Relationship Space

Every so often I come across a discussion about designating something (Usually a bed, sometimes a restaurant or other outing) as being only for a primary couple. The idea is the primary couple needs something special and just for them, which is off limits to any secondaries (these discussions almost always involve hierarchical poly). These discussions can get heated. Some people chime in to support the right of the primary relationship to protect itself and its space. Others defend the secondary relationship and saying the couple’s bed makes OSOs second-class citizens in their own relationships.

When I was growing up, my mother had a room she set aside as an office. No one went into her office without first knocking on the door and getting permission. Even my dad, who ran the house in every other way, didn’t go in unless he needed to.

After I moved out of my parents house, I always had ‘my’ chair. Usually a comfy chair I could sit in for hours at a time, relaxing, reading, or napping. More than once, when I was sick or in my third trimester, I slept in my designated chair. It wasn’t discussed, but my partners, friends and roommates understood that the chair (whichever chair it was at the time) was my space, and they respected it.

My current partner’s space is his computer and desk. I can rearrange our whole home, paint the walls, tear up the floors, change everything and anything, and he won’t care. Touch his desk? Don’t. Ever. Touch. the Desk. I may (rarely) ask permission to use his computer if I need something I can’t do on mine, but his computer is his space. I respect that.

People need space. Whether literal space (their own room, chair or desk,) or metaphorical space (not being disturbed while they watch their favorite show, having a spa day once a month, whatever it is extroverts do to take care of themselves), everyone needs some bit of personal space.  In a healthy relationship, people respect that need for space and don’t intrude.

Relationships need space too. This is, I think, where the ‘couples bed’ idea comes from. The need and desire to set something aside for a relationship can be as normal and healthy as claiming a corner of your home as your personal space.

Some relationships don’t an official relationship space. My partner and I share so many things, from medical insanity to video games, we’ve never felt the need for a set space for our relationship. We need space away from each other more than we need space together!

On the other hand, my first triad needed couple spaces. I was so intent on our doing everything together, I didn’t realize the relationships between us as individuals were being neglected. If we had designated “Mondays w/ partner A, Wednesdays w/ partner B, Fridays they have guys night and Saturday is family day for all of us to spend together” our relationships would have been much healthier.

As you might have figured out by now, in theory I support a couple or relationship saying they need a specific space to be just for them. However, most discussions I’ve seen about ‘couple beds’ and other relationship spaces have problems. They are less about establishing personal space for the relationship in question, and more about excluding other relationships. Relationship space can be healthy–but it can also be exclusionary and damaging.

My mother having a room of her own wasn’t a big deal because we lived in a big house. Claiming a room just for her would have been a big problem if we lived in a small apartment, or if her office was the only room with an internet connection. My claiming a single chair in a living room with three chairs and couch, also not a big deal. Claiming the only chair in the apartment as ‘my space’ and making everyone else sit on the floor would be a really crappy thing to do.

A couple (or triad, or quad, or…) bed can be healthy if there’s a guest bed for OSOs to use when they visit. In a home with only one bedroom, a couple bed may mean going to your secondary’s home (assuming THEY don’t have a couple bed) or going to a hotel. This kind of restriction can make it difficult or impossible for the secondary relationship to function. Your relationship space actively interfering with other relationships is exclusionary and damaging.

There is nothing wrong with a couple (or triad, or whatever) deciding a certain restaurant will be their space which they always go to together. However when you are saying things like this: “We need space to protect our primary relationship!” “No, I will not be excluded from someplace just because you go there with your girlfriend!” You are demeaning the other relationships, saying they must respect your space, but do not deserve their own space.

Just like people, some relationships need more space than others. And like people, some relationships will use ‘needing space’ as an excuse to push others away or close themselves off. If you need designate relationship space, make sure your space is not crowding out others, and you aren’t using ‘needing space’ in an unhealthy way. Once you’ve done that, go ahead and establish the space you need.

And remember to respect the space others need too!

