SATRC: The rocky path of polyamory

Hey Kenna,

I’m having difficulty navigating a situation with my wife. She’s feeling like she can’t trust me and I’m pretty convinced I’m doing everything I can to be open and honest.

She is asking me to have zero intimate contact with any partners and wants details on conversations and whenever I speak to people who I may be interested in. It just feel so fear-driven and impossible to meet such demands and standards. In a heated state, she said, “It’s poly[amory] or me!” like an ultimatum.

I don’t want to be bullied or to bully her. I want to respect her feelings, but also mine too. I want to feel like I have my own freedom, without sacrificing our connection.

– Puzzled and Polyamorous

Kenna Cook

Dear Puzzled,

That’s some real shit and I’ve been there — more than once! The feeling of wanting personal freedom without sacrificing connection is an ideal of any relationship, polyamorous or otherwise. Getting both people to that place can be very tricky, but it is worth the hard journey to the summit, if you can weather the climb up the mountain.

First, I have some clarifying questions about your relationship:

What is your current relationship agreement with your wife?

Most of us know what a closed or open relationship agreement is — to either be monogamous (closed) or non-monogamous (open), with varying levels of detail-sharing and boundaries around sex that both people agree to after explicit conversation and negotiation. Couples make relationship agreements to build trust, to be honest and to strengthen their relationships.

But there is also a middle place, which I like to think of as  the purgatory of polyamory: discrepant agreements. A discrepant relationship agreement is when both partners don’t ever discuss their agreement or they don’t revisit the agreement over time.

If you two talked about polyamory but walked away with a different understanding of what your agreement was, you could have a discrepant agreement, which will erode trust, cause communication avoidance and harm your connection.

When was the last time you two checked in about whether your wants and needs in the relationship were being met?

You can think about relationship wants and needs like baking a cake. Your “needs” are the ingredients that make the cake and the oven that cooks it. Your “wants” are the frosting and sprinkles and extra. You can’t be satisfied in a relationship if your needs aren’t being met.

I would suggest that you identify what your wants and needs are when it comes to partnership, and to get specific about them.

An example: I WANT to have one date night a week with my partner, but I NEED to feel like my partner values me and makes quality time for me in our relationship.

Wants are negotiable and more flexible, but needs are not, in my opinion and experience.

Have either of you been in an open relationship in the past and are there unhealed issues around those relationships?

As my therapist recently told me, “If you don’t process your past hurts, they will keep playing out over and over in your future relationships.”

It is really true that we carry our baggage around with us from one relationship to the next. If we don’t take the time to unpack everything, that suitcase of harmful behaviors will explode all over us and our unsuspecting partner. If there have been issues of broken agreements, unmet needs, or unhealed pain around previous attempts at polyamory, you’re both going to suffer until it is addressed — either in therapy or with each other.

Without any of these details though, it sounds like she is in a place of fear and insecurity. Jealousy can be poisonous to a relationship, so I recommend both of you checking out The Jealousy Workbook, which literally has worksheets, fill-in the-blank style, to help you unpack your patterns and behaviors from past relationships.

Trust your intuition, too. If you’ve been honest, open, and clear in your relationship, continue to follow your path of polyamorous expression.

Got a burning desire, a burning sensation, or a relationship issue that’s about to burn all your bridges? Let Sex and the River City throw you a love life lifeline and answer your questions! Send them via email to V:RC sex columnist Kenna Cook at And don’t forget to follow her at!


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Kenna Cook
Kenna Cook is a pansexual, polyamorous, pun-loving professional sex educator and parent born and raised in the River City. Whether you're inspired or mystified by all those nouns, send your sex and love questions to her for deep-dive discussion featured each month on "Sex and the River City."