One of the biggest issues in Polyamory comes from unicorns, those people who are dating both members of an established couple, who must deal with conflict that originates within the established couple.
It’s often very difficult being a unicorn, as this is a new experience for most people who have never been in a triad.
These issues including going long periods of not seeing partners due to jealousy, partners breaking up with one but not both of the persons in the couple, and dealing with time restrictions and feeling like a second class partner.
These issues can be especially emotional and stressful for unicorns. But there are a few steps a bisexual man or woman can take when working within these situations to be safe and sane and approach the situation with a sense of purpose and structure.
Advocate For Your Needs
One of the first things that a unicorn needs to establish is that they are an independent person, not someone ordered around by either or both people in a couple.
Unicorns have their own wants, needs, and desires. And these need to be communicated and respected just as much as the needs of the people in the established couple.
There doesn’t exist any ethical polyamorous situation, anywhere or ever, where the one person’s emotions, needs, or desires are more important than anothers.
Even in relationships where a person is dating a married couple, that couple must show the same consideration for the unmarried partner as they ask of the unmarried partner. This is not negotiable in ethical polyamory.
We often say that “My polyamory isn’t your polyamory” to talk about differences between polyamorous styles. But it’s never ethical polyamory, regardless of your situation, in which one person’s concerns matters less than another.
Couples may place a priority on their primary relationship if they are hierarchical, but they can only get in return what they give. Communication and negotiation is a two way street.
So, advocate for your needs, unicorns. Expect that what a couple, and each person wants from you, is no greater than what you want from them. Everyone is on equal footing, because everything is by mutual consent.
Are you being asked to do things you aren’t comfortable with?
Do you often feel that a couple asks for time when it’s not convenient for you?
Do you often feel you are expected to never break up with one member of a couple because you will lose the other?
Does it often seem that you are asked to do things to help keep a couple in a closet?
Are you in the closet about your relationship, but feel they are putting you in situations that may expose you?
This is where clear boundaries must be set. You are an independent person, and you have to communicate your boundaries with those you are dating. Dating a couple is no different.
If you are uncomfortable with having sex with both members of a couple at the same time, say so. Often, there is this assumption that because you are dating a couple, that your time spent sexually with those people must be spent together in a threeway situation.
Even when people share partners, this is often a very uncomfortable situation.
There shouldn’t be an assumption of sharing partners sexually unless boundaries are discussed and there is consent.
Also, if you have boundaries to protect yourself in other situations, these must be discussed as well. If a couple only wants you to date when they are available, but those times are when you are not available, you must set boundaries.
Couples might often think that they can prioritize their time over your time. You must push back and explain that your time is just as valuable.
Maybe you can’t limit date time to Monday and need to have the availability of some weekends. This is a boundary, because over time, it may be make or break for you as to whether or not you stay in that relationship.
Also, remember that not all boundaries are healthy. For instance, when a couple wants to restrict your activities, this is not a healthy boundary, but an unhealthy rule. These might include telling you you can’t date other people, telling you that you must get their approval before having sex with other people, or making other demands on your life that they have no right to demand.
Other boundaries might include things like saying no to couples’ demands that you “work” for the relationship, such as babysitting for them or doing chores at their house. If you do not live with the couple, these are likely very unreasonable demands. You are a partner, not their maid.
As always, communicate, communicate, communicate.
Create Space For Yourself
Unicorns often feel like a third wheel of a relationship. Their together time and date time can often be pushed into communal time.
That is to say, the person on the outside spends a majority of time with each person in the couple by spending time with the full couple, rather than each person independently.
If this is not the shared preference of the unicorn, this can make a unicorn feel like a plaything, a toy, or as though they are dating the couple and not the people in the couple.
This often comes with many unhealthy dynamics and emotions.
To counteract this, you must create your own space. The first part of creating space is establishing “me time”, in which you have time to yourself and are not obligated to always be involved in the lives of the couple.
The second part of creating space is establishing one on one time with each person of the couple. This one on one time may not be the majority of the time, but it should be frequent and significant.
You should not be ashamed to ask for individual date nights. Establishing closer bonds to each person within the establish couple is necessary to establish overall bonds of the triad.
Without these strong bonds, the relationship more resembles the letter T rather than a triangle. The established couple likely has plenty of one on one time with each other. It’s not unreasonable to ask for your own one on one time.
Often, push back to this is rooted in jealousy from one or both people in the established couple. But these are their issues to deal with. Caving in to jealousy doesn’t make it go away, but only adds fuel to the fire. Push back.
To do otherwise tells the couple that, yes, the jealous partner must be present to play chaperone to feed their unchecked jealousy. Rather, that partner should work on dealing with their emotions, instead of making others deal with it for them. We call this the principle of “Owning your own shit”.
Lastly, ensure that there are safeguards in your communication with your couple. Often when there is drama in an established couple, the unicorn is often expected to sit in the middle listening to everyone’s problems and picking a side.
Don’t let them do this to you. First, coming to you with the drama isn’t unfair. The person being badmouthed is also your partner. And the first rule of healthy polyamory is, don’t spread or listen to bad mouthing of your partners.
Part of creating your own space is saying, “I understand you are in a difficult situation, but I’m also seeing this person. I cannot be unbiased and I do not want placed in the position of picking sides.”
Often, there is an unconscious desire to get a third partner on their side so they can “gang up” on the other person by making it a 2 against 1 situation. In ethical polyamory, the big boys and big girls put on their adult pants, and deal with their situations without calling in a backup to intimidate the other partner.
This includes you as well. Sometimes a couple might attempt this gang up approach on you. This is not fair, and should be called out when you see it happen. When called out, the couple may start expressing that their decisions as a couple supersede individual decisions.
That’s neither fair, nor true. If couples are going to stick to that explanation as their defense against ganging up, then they are making it clear that they want subservient unicorns who won’t speak up for themselves and do whatever the couple wants.
If that is the case, and if all the communication in the world isn’t helping… well, then dump those assholes. There are plenty of couples out there, and very few unicorns. This mistake in their calculation is that the couple has the power, when it’s actually quite the opposite.
And if they can’t appreciate that, and still wish to control, gang up, or manipulate you… Leaving is often the best option. They have problems deeper than their relationship to you, and you can’t fix a relationship outside of your own.
You