16 thoughts on “Relationship Space

  1. Okay, this was good. We’re not at the actual opening yet, no other people are involved, however I’m jealously and steadfastly guarding my space. I don’t want his other women in my house, let alone in my bed. I kind of think loaning them my husband is more than enough.
    I have several reasons to guard my house. One, this is where I spend most of my time, I’m a stay-at-home mom. I would have to vacate with two profoundly autistic teens for my husband to entertain in our home. Not an easy thing to do.
    Two, bringing people into the house and into my daughters’ lives is tricky in the best of circumstances. They’re very territorial and resistant to change. Rotating people in and out of their lives will be stressful and confusing.
    Three, I’m not reading to smell another woman’s perfume in my personal space.
    I know a lot of this is radical and probably not seen as welcoming, but this is where I’m at right now. The thought of my husband having sex with another woman is painful, the thought of them in my bed is excruciating.

    1. If this is where you are at, this is where you are at. For what it is worth, I completely understand your desire to protect your kids from possible confusion and upset. I don’t think you need to keep any partners completely out of the house for that, unless you and your partner never have any friends over to visit. There’s no reason for your kids to know that there is any difference between a poly partner and any other friend that comes to visit.

      I see at least two red flags in what you are saying here. The first is the implication that your husband is your possession (something you can “loan” rather than a person in his own right.) The second is that it feels like you want to declare the house your space. If this is going to work at all, it needs to be mutual, something you have discussed with your husband and that meets both your needs. You’ve explained pretty well how you think it meets your needs, but there is no indication that you’ve thought of what your husband needs and how having the house as your space will work for him. If having a relationship space is going to work it can’t be a tit-for-tat, or you declaring this is what you need, or anything other than the two of you sitting down together and coming up with a space that works for both of you.

      Aside from that, you need to consider that just because there isn’t another relationship now, doesn’t mean you get to ignore the needs of potential future relationships. What if a partner of his is unable to have him over to her home? Then either they’ll be spending money on hotels, or your restriction will be severely interfering with their relationship–at that point the declared space becomes exclusionary and abusive. For that matter are you sure having him spend the night somewhere else with her will be better than having them both there?

      Have you considered the thoughts and feelings of this potential girlfriend? I know it is hard right now to think of any one he dates as a person, that its easier to see her just as a threat to you and your marriage. But treating her as a threat and putting up the barbed wire will, in the long term, cause you more problems and drama than thinking of her as a person who is also trying to navigate this difficult situation.

      1. A couple of things, this is not just my house where I keep my stuff, this is my home; my sanctuary. This is the heart of our family, this is where we raise our kids and connect with each other. While I’m very well aware I don’t “own” my husband and he’s entitled to spend his time, love and energy with whomever he chooses without any input or control from me, I do own (half) our home. My name is on the deed; my blood, sweat and tears are in it’s renovations; my heart and soul are in it’s design and decor. It’s been a labor of love for 15 years, it is our family home.
        Now, if his girlfriend(s) can’t entertain him in their home, doesn’t that indicate an agreement with their own partner(s) to not do so? Why is it okay for their partners to carve out a bit of couple territory, but not okay for me?

        “For that matter are you sure having him spend the night somewhere else with her will be better than having them both there?”
        And no, I do NOT want to be here with my girls while my husband is romancing his girlfriend(s). So, if they are here, that means I have to pack up two autistic teens with all of their requisite stuff and meds and relocate for the duration of their date. Does that seem reasonable? If they have a day date during school hours, I can vacate, but I’ll still know there was another woman in my house, if not in my bed. I guess that’s pain that poly people call “necessary for growth”. You deal with it until you’re numb to it.
        Or, two adults can have their dates at restaurants, zoos, etc, and if they must have sex, they can get a hotel.
        There’s something to be said for the old fashioned way this was done, with the family home in the suburbs and the pied a terre in the city for extramarital relationships.

        1. “I do own (half) our home. My name is on the deed; my blood, sweat and tears are in it’s renovations; my heart and soul are in it’s design and decor. It’s been a labor of love for 15 years, it is our family home.”
          I understand that, and if your husband jointly agrees with you to make it off limits to others, then go ahead and carve it out as a couples space. But it sounded (and sounds) like you want to unilaterally declare that anyone he is dating isn’t allowed there. That isn’t couple’s territory. It’s your family home is very different from it’s your space that you have control over.

