participate. Sometimes it will work to include all partners in social events and outings and sometimes the respective couples need alone time too.

This feeling or situation is especially hard when a partner is experiencing some amazing NRE. They are surrounded by an ethereal cloud of mushy-gushy happiness. If your situation does not mirror that or is diametrically opposed, it can be tough. It is tempting perhaps to make your partner feel guilty.

All of these feelings are very important and can bring partners closer together, if the urge to behave in a passive-aggressive way is resisted. All feelings have merit and value, talk about them. Share them. By all means ask for help, from your partner for sure, but also your friends. Plan a special night with friends, plan to pamper yourself, or take that class you never had time for before.

3. The “if I weren’t poly guilt” and related syndromes. This one can occur when one partner identifies as polyamorous and their partner identifies as monogamous. It can also relate to other family dynamics, specifically children. My observation is that people who engage in responsible non-monogamy successfully, tend to be very self aware. This means they identify as swingers, poly, or some level in between and they have given this identity due diligence and looked deep inside. They are not engaging in cheating, dressed up as consensual non-monogamy. They see being a poly person or a non-monogamous person as a central part of their make up. It may be linked to their bi-sexuality or other needs and desires – sexually, emotionally, spiritually.

From time to time I think about how my choices will affect my children. How will their lives be impacted by our choices? We have deliberately set out to live a responsible, consensual non-monogamous life. Will our choices negatively impact their lives? Will it cause a problem for them in terms of friends and other social outlets?

“Poly Guilt” can also be very pronounced and unmanageable as one first starts to identify as poly or begins to try and balance two or more partnerships. I had a boyfriend, who struggled with feeling like he was taking time from one person and giving it to another and vice versa. This was further complicated by feelings of taking from his kids time, to facilitate his going out. This was a very really and painful struggle for him. Some of the wonderful traits which make us very good partners, lovers and friends also lead us to struggle more with issues of compassion and guilt. Polyamourous people often love with all their hearts.

Guilt can be overwhelming and it is a real stressor in many relationships. It is sometimes the flip of the compassionate coin. Owning your guilt, and talking about it, are the best ways to help resolve the feelings. It can get better, the first steps are getting it out in the open, and knowing that you are not alone in these feelings.

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