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.