          Do you have a prior agreement that either of you can bar the other from having a guest over? Is he allowed to say that your mother can’t come to visit because she always attacks and nags him and its and invasion of his sanctuary? If you don’t already have an understanding like that, then you can’t just decide for yourself to bar his guest from the home. That is major change in your relationship dynamic that needs to be agreed upon. If you do already have an agreement like that, your are on solid ground in asking he not bring any of his girlfriends to your home–but most couples I know don’t have that kind of agreement in place.

          If you and your husband do agree to set your home aside as couple’s space, have you thought about what he and his potential girlfriend might end up setting aside as their couple’s space? Are your prepared for them to ask for something as big as you are asking?

          “Now, if his girlfriend(s) can’t entertain him in their home, doesn’t that indicate an agreement with their own partner(s) to not do so? Why is it okay for their partners to carve out a bit of couple territory, but not okay for me?”
          Not necessarily. Maybe she is living with her parents (FYI, I’m in my thirties and if my parents weren’t abusive fuckheads my family would have moved in with them last year when we became homeless.) Maybe she has a lease that doesn’t allow overnight guests. You still aren’t thinking of her as an unkinown individual w/ her own needs. That’s going to majorly bite you in the ass down the road.

          If she and her partner do have such an agreement, I don’t think it would be right. Anymore than I think it is wise long term for you to take this approach. But you can’t control what agreement a woman you haven’t even met yet may or may not have with a partner who may or may not even exist. All you can do is control your choices and actions, and make them as healthy as possible for you, both in the short term and the long term. It sounds to me like you are trying to manage the situation in the short term rather than adapt to it in the long term. That tends to backfire, but it is your life, and you need to decide what works best for you.

          “And no, I do NOT want to be here with my girls while my husband is romancing his girlfriend(s).”
          As I’ve said before, I get this. I think you may be taking the wrong approach, but I very much understand the fear and concern. It’s your other reasoning that worries me.

          “I guess that’s pain that poly people call “necessary for growth”. ”
          I can’t speak for other poly folks, but I don’t believe in “necessary for growth.” As far as I am concerned two things are necessary for growth–freedom to grow the way you want to, and time. However, it may in the long term be necessary to keep you marriage functioning. There are major landmines on the route you are trying to take. In my experience the landmines that you don’t see coming do more damage than the challenges you know are there. But again, it’s your choice how you want to approach this. And if you can avoid the landmines, yes your approach might work.

          “Or, two adults can have their dates at restaurants, zoos, etc, and if they must have sex, they can get a hotel.
          There’s something to be said for the old fashioned way this was done, with the family home in the suburbs and the pied a terre in the city for extramarital relationships.”
          Sure, if you are rich. I don’t know your financial situation, and you have no way of knowing the financial situation of anyone he ends up dating. If it was me? We’re on a fixed income. Even if I was mono, I could deal with having his girlfriends in my space a fuck ton easier than I could deal with carving money out of the budget to pay for his dates. If you have solid enough income to be comfortable with him spending money from the family budget on his dates, which may include paying her part of the dates if she can’t afford to spend that kind of money, then that can work. But it is a trade off, and one you really need to think about. You are either giving up money or giving up part of your security. A Ben Franklin quote comes to mind here, which may or may not be relevant.

          Before you go that route, I seriously suggest you both take a look at the household budget and figure out how much you can afford for him to spend on those dates and how it will affect the rest of your expenses. (This is somewhat easier if you both have already budgeted personal money for hobbies and such, and if that money is sufficient to be a reasonable amount for him to spend on dates. If it is, he can spend his personal money on dates if he wants. If you don’t have personal money budgeted–well those dates need to get paid for somehow.)

          I know this is extremely hard for you, and I’m trying to be supportive. But if I tell you “Sure that will work,” when I see major problems…to me, that isn’t being supportive.

