Abuse, Boundaries, and Incompatibilities in Mono/Poly Relationships

A commenter on this blog recently mentioned their frustration with the way much of the writing about polyamory is by poly-folk, for poly-folk. This leaves monogamous people in mono/poly relationships in a difficult situation.

I may at a later time attempt to go into a detailed discussion of mono/poly relationships. Today I want to at least briefly address abuse in mono/poly relationships, and the difference between abuse, boundaries, and incompatibilities.

As I discussed earlier, the defining trait of abuse is control. This is true whether our partners are trying to control our jobs, our friendships, or our intimate relationships.

On the opposite side of relationships from control is setting boundaries. Instead of our partners telling us what WE are allowed to do, they are telling us what they require in a healthy relationship, and what is and is not acceptable to them.

For many mono/poly relationships, the greatest challenge is adjusting to a huge change in boundaries. When a member of a monogamous relationship comes out as polyamorous, they are drastically redefining their boundaries. How they redefine them varies a bit, but here are some examples.

  • I am willing and open to having multiple relationships. I’m not saying I need or want to have them, but I no longer need our relationship to be monogamous.
  • I’ve realized that I’m polyamorous, and monogamy has become unhealthy for me. In order for our relationship to meet my needs, I need to be able to have other relationships as well. I realize how big a thing this is, but I really hope you will be able to accept this change in my needs.

Of course, people rarely actually talk like this, but these general ideas, and others like them, are often behind a poly partner coming out to their monogamous partner.

An important part of these boundaries is that they are expressed as what the poly partner needs and what is healthy for them. They are not asking their monogamous partner to change or do anything. Only that their partner accept that this is what they need.

It is then up to the monogamous partner to decide, can I accept these new boundaries? Can a relationship with these boundaries be healthy for me?

If the answer is no than the mono and poly partners are incompatible. Especially in cases of long term relationships, this can be absolutely heart breaking. It can tear apart families, and destroy lives. But it may be healthier and less destructive than trying to force the relationship to continue.

Sometimes, a poly partner comes out in a way that is not setting boundaries, but exerting control:

  • I’m polyamorous, I need to have more than one relationship, and I need you to be involved in my other relationships.
  • I’m polyamorous, and monogamy is not healthy for me. I can’t be with a monogamous partner, so you need to be polyamorous too.
  • I know you are attracted to other people, you were telling me last week how hot Johnny Depp is. So you can’t object to my being in a relationship with other people.

Several of these statements are structured as “I need,” but in all of them the poly partner is dictating to the mono partner what the mono partner will and will not do, will and will not feel. This is not setting boundaries. This is abuse.

When this happens, the question of compatibility is irrelevant. One partner is trying to control the other partner and dictate their life. This is not a healthy relationship, full stop. Sometimes people choose to stay in abusive relationships, for various reasons (and I’ll be addressing this in a few weeks). Whether you stay in this relationship or leave it, this isn’t an issue of polyamory or monogamy. This is an issue of one partner being controlling and ignoring the other partners right to decide for themselves what they want.

Abuse can go both ways in a mono/poly relationship.

Navigating a mono/poly relationship is difficult at the best of times. Both partners (and I do mean BOTH) will need to make accommodations to make the relationship work. (Check out Hard and Soft Boundaries for a starting point in these discussions.) Especially in long term relationships becoming mono/poly, it can be tempting to try to preserve the relationship by insisting your partner toe your line or to giving in to your partners demands.


When you try to control your partner, or when your partner tries to control you, the relationship you are trying to preserve has crossed the line into abuse. Once that happens, what is really left to preserve? Either you need to confront the abuse and find a way to heal and start over, or the relationship is already dead—it just hasn’t stopped moving yet.

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


With regret, I am closing this post to further comments. I am glad that many people have found this post meaningful to their relationships in some way, and I hope i have been able to help some of the people who have come here. However, I can’t do relationship advice any longer. I don’t have the spoons to keep trying to help people. And that’s what almost every comment on this blog has been–requests for relationship advice.

As an alternative, you might find Designer Relationships more helpful than many polyamory-focused relationship books.