When polyamory is a tool for abuse

When polyamory is a tool for abuse

We’ve all seen or heard examples of monogamy being used as a tool for abuse. From the idea that a spouse is “owed” sex to forcing a partner to stop seeing their friends, the ways monogamy can be used by abusers are well known, if rarely openly acknowledged.

Polyamory can also be a tool for abuse. However, the ways polyamory can become abusive aren’t as well known. That makes it easier for an abuser to get away with their abuse. A few months ago we looked at how abusers can use the saying “there is no one right way to do poly” to defend and obscure their abuse. They can also use it to coerce their partners to do things they don’t want to do. Here’s a blatant example:

“If this is going to work, I need you to have threesomes with me and my other partner.”
“Being poly doesn’t mean I have to have threesomes with you.”
“There’s no one right way to do poly. This is the way I do polyamory. Are you trying to tell me how I am allowed to structure my relationships? Cause that’s just wrong.”

The abuser has now put the responsibility on their partner. In this construction, the abuser’s partner is imposing their beliefs on the abuser by refusing to have threesomes. The scary thing is, this shit works.

What are some other ways polyamory can be used as a tool for abusers?

Coercing someone into a poly relationship—including using the whole “poly is more enlightened” shtick to get someone who isn’t comfortable with polyamory to go along.
Example: Randy isn’t sure he’s comfortable with opening his relationship with Sam. Sam tells Randy that his resistance to polyamory is just because he is still trapped by his upbringing and afraid to confront his emotions. If Randy really loved Sam, he would want Sam to be happy no matter what, and would be willing to enter a polyamorous relationship with Sam—in spite of his unreasonable fears.

Insisting the ends of a V need to be involved because poly means everyone is involved!

Using “own your shit” to push someone into doing something they aren’t comfortable with or don’t want.
Example: “I’m sick of hearing about how you don’t like spending time with my boyfriend. The three of us are having dinner tomorrow. It’s time and past time for you to own your shit. I’m not going to protect you anymore.”

In hierarchical relationships, “I’m your primary/they’re my primary” is a classic for imposing one person’s will on others in the polycule.
Example: Paula tells Robert to cancel his date with Liza. Robert objects, saying that she knew about this date and had agreed to it weeks ago. He had promised Liza this. “I don’t care what you promised Liza, I’m your primary, and I need you here.”

In non-hierarchical relationships, “They/you have no say in our relationship.” When the thing being objected to directly impacts/involves the person saying they have a problem.
Example: Jane is making dinner for herself and her boyfriend Raul when her live-in partner Al and Al’s girlfriend Shona show up. Al and Shona expect Jane to include them in dinner. Jane says that she wasn’t expecting Al and Shone to be in tonight and only cooked for two. Al replies, “You have no say over my relationship with Shona and I’m sick of you trying to tell me when and where I can spend time with her. If I want to invite Shone over for dinner, I’ll invite her over for dinner.” Then Al and Shone sit down at the table waiting to be served.

These are all ways that abusers can use the tropes and ideas polyamory is built on to control and manipulate their partners. Like a monogamous abuser using accusations of infidelity to separate their partner from friends.

There are more ways for abusers to use polyamory as a tool of their abuse. Hopefully, these examples will give you some idea of what to look for. The important thing to remember is that just because something is a basic idea of polyamory or a part of your relationship agreements, doesn’t mean it can’t be used by an abuser as a tool for control.

Please share your experiences with abusers using polyamory in the comments.

This post is part of the Abuse in Polyamory blog series.