          1. We struggled financially for years, having two special needs kids is expensive. I understand, as an adult, that if I can’t afford it, I don’t do it. No one is guaranteed dates and a social life. It’s not a human right. For the first 10 years of our marriage, “going out” meant grocery shopping without the kids. So I don’t understand why, if you know you can’t afford extra relationships, you would pursue extra relationships. The poly community is fond of using the child analogy, so I’ll use that here. Having more kids when you know you can’t financially (not emotionally) support them is irresponsible. Even if you really want them. Even if you know you have more than enough love for more kids. You just have to realize the limits of your finances and live accordingly.
            Now, with our company finally on firm ground, we can afford to do some of those things we’ve put off. Am I upset that he wants to spend that money on someone who didn’t sacrifice for years and work hard to make the business a success? Yep. But we’ve already discussed that. He travels extensively and we have priority reward points that can be used for hotels.
            Regarding guests in our home, I don’t tolerate anyone, friend or family, disrespecting or hurting my family. They’ll be warned once, then they’ll be asked to leave. One of his friends was very disrespectful to me in our home, he’s not been invited back. I don’t restrict my husband from spending time with him, that’s his choice, but not in our home. I feel bringing his lovers into our home would be very disrespectful to me, to our marriage. I haven’t asked for any control over who he dates, what he does with them or where he takes them other than this one place. Our home.

            “And no, I do NOT want to be here with my girls while my husband is romancing his girlfriend(s).”
            As I’ve said before, I get this. I think you may be taking the wrong approach, but I very much understand the fear and concern. It’s your other reasoning that worries me.”
            What’s the right approach? What’s the proper reasoning? I know it’s going to be happening, why do I have to be present for it? Why do I have to be witness to their romance and sex? If you have alternatives, I’m willing to listen to it.
            “If you and your husband do agree to set your home aside as couple’s space, have you thought about what he and his potential girlfriend might end up setting aside as their couple’s space? Are your prepared for them to ask for something as big as you are asking?”
            I have no desire to invade the personal space of anyone he may date. I respect personal space. If they don’t want me over at her house, I really have no problem with that. I’m not sure what you’re implying here. A special restaurant I’m not allowed to go to? No problem.

            I know I’m not always polycorrect, and I assure you I see the potential other women as human beings with their own needs who will run against my needs and the needs of our kids. I realize, once he starts a relationship with someone else, their wants and needs will have to be balanced against ours. I know the poly trope that love is limitless, but needs are frequently contradictory. Someone wins, someone loses. It’s life and reality no matter how hard you try to deny it. I’m just trying to make sure I don’t give away all of my wants and needs trying to accommodate these other people.

          2. I’m going to focus on what I think is the real center of the issue, apologies for not replying in detail.

            “What’s the right approach? What’s the proper reasoning? I know it’s going to be happening, why do I have to be present for it? Why do I have to be witness to their romance and sex? If you have alternatives, I’m willing to listen to it.”

            You are approaching your spouses potential other relationships as a threat to your marriage that you need to manage. As long as you are approaching it as a threat, you will be in conflict not just with your spouse’s girlfriends, but with your spouse. And that ongoing conflict with your spouse will almost certainly destroy your marriage, if not now, than in the future.

            The best way to approach it is as a new normal. That doesn’t mean you need to like it or accept it.–My live-in partner became disabled a year into our relationship–it was awful, and I hated it, but it was our new normal. We had to learn to adapt to it.– But it does mean you need to step away from “How do I protect myself, my family, my kids from this?” to “How can I, my family, and my kids adapt so we can live with this change?”

            Once you start approaching your husband having other relationships as a new normal, you and your husband are once again partners working together to find a way to live with this change. If you can approach it as a new normal, than you can help your daughters understand and adapt to the change, rather than shielding them from it and living in fear of their discovering it. Your spouse’s girlfriends become another annoying part of life, like problems at work, bureaucratic red tape, and difficult in-laws.

            If you can approach this as a new normal in your relationship, everything else becomes easier to deal with and you and your spouse will find yourselves finding ways to make it work as a team.

            If you can’t approach it as a new normal (which doesn’t mean you need to live it, approve of it, or endorse it), and if you keep approaching it as a threat to you and your marriage, sooner or later the built in conflict of viewing a part of your spouse’s life as a threat to you will blow up. And I don’t know anyone who has managed to pick up the pieces after something like that.

