It took a three-person relationship for one woman to realize what she needs—and what we all need—from a life partner.
As told to Lisa Hannam.
I was married to a man, but now I'm in a committed relationship with a man and a woman. It's a polyamorous relationship.
I'm a social worker and work with LGBTQ2S+ communities (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer two spirit and plus). I left my ex-husband two years ago, despite knowing it was going downhill about 10 years ago. We were together for almost 24 years—we got together when we were 16. We grew up together, we learned who we were over the course of our relationship, and we tried having an open marriage.
I was at a crossroad. I thought I could keep going down this path with him and maybe that's all I deserved in life. But, I wasn't happy—so, why should I accept that?
My new relationship is with a married couple who have been together for more than 20 years. We share a room, we share a bed, we share a home and our lives. We exchanged rings to show our commitment to each other.
I've learned a lot about myself transitioning from a heterosexual relationship to a consensual open relationship to my now triad. There are many reasons why it works, and the reasons pertain to any relationship.
The need to be heard
It took me awhile in my first marriage to realize that I needed to be heard. This is what I wanted from my ex-husband in my open marriage. I didn't feel heard. I didn't feel supported.
I learned that I just need someone to hear me. I don't need a partner to solve things for me. I don't always need advice. I also don't need someone to minimize my feelings or say that I'm overreacting. I want empathy. I want to be heard. Sometimes I just need to hear, "Yeah, that sucks" or "I'm sorry that's happening with you." Then I will feel validated and like my feelings matter.
I had actually ended up Dear Johnning my ex. I had tried to leave before and it just wouldn't work. A letter was the only way I could end it without him interrupting me and invalidating what I was feeling.
Now in my new relationships, I'm talking more and I'm being heard. Every relationship has its ebbs and flows, but we're all working on it. It's about having a conversation—not a blow-up.
The need to be who you are
My ex-husband recognized my sexuality—I identified a long time ago as bisexual—and his support was great at first, but over time it felt less about who I was and more about entertainment for him.
At first, the bi label wasn't important to me, but it increasingly became more a part of who I am. I was a bit naïve about it. The more I felt comfortable with my bisexuality, the less interested I was in it being a "fun feature" of our sexuality. I became more aware of it politically and culturally. It was no longer a part of our relationship I wanted to share.
The need for support
I've received the whole gamut of reactions—from genuinely supportive to completely cut off. And it's surprising. My 92-year-old grandma comments and likes our family photos on Facebook, saying "as long as you're happy." My father doesn't understand, but he likes the people I'm in relationships with. He just wants me to be taken care of. I'm still sorting out what my mom thinks and feels about my polyamorous relationship.
I've realized the difference between people being responsive and people being reactive. A number of people have had a reaction to me coming out, whether that's good or bad. It ends up feeling like the reaction is not about support—it's more so a reaction to who they thought I was and having difficulty adjusting their views of me.
Others can be more supportive—some people are just happy I'm happy—while others merely tolerate it. But I don't need everyone to support my relationships.
The need for care
In my new relationship, there was one night when I was working late, and I came home to a homecooked dinner that my partners were waiting to enjoy with me. I cried. It's the small courtesies that mean a lot.
My ex-husband was very affectionate for big events, like anniversaries, but the day-to-day thoughtfulness had gotten lost. But now, when my male partner goes to work early, he leaves me coffee. My female partner sends me really sweet notes and recently just-because flowers at work. It's the care, attention, thoughtfulness and appreciation is what I want in my relationships.
The need for happiness
It's often said that we should avoid coworkers or end friendships with people who bring us down. But in intimate relationships, we feel we have to put up with it. And we don't. It's almost easier for me to say that that's why I left my marriage for this new type of relationship. But I left because I wasn't happy.
My current partners remind me of the two sides of the brain. She embodies creativity and our relationship is cemented there. He is logical, and we see things very similarly. The two sides connect in the best moments with love, respect and communication. I feel cared for. The relationship feels balanced and collaborative.
The need to speak up
Jealousy certainly is an aspect of a poly relationship. There are certainly times when jealousy flares up for us—I'm the third person to this closed triad. They have a history, and they have stories that I'm not a part of.
I now recognize when I'm jealous, I try to be my preferred self and behave in a way that's helpful. I don't want to act like I'm jealous. They still celebrate their wedding anniversary. And we have an anniversary, the three of us. But I also celebrate their relationship by doing special things for them.
Our intention is to be three people. There are four relationships within this situation—the three of us and three pairs of us.
The need to be happy for your partner
In poly relationships, there is a word that's often used, and that's "compersion." It's about experiencing pleasure from your partner's pleasure. It's about being able to enjoy the things you're not a part of because your partner is going to enjoy it. They are getting happiness, pleasure, comfort, satisfaction and fulfillment from it. And this is something that should really be applied to any relationship, from friends to family.