Category Archives: Guest Posts

Guest Post: How Separate Bank Accounts Helped Make Our Open Marriage Work

When my wife Jane and I got married, two years after we met, we chose to combine all of our money together. This worked for us because we were (relatively) young, we had no previous marriages or kids or significant assets, and we knew we wanted to entwine our lives in a way that would emphasize joint-decision making about the big questions in life. And almost all big questions ultimately involve financial decisions at some point.

Over time, we realized that we each wanted more financial freedom. Our one-account-fits-all plan required us to authorize every purchase with the other person. We were never quite sure when it was “OK” to spend money on ourselves – and how much money was OK to spend. Neither of us wanted to police the other’s expenditures. At the same time, we were just starting a family and had recently moved into a new house, and we were operating on a tight budget. We knew that joint decision making around money would be essential to making sure our lives worked.

Our solution was to create separate small bank accounts for each of us, into which a fixed allowance was directly deposited each month. These were our non-accountability accounts. They allowed us to spend money on whatever we wished, no matter how impetuous or frivolous, without having to answer to the other person. I used mine to buy a weekend trip with friends; Jane used hers to join a martial arts gym.

We settled on a monthly transfer that equaled about 5% of our take-home pay for each of us – enough to have a little fun, but not so much as to jeopardize our family’s finances. Our accounts provided a concrete figure about what was reasonable to spend personally. Dipping into the main account was forbidden; that was for family business. We could spend everything we had in our own accounts, but if they ran out of money, there would be no more nights out with friends or Vegas benders until we saved up.

What Happened When We Opened Our Marriage

Seven years into our marriage, we opened our relationship and began seeing other people. Our financial system hadn’t been designed with polyamory in mind, but it fit perfectly into our new adventure. I was the first to draw on my account, using it to splurge on a fancy hotel room with a new lover. Jane used hers to take a boyfriend out to dinner. All the while, our financial life together remained well protected even as we made small splurges on other partners.

Our system had another benefit: it meant that the gifts we gave to each other were more meaningful, because they were coming from us personally rather than from an abstract family bank account. When I took Jane out on a date, I was drawing from a limited supply of money I could have chosen to spend on something else.

We still use our financial system, and it’s an important part of the foundation for our open marriage. Even though we designed it while we were still monogamous, it incorporated the same values that drew us to polyamory. It provided a shared understanding with clear rules, but also gave us each freedom to create our own “space” within our shared life together. And to us, that’s what poly is all about.

About Zev Stone

Zev StoneZev Stone is a writer and researcher and the founder of OpenMarriageProject.com. His writing has been read aloud on NPR’s “This I Believe” and published in the Denver Post and other academic and popular publications. He loves hiking, running, uncomfortable travel experiences, and raising his two adorable daughters with his wife, Jane. He holds a Ph.D. in social science research methods from the University of Colorado, Boulder.

This guest post is part of the Polyamory Finances blog series.

Living with an Abusive Metamour (Guest Post by Liz Gentry)

This week Liz Gentry of Learning Many Loves has chosen to share her experiences of living with a mentally ill and abusive metamour. Many thanks to Liz for opening up about this difficult experience.

Don’t forget to stop back next week, when we’ll be taking a close look at the intersection of abuse and mental illness.

First, a little background: I met my partner Jon a couple of years ago. Jon was dating another woman, Lora for about nine months before Jon and I started dating. A few months into Jon and I dating, Lora moved in with Jon. After dating Jon for a bit over a year, the three of us moved in together. We lived together for about fourteen months before Jon broke up with Lora. His reason for breaking up with her was (as he has told me) the abusive cycle that their relationship followed.

In writing about a day in the life of my experience living with someone who is verbally abusive and emotionally, the first thing I need to say is that what I expect from the day varies greatly with where we are in the cycle. The beginning of the cycle has no abuse. Lora and Jon would get along fine. Then small instances of verbal abuse and control would begin to creep in. Those instances would escalate over a several month period. Then there would be a huge screaming fight where Lora was repeatedly verbally and abusive towards Jon. The week after the fight, there’s a period of constant low-level fighting with a lot of controlling behavior and attempts to impose control through badgering, gaslighting, black and white thinking, and threats. Eventually, a resolution was reached, and there would be a honeymoon period again, with no abuse for some days to a few weeks before slowly beginning to escalate again.