          3. I’m truly sorry to hear about your partner, I know how hard it is to adjust and I definitely understand “new normal”. What’s different is your partner’s disability and my daughters’ autism weren’t a choice for us, it was a situation beyond our control that we had to adjust to because we love them.
            I’m still seeing his polyamory and especially the women to come as something he’s doing that’s under his control but not mine. This is something I’m faced with that doesn’t have to be, it’s all a choice. Just not mine.
            I don’t necessarily see the future girlfriends as enemies, I don’t anticipate them being intentionally cruel or problematic, I won’t put up with that. I do have that choice to leave if someone is treating me poorly. But I do see them as being conflicting by their very nature. They will be fighting hard for their wants and needs to be met by my husband, I can either roll over or fight back. I’m not just fighting for my needs, but also for the girls; they won’t have any loyalty to either me or them. I’m sure my husband will be very poly and advocate for his girlfriend(s) needs, it seems to be the way it goes, so that leaves me to advocate for the girls.
            Maybe fight is too “negative” a word, advocate seems to be nicer. But still, it’s advocating for one side against another, bound to get contentious.

            I still don’t want them to have “dates” in our house. At least not with me and the girls there. If to be fair to his girlfriends, I have to abdicate, I’ll do it as long as I don’t have to come home to evidence. They’re responsible for cleaning up after themselves including the sheets. I’m not their maid.

          4. You really think your husband is going to ignore or walk all over the needs of your daughters if you don’t advocate for them? If that’s what you think, I have some bad news for you: your marriage is already dead. It just hasn’t stopped moving yet.

            You are seeing this as either/or, roll over or fight bad. That’s what I mean about seeing his partners–and him–as a threat. What you aren’t seeing as an option is him and yourself as partners working together to meet the needs of EVERYONE in your family. You don’t trust him to take your needs into consideration. You don’t trust him to take your daughter’s needs into consideration. You are gearing up to be in conflict with him because you don’t believe you can work WITH him.

            I bet when your daughters were diagnosed as autistic, you and he sometimes had different ideas about what was best for them. Hell, most parents I know have different ideas of what is best for their children going back to the “let them cry it out or comfort them?” debate. But up until now when you and your husband had different views of what was best for the kids, you worked together to find something you could both live with. Maybe sometimes you were right about what they needed. Maybe sometimes he was right. Maybe sometimes you were both right. But you were parents together.

            That is the mindset you need to get back into. You are parents together. You are spouses together. You help him with his needs, he helps you with with yours, and you work together to meet the girl’s needs. It shouldn’t matter whether or not his girlfriends have any loyalty to your daughters (though if you give them a chance they might surprise you), because you should be able to trust his loyalty to them.

            Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not this is a choice. It is a new normal. If he switched jobs, that would be a choice, but it would also be a new normal and you would learn to live with it. It’s harder this time because its a new normal that you hate and because its a new normal that flies in the face of everything you believe and feel about marriage and love. That royally sucks. But end of the day it comes down to, can you adapt to this new normal, can you work WITH your husband to find a way for this new normal to work for all your family, or not?

            “I’m sure my husband will be very poly and advocate for his girlfriend(s) needs, it seems to be the way it goes”

            Yeah, I bet you’ve seen this. I’ve seen it too, but I’ve seen both sides of it. Here’s the way it goes. Person 1 and 2 are both in relationships with Person A. Person 1 and 2 don’t interact, don’t know each other, and all communication goes through Person A. So person 1 needs something, Person A needs to sit down with Person 2, explain Person 1’s needs, and discuss how those needs can be accomodated. Person 2 needs something, person A needs to sit down with Person 1 and explain Person 2’s needs and try to find a way to accomodate them.

            Person 1 and Person 2 are each only seeing half the conversation.

            All person 1 sees is Person A coming to them to talk about Person 2’s needs. All Person 2 sees is Person A coming to them to talk about (advocate for, to use your phrase) Person 1’s needs. And neither of them see the time and effort Person A puts into advocating for them and their needs. Massive FUBAR in the making, as Person A is stuck between the two, and Person 1 & 2 get more and more resentful about how “everything is about them!”

