When I mention that I’m in a poly relationship, I’m met with various categories of response. Some people are curious, some disproving, some titillated, and some fear for my safety. I’m always a bit shocked by that last reaction, although I understand it comes from the misguided belief that polyamory is really just a creepy cult for free-spirited commitment phoebes.
That said, there are absolutely cases where poly relationships are abusive. Some signs of abuse are the same across the board in poly and monogamous relationships, whereas others are more specific to ethical non-monogamy.
If you see your situation reflected in any of these scenarios or feel that you’re being abused in any other way, please seek out help. Reach out to a friend or therapist. If that feels too risky, many cities have anonymous distress lines that you can call. Just know that you are not alone and that you deserve to feel safe and happy in your relationships.
You Question Your Own Take on Things
You feel angry or violated but your partner(s) quickly try to convince you that you are “crazy” or that you’re overreacting. They might say things like “That’s not what happened!” or “You never pay attention!”
They might also turn things back on you by saying that you’re the one who’s being cruel or manipulative. This is called gaslighting, and it’s a common tool among abusers. It’s insidious in that over time it can chip away at your confidence and even extinguish your inner voice. Sometimes gaslighting isn’t that obvious, especially when it’s delivered gently in the form of mild but persistent criticism. If your gut tells you something’s off, believe it!
You Feel Pressured to Connect with Your Polycule
You have expressed a desire to keep your distance from your partner’s other partners and yet your wishes are not being respected. You’re constantly find yourself doing things as a group, or having conversations that you would rather not have. Perhaps you’re being forced to engage in friendships or even sexual relationships against your will.
Maybe things started out well, but over time they slowly morphed into this kind of controlling and abusive dynamic. Just remember that you have the right to set and maintain personal boundaries.
You Feel Directed, not Consulted
One person, or maybe a few people in you polycule, call the shots. You have little to no control over the schedule or the kinds of activities you do as a couple or a group. You feel like a child being led by the hand. When you try to speak up, those in control either mock you or offer false hope by way of appeasement. Any time you offer suggestions or chime in, someone cuts you off or reflexively contradicts you.
Your daily activities are either monitored too closely, or not taken into account when planning things. In some secondary relationships, limited say in future events is part of the agreement, but that decision should be reached and agreed to by all very early on in your relationship(s). It should never be assumed that you’ll just toe the line, no questions asked.
You Routinely Justify a Partner’s Bad Behavior
Your partner is often disrespectful to you or someone else in your polycule but you find yourself saying things like, “They’ve had a long day, I shouldn’t have spoken to them like that”,or “They’re a good person, they didn’t mean it.” These justifications can be fear-based, or the result of repeated gaslighting, but in either case they are a sign that things are not right.
If your partner is rude and snaps at you on occasion, it might not necessarily signify abuse, but if it happens a lot or is accompanied by any kind of physical violence, you’re in an unhealthy situation. Please consider getting the help you need to leave.