I have such a visceral reaction to the phrase “put my other relationship on hold” in the poly discussion groups. It’s usually a phrase uttered when the following scenario applies:
The hinge in a “vee” has developed a solid and happy relationship with one partner that going swell, but everything in their additional relationship is falling apart. Some versions of that sentence would include “….everything in the additional relationship is falling apart because of the other one’s existence.”
I’m trying desperately to stay away from calling either relationship “other” or “first” or “second” because I’m trying like hell not to imbue any of this with implied hierarchy.
My reaction is to the idea that you can put someone you say you love on “hold” because someone else you love is struggling. I don’t care where on your relationship flow chart they live.
The phone company puts me on hold. My partner does not. If you can put your relationship with me ‘on hold’ then we have no relationship. That’s how I roll.
But, I realize that this visceral reaction to this phrase stems from a past experience I had, in one of my early attempts at poly with someone who made a LOT of newbie mistakes that I see playing out again and again in the advice forums.
His relationship with me was solid. The more solid we were, the less stable she was. So when she struggled, he would “dial it back” with me in order for her to get stable again.
She used that. She used it regularly. Every time her jealousy would flare up, she’d have a panic attack or get herself into trouble or blatantly break one of his rules (these were both D/s relationships) and he’d dial it back with me to help her recover.
I’d complain to him and try to reason with him. “It’s like if there’s one kid who always follows the rules and another kid who’s constantly breaking them, so what you do is take away the toy from the good kid and give it to the one throwing the tantrum in order to shut them up.”
“It’s that saying that the squeaky wheel always gets the grease, but if you don’t pay attention to your other wheel you’re going to end up with a flat tire.”
He’d say he understood and things would change, but then he’d keep doing it. He’d keep rewarding her tantrums by denying me. When she felt like she’d “won” then she was fine again.
Guess what I did?
I started having panic attacks. I mean, it worked for her. Why wouldn’t it work for me? But, it backfired. I hadn’t set a precedent for having panic attacks, so when I had them I was told I was “faking” it, and to pull it together.
I wasn’t faking it. I was trying to control something I couldn’t control that I SHOULD have had some control over. The protocols and boundaries of my relationship should have been something he and I discussed and agreed upon together. Our boundaries and protocols should have been the foundation of stability upon which our unique relationship could be built independently of any other relationships he was building with anybody else.
But he kept allowing someone else to pound cracks into our foundation.
And, here’s the fun part… Usually, it’s the “primary” or the “first, and more established” partner that thinks they have a say in how their partner conducts their other affairs. In my case? I was the first one there. She came in three months after me, and it only took three months for her to completely destroy us by shedding the light how little control and integrity he really had.
So now, when I hear people wanting to put one relationship “on hold” I want to tell their seemingly dispensable partner, “RUN. RUN FAR AWAY.”
As the late Patrick Swayze declared, “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.”