            This is one reason why I highly recommend actually meeting and getting to know his girlfriends. It’ll be the emotional equivalent of being flayed alive, the first few times. But it allows you to advocate for yourself directly, AND to see your spouse advocating for you–which you will never get to see otherwise, b/c he will be advocating for you to her–and you aren’t there to see it.

            That said, and circling back to where I started, if you believe that he would choose girlfriends who will advocate for their needs at the expense of yours, rather than being willing to work with him (and with you) to find a way for everyone’s needs to be met, your marriage is already dead.

            His coming out as poly has done massive damage to your trust in him. You don’t trust him to think about the needs of his children. You don’t trust him to think of your needs. You don’t trust him to work with you to try and meet everyone’s needs rather than against you to get his girlfriend’s needs met.

            The big question you need to ask yourself now isn’t about whether or not you can deal with “her” in your home, or how you will protect your daughters. The big question you need to ask yourself is, can you trust him to be your husband, your spouse, your PARTNER in building a new normal that works for everyone, or will you continue to see him as aligned against you, willing to sacrifice you and your daughters for his new girlfriend?

            Will it get contentious working together? Sure. But contentiousness of having different opinions about the best way to take care of everyone is something any parent or spouse is familiar with. And it’s a whole different ball game from the contentious that comes from working against each other.

            Can you work with him? And can you trust him to work with you? If you can, than you can find a way to make this new normal work. It will be hard and painful and contentious and heartbreaking at times, but you can come out the other side. If you can’t trust him, then it’s all over but drama and you are better to get out now than torture yourself, your spouse and your daughters for however long it takes until one of you finally gives up.

            (I highly recommend you don’t even try to answer this one right away. Give yourself time to think, talk with friends, maybe see a therapist. Take a weekend away for yourself to figuring out where you stand. Damaged trust can heal–but it doesn’t always.)

  2. Okay, this was good. We’re not at the actual opening yet, no other people are involved, however I’m jealously and steadfastly guarding my space. I don’t want his other women in my house, let alone in my bed. I kind of think loaning them my husband is more than enough.
    I have several reasons to guard my house. One, this is where I spend most of my time, I’m a stay-at-home mom. I would have to vacate with two profoundly autistic teens for my husband to entertain in our home. Not an easy thing to do.
    Two, bringing people into the house and into my daughters’ lives is tricky in the best of circumstances. They’re very territorial and resistant to change. Rotating people in and out of their lives will be stressful and confusing.
    Three, I’m not reading to smell another woman’s perfume in my personal space.
    I know a lot of this is radical and probably not seen as welcoming, but this is where I’m at right now. The thought of my husband having sex with another woman is painful, the thought of them in my bed is excruciating.

    1. If this is where you are at, this is where you are at. For what it is worth, I completely understand your desire to protect your kids from possible confusion and upset. I don’t think you need to keep any partners completely out of the house for that, unless you and your partner never have any friends over to visit. There’s no reason for your kids to know that there is any difference between a poly partner and any other friend that comes to visit.

      I see at least two red flags in what you are saying here. The first is the implication that your husband is your possession (something you can “loan” rather than a person in his own right.) The second is that it feels like you want to declare the house your space. If this is going to work at all, it needs to be mutual, something you have discussed with your husband and that meets both your needs. You’ve explained pretty well how you think it meets your needs, but there is no indication that you’ve thought of what your husband needs and how having the house as your space will work for him. If having a relationship space is going to work it can’t be a tit-for-tat, or you declaring this is what you need, or anything other than the two of you sitting down together and coming up with a space that works for both of you.

      Aside from that, you need to consider that just because there isn’t another relationship now, doesn’t mean you get to ignore the needs of potential future relationships. What if a partner of his is unable to have him over to her home? Then either they’ll be spending money on hotels, or your restriction will be severely interfering with their relationship–at that point the declared space becomes exclusionary and abusive. For that matter are you sure having him spend the night somewhere else with her will be better than having them both there?

      Have you considered the thoughts and feelings of this potential girlfriend? I know it is hard right now to think of any one he dates as a person, that its easier to see her just as a threat to you and your marriage. But treating her as a threat and putting up the barbed wire will, in the long term, cause you more problems and drama than thinking of her as a person who is also trying to navigate this difficult situation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.