The hardest thing for me (being a metamour living in and observing this abusive dynamic) was watching someone I love be abused, ridiculed, mocked, screamed at, and badgered. I am definitely someone who would rather be hurt myself than see someone I love being hurt. For all that experiencing this second-hand hurt, as I was not the one being abused, there was a deep sense of powerlessness about this. I couldn’t control my partner’s boundaries about what behavior he would accept. But I did need to figure out where it was appropriate for me to draw my boundaries, without becoming controlling or coercive myself. Although I viewed Lora’s behavior as abusive, Jon didn’t always agree at that time (later, he painfully came to the conclusion on his own that her behavior was really abusive many of the times when he said that it wasn’t). This put me in a very uncomfortable spot – if he doesn’t believe the behavior is abusive, is pushing him to understand that it is gaslighting? Even if I’m doing it out of pure concern (we could say “for his own good”), do I have a right to push until he agrees with me?

I think the answer to that is no. Even if I’m doing it out of concern, forcing Jon to agree with me about Lora abusing him is still forcing Jon to do something, and that is abusive. He had to come to his own conclusions, and live his life accordingly.

But trying to let him live his life, and live with him and his abusive partner was incredibly hard. It was scary. It was enormously stressful. When Lora was gaslighting Jon, I doubted my own ability to evaluate situations for harm. I repeatedly went to my friends and asked “Is this normal? Is this healthy? Jon doesn’t seem too upset about it, so maybe I’m just causing problems by being upset by it. Maybe I’m not really poly. Maybe this is a way that jealousy is manifesting itself and I’m really just trying to get rid of Lora so that I can have Jon all to myself. What is wrong with me?”

Admitting to myself that Lora behaved abusively took a long time, because I didn’t want to have an abusive metamour. I didn’t want to believe that my partner was willingly being in a relationship with someone who was abusive. Complicating matters were Lora’s diagnosed mental illnesses of PTSD and anxiety disorder. Was a behavior really abusive if it was fueled by those mental illnesses? Having gone through several hard times with depression myself, not cutting Lora slack with her mental illnesses felt hypocritical, shitty, and like I was being a bad metamour and a bad person.

Inside myself, there was a cycle of anger, fear, guilt and doubt. Anger at the way Lora treated Jon. Fear at seeing how it impacted him and wore him down over months. Guilt for not cutting Lora some slack and being more understanding, given her mental illnesses. Doubt that I was really poly, doubt that I was overblowing things, as I seemed to be the most concerned of the three of us, when it came to Lora’s behavior and the impact it had on Jon. But then, that doubt would give way to anger the next time I heard Lora and Jon fighting and she told him that he was as abusive towards her as her drug addicted ex had been.

Lora’s ex used to do things like “punish” Lora by having unprotected sex with other women, and then telling Lora that he’d done so while he and Lora were having sex the next day. Knowing this about Lora was painful and evoked a lot of sorrow in me for what she went through, while simultaneously enraging me that she would compare our loving, supportive partner to such a dirtbag. Who wouldn’t get angry at that and think to him/herself “No matter what is going on with me, it is WRONG to say that to a loving partner in a fit of anger”?

Living with Lora was also hard because I didn’t know how to treat her. She seemed to like me. She claimed to want to have a closer relationship with me. She wanted us to be close friends. In theory, I wanted that too, but seeing how she treated Jon…did I really want to get closer to Lora? And as time went on, she slowly began to treating me in ways that concerned me deeply.. She didn’t hear that I said to her, and attributed behaviors to me that I’d never do, but she would. For example, one day, I was getting home from work as she was leaving to go to the store. She said to me “Jon is a little sick, and he’s sleeping. I wanted you to know so that you don’t get angry with him that he doesn’t come and greet you as soon as you get in”.I have never been angry at a partner for not coming up and greeting me as soon as I got home. But a long-standing fight between Jon and Lora was that if Jon didn’t drop whatever he was doing and greet Lora when she came home, it was a sign that he didn’t really love her. Because Lora felt that Jon should always be excited when she gets home, and eager to greet her immediately, if he really loves her.

There’s a lot in that paragraph, that describes the level of control and expectation of behavior that Lora had towards Jon. It’s also a good example of the kind of difficult situation I was in. We all have our quirks and vulnerabilities. Was Lora feeling strongly about Jon greeting her as soon as she gets home just a little quirk? If Jon agreed to do this, then did it mean it wasn’t controlling? Did I have any right to judge or have an opinion about these things?

I didn’t know the answers to those questions. I did know that if getting closer to Lora meant that she would expect the same of me, then I didn’t want to get closer to Lora. I’ve never expected such a thing from a partner, and I didn’t want to be close to someone who would have that kind of expectation of me.