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3 responses to “When polyamory is a tool for abuse

  1. Thanks for touching on this topic, a month ago just before Christmas my husband and I met this woman who liked him right away but didn’t mention it to him, went home and began to read his blogs, one mentioned that we were Poly and she apparently took this as an “open for business” sign even though in the blog it said while we identify as poly we haven’t been active in 5 years because we needed to focus on our children who are on the Autism spectrum. She called him to socialize, it happened to be on our date night, she was informed of this but kept him on the phone another hour or so (He has social anxiety so he’s more apt to allow people to go on when meeting them at first), when they were done she invited herself over to watch a movie, we talked about it casually and set a time, I mentioned that I felt she might like him and if so we needed to talk about it because we hadn’t opened our relationship up in years and wanted to be sure we were still on the same page, we agreed even though he didn’t pick up any signs from there conversation that she was interested in hhim. The next day we goto pick her up to watch a movie and he gets to her place and says she needs just a sec, asks him inside and proceeded to kiss him without a word to either of us (I was in the car and didn’t see anything), he stops her and tells her that we all need to talk about this with one another if she’s wanting more than friends and asked if it’s okay for me to come in as well, she agrees, he comes to get me, tells me what happened and then I ask him to clarify how he feels before we go in, thenwe ttalked to her about our being poly, our experiences and our guidelines for dating that we’ve mutually agreed to. She began to be upset saying if we were truly Poly we wouldn’t need rules, when we tried further to explain why we have rules in place (specifically a get to know period before sexual contact) she had a huge problem with this and stated it must mean we are dysfunctional people who are in a broken relationship, she said she was too emotional to continue the conversation and she needs to talk to her therapist, we all agree to take a couple of days to think it over. 4 hours later she calls him saying she has to meet him alone, he and I talk it over, I’m uncomfortable but trust my husband so I agree but ask for a time frame of an hour or two, he agreed and was gone nearly 4 hours, she had called him there essentially for a date night but said she was emotional and needed to warn him that I was a psycho and abusive because I needed rules and she couldn’t be around me unless I agreed to therapy. He tried to reason with her and get her to see from our perspective but she had no interest, instead tried to make out with him and imply that she was too fragile at the moment to be left alone and they should cuddle, he tried to leave as soon as possible but needless to say when he did come home and we talked about it I was upset at how things went, we spent the next day or two sorting out how this affected our relationship and how we felt, we both agreed that it wasn’t working when she took to social media to make mean posts about me and had her friend email me saying people like me shouldn’t be allowed in public unsupervised, I was being bullied and I felt like it was with the intention of pushing me out of my relationship with my husband, he tried stepping in and was repeatedly told that I was abusive and would destroy him eventually, I’d blocked them and had no further contact with them and then my husband decided they seem unstable and ended talking with her or her friend, she became enraged and demanded he make things right by coming to see her or she’d have no choice but to file a restraing order against me, he didn’t reply to her at this point, there was nothing for a week then 4 days before Christmas I got served with a court hearing for a restraing order, I was panicking, I’d never been to court, never been violent, we spent our Christmas trying to prepare for it, find a lawyer in time and went to court in which the judge threw out the case based on insufficient evidence that I meant to do any harm and so now that my kids were affected, my family affected and my marriage took a few hits (we’re doing much better now but it was rocky for a little bit), I’m feeling super gun shy about opening up our relationship again, it will be a while before I can say that I’m feeling like trying to proceed, even if the other people you get involved with are experienced poly folks and more rational than this person seems to be, it takes a lot of work and with children involved it has been a lot of stress. In truth I’m not sure I’m a strong enough person to handle multiple relationships while having to raise autistic children at the same time, I’d love to say otherwise but it’s not been my experience.

    • I’m sorry you had to go through that. It sounds like a horrible experience. I’m glad to hear that your relationship is recovering after all that.

      As far as opening up again, that’s something only you can decide, but in my opinion you need to take care of you, your kids, and your existing relationship first. We like to say that “love is infinite, time is not.” Something else that isn’t infinite is energy. Once you’ve done what you need to for you, your kids, and your marriage, then you can figure out if you have the time and energy for additional relationships. If you don’t, then there is no shame or guilt in needing to be closed for a while. And it in no way says anything about how “strong” you are.

      • Thanks for your encouraging thoughts, I still firmly believe in poly and that it can work when people are willing to work with each other and are compatible with one another, it’s just getting that right person at the right time that works for everyone that is a challenge. 🙂

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