Because of the number of things that Lora could take offense to, coming home slowly become stressful and unpleasant. I never knew what small thing would send Lora into an enraged tailspin. I never knew when a quiet night would turn into a stressful night, as Lora found fault with something that Jon said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do. There were many instances where it seemed like Jon couldn’t win. When he wasn’t being berated for saying something Lora didn’t like, he was being berated for not talking to her enough.

While these fights fueled by Lora’s insecurity and masked as problems with Jon’s behavior raged on, I would think to myself “What does he see in this relationship? Do I have the right to judge it? What do I do about this? Can I do anything?”

This is a glimpse of what it was like, living with an abusive metamour. The self doubts, the anger, the hatred, the fear…it was all terrible. It took a toll on my health, my sleep, my ability to function at work, my ability to trust myself. I restarted therapy to work through these problems.

I’ve become passionate about having a dialogue and creating some form of action plan for other metamours who find themselves realizing that their hinge partner is being abused by another partner. I believe it’s very important to address controlling and coercive behaviors as soon as they begin and to push back against them immediately. I think that – had we all been willing to open our eyes and admit that Lora’s behavior was abusive earlier – it’s possible that our relationships could have been salvaged. By denying the reality of her abusive behavior for so long, I hit a point of no return, where I cannot have anything to do with her. Likewise, Jon (who is still in contact with Lora) isn’t certain if he’s able to have her in his life in any capacity. He’s trying to figure that out, but he’s said that it would have been easier to stay a part of her life had the abuse not escalated to the degree it reached while they were together.

The abuse of one partner by another will reverberate into the relationships with all other partners. I think we owe it to ourselves, as people committed to multiple loving relationships, to figure out different ways to handle this kind of situation. We need to work through finding the tools to do what we can to combat abuse, while respecting the agency and humanity of all those involved. Doing so would reap enormous benefits not just for the poly community, but potentially for our other friends and family members who may be dealing with abuse.

Liz Gentry is a pragmatist disguised as an optimist. In addition to her day job as a corporate desk-jockey, she specializes in hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. Though of a poly-friendly mindset all her life, she didn’t start living polyamorously until about five years ago. She chronicles her polyamorous journey at https://learningmanyloves.wordpress.com/.

This post is part of the Abuse in Polyamory blog series. It is related to Polyamory and Mental Illness.

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Polyamory and Child Custody (Guest Post by Gracie X)

Six years ago when my husband and new boyfriend all decided to cohabitate under the same roof– I felt pretty smug. I had created a situation where I got to have my husband of 20 years and a new lover as well. We converted our single-family home into a duplex. My husband and his new girlfriend moved into one side of the house, while I lived on the other side with my new man, Oz. Our children had their bedrooms under >But not everyone was thrilled for us. When Oz, told his ex-wife he was giving up his apartment permanently to move in with me, she slapped him with a custody suit. She was determined that their two children would never live in my home. She accused us of all kinds of perversities and insisted the household was unsafe for their children. During the hearings, we were basically investigated for being polyamorous. Thus began my painful education into the fears and bigotry surrounding my alternative chosen family.

It was a baptism of fire. We were evaluated by the courts for over year then suddenly the kids were allowed to move in– almost on a fluke. I wrote about this “best of times & worst of times” in my memoir “Wide Open”.

But even after Oz’s children moved in, we all felt vulnerable. Until there are laws that protect polyamorous people, swingers and those with any openness in their marriage—we are unprotected from people who would use our sexuality to attack us.

Here are three things that I would advise you do if you are confronted with child custody issues:

1) Shift the Focus off Your Sexuality

There are lousy polyamorous parents and lousy monogamous parents, there are also fantastic polyamorous parents and fantastic monogamous parents. Your sexuality does not determine your effectiveness and goodness as a parent. One mistake we made was trying to justify and explain our lifestyle to the courts. In hindsight this further put our sexuality on display. Better to do just the opposite. Focus on your excellent parenting skills. This is assuming you are a good parent. If you aren’t—you’re in trouble. Because similar to other bigotry– you will have to be a better parent than the average monogamous parent.

Your sexual habits will be under scrutiny. But my advice is to respond to attacks and queries in the reverse context. Describe how your bedroom has a lock on it and is on a separate floor. Subtext: Of course we do not have sex in front of our children! Describe your community, your village which supports your excellent parenting. Subtext: We do not have orgies in the living room while the kids play with Legos—we are a kid-orientated responsible family. Get letters of recommendation from teachers’, friends, co-workers, anyone who has witnessed your parenting and can accurately describe your parental strengths.

2. Hire a Good Lawyer.

But don’t stop there– educate your lawyer. Utilize local LGBT organizations for legal strategy. Gay rights activist groups have already dealt with the kind of situations and bigotry that you may be confronted with in court. You will likely need to work with your lawyer on a game plan. Don’t turn your case over to your lawyer without thoroughly discussing how they will represent and fight for you. Don’t hire a lawyer just because they’re polyamorous. This is a mistake. Hire a very sharp, aggressive lawyer with a proven track record in custody cases. Someone who pays attention, is open to collaborating on methods/strategy, understands your situation and will advocate for you with clarity and intelligence.

3. Take Really Good Care of Yourself.

When I look back at this time it was one of the most stressful of my life. I was on edge for the entire two years that we were embroiled with the courts and their appointed evaluator. Reach out to your support network, find ways to calm yourself down and deal with your stress. It’s extremely challenging to deal with the courts and even more so with the potential of losing your children– my heart goes out to anyone going through it.

You can e-mail Gracie X at GracieX.com.

 

This post is part of the Raising Children in Polyamorous Families blog series

Gracie X

Gracie X
Gracie X is a Writer, Director, and Actress. She is the author of “Wide Open: My Adventures in Polyamory, Open Marriage and Loving On My Own Terms” now available wherever books are sold.

She started a relationship odyssey nearly a decade ago that inspired her to create an unconventional polyamorous chosen family. For the past several years the idea that people can authentically construct their relationships, marriages, and families while meeting the needs of everyone involved– has cracked her wide open. She can’t stop writing, talking, or thinking about it. Her main message is do it your own way. “There is so much more spaciousness in our relationships to get our needs met—and there’s not one correct way to do it. There are a spectrum of options from monogamy to polyamory and all the nuances in between.” She encourages people to create a unique ‘relationship mission statement’ and set up their marriages, poly relationships and families in the way that works best for them.

She has been a principal on “Nash Bridges”, and numerous local TV and commercials. Her short film which she directed and co-stars premiered in the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It has played at “The Outfest” in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Germany, Seattle, Orlando, and on San Jose’s Public TV channel KTEH. Her plays have been produced by ‘Brava! For Women in the Arts”, The Climate Theater, Solo Mio, The Chi Chi Club, The Fringe Festival, The Marsh and Josie’s Juice Joint. Gracie X has toured throughout San Francisco, Vancouver and Los Angeles. A graduate of Bard College, she has worked with Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver at the WOW Cafe in New York City.

Polyamory and Mental Illness – The Wrong Diagnosis (Guest Post by Michón Neal)

Receiving the proper diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death, acceptance and ostracism, understanding and confusion. The right treatment can be an important part of functioning well, forming and maintaining relationships, and finding peace with your limits. However, when you’re a queer and poly female-bodied person of color the lines start to blur between experience and illness.

What do I mean? Well, I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression at a young age. Black women are much more likely to be misdiagnosed. We are also more likely to have our sexual history interpreted differently, through the lens of mental illness rather than through sexual agency. So the doctors took one look at my sexual history, my mood swings, and my suicidal tendencies and decided that I was bipolar. It didn’t matter that I was suffering from PTSD due to my history of sexual and physical abuse. It didn’t matter that the reason I’d come in for help was because I only felt insane when I was having my menstrual cycle. My large sex drive was seen as an aberration, as dysfunctional instead of simply being part of who I was.

I could have died from being treated for conditions I didn’t have. I’d been treated with medications for depression and bipolar disorder. These medications wrecked my body and only ended up making things worse because the underlying problems actually turned out to be physical and not mental. There’s very little education about the overlap between physical disabilities and mental disorders. Many of the physiological effects can be similar or overlapping. And for black women in the US, it is much more likely that our physical symptoms will be ignored in favor of mental ones. It is often so easy to simply believe that we are crazy rather than ill.

For physical illnesses it is also incredibly difficult to find treatments for the mental effects. Doctors tend to focus only on the physical aspects and you’re pretty much on your own mentally. Which of course means that you’re still experiencing chronic condition-related mental illness yet cannot always take the same medications as someone who developed it in other ways. And if you’re of a different race and sex they are also less willing to try alternative treatments, often going for the extremes. Many black people forgo treatment for mental and physical illnesses due to poverty, lack of access to quality care, and because they aren’t receiving the correct care. Sometimes the healthiest choice they can make is to self-manage and self-treat, at least until they can afford better.

In the polyamorous community there are plenty of people who say they absolutely will not date anyone with a mental disorder. Or they stress not dating anyone who’s unmedicated, regardless of the cause, history, or severity of their mental illness. Even simply not dating outside of one’s race is one of the hidden biases of the community. And when you have physical illnesses and a traumatic past that can actually lead to mental disorders like anxiety and depression then it becomes even murkier. When you take birth control that can actually cause anxiety, things really get fun! Imagine trying to explain to potential lovers that you were diagnosed with bipolar, but wait, no, it’s really PCOS and endometriosis and fibromyalgia, oh, and did I mention that I have depression and anxiety caused by PTSD and my illnesses but I’m still totally fine?

For many people it’s hard enough to try to understand mental illness alone. And most never hear about disabilities beyond the obvious physical ones. And very few understand how health interacts and intersects with race, class, sex, and sexuality. While poly people like to think they know a lot about emotional health they do tend to disguise their preferences for healthy, drama-free people as not being ableist, racist, or offensive. It’s rather tempting for poly people to make very clear and exclusive lists of the types of people they’re looking for, regardless of circumstances. And getting left out is simply par for the course for those of us who have mental and physical illnesses on top of being from other races. While everyone has a right to ask for exactly what they want it also behooves them to examine the source of those preferences. There might be more to the story that they’re not seeing. In short, they might be misdiagnosing a hell of a lot of people.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Mental Illness blog series.

About Michón

Michon NealMichón Neal writes a mix of scifi, fantasy, erotica, and autobiography called cuil fiction about unique people in unique circumstances. Ze is currently working on The Cuil Effect Project, a ridiculously long tale about healing, absurdity, and all the different ways people interact. Zir books are available on Kindle, Smashwords, Scribd, Kobo, and more. You can find more details, sneak peaks, links, and absurdity on zir blog, Shadow in the Mirror.

Polyamory and Children Guest Blog: Marmoset, Metamour and Ice Cream

A few months ago, The Poly Man Whore put up a blog post about the night he and his daughter (the Marmoset) met his wife’s boyfriend (Mister Alvin). He’s been good enough to let me share some of his post, for an inside look on  how one poly family handles the first meet between kids and metamours.

My daughter, The Maromset, just met my wife’s boyfriend, Alvin. She shared the story at circle time at school. She saw Miss Jeanette all the time, but it was the first time that she met Mister Alvin. Even to a five year old, that is a Big Deal. The grown-up version of the double date was just as entertaining, so now is the time for me to share during circle time.

Mrs. Manwhore went over to Mister Alvin’s house, and then the two of them drove to Allyoucaneat-iban Sushi. Miss Jeanette came over to my house, so we met them there. Marmoset and her now-adult brother stayed home, with the promise of going to Tastee-Tastee Yogurt after dinner.

I’ve chatted with Alvin before when my wife and he would Facetime or Skype or talk on the speakerphone and I knew he was a decent enough guy, clearly caring deeply for Mrs. Manwhore, good sense of humor… Still, I got the feeling he was very willing to not like me at all. He is very new to the whole poly thing and I am sure he was concerned with how I would react to meeting the “man who is having sex with my wife.”

We walked into Allyoucaneat-iban and finally, he and I met. He had a good handshake and a nice smile. The Mrs. was very obviously nerve-wracked. The two of them sat across from Jeanette and me. The stress seemed to melt away pretty quickly, to me, anyway. My wife later told me that she was sweaty and stomach-clenchy all night long, but I thought it went really well…

After dinner, Jeanette and I went home to collect the Marmoset and had to Tastee-Tastee Yogurt. She was squeaking with excitement on our way over there, and when we got out of the car she went straight up to him and said, “Hi, Mister Alvin! I’m Marmoset!” She put her hand out, gave him a real handshake, and then went skipping off to the door of the yogurt store. I could not possibly be prouder of her.

Meanwhile, I took my wife aside and we had a little pep talk check-in moment. She was still very nervous. Hug, kiss, high-five, off we go! Inside for yogurt. Naturally, Marmoset’s concoction was of a singular magnitude, containing bits of stardust and faerie wings and cookie dough. We did some more talking, but mostly let the Marmoset steal the show. She and Mister Alvin played hide and seek in the yogurt store. Mister Alvin brought her a book from her favorite series and we read it. She did some dancing, she did some singing, she looked at the baby at the table behind us… Again, a really nice time.

The Poly Man Whore balances his family and several partners and is openly out as polyamorous in all areas of his life. He is not finding it at all difficult to date as a poly man and has a unique perspective that contributes to his poly success and offers up his distinct blend of bullshit free wisdom and advice to poly folk everywhere. He specializes in helping despairing and dateless poly men learn to stop their whining and start having relationships.

(Originally posted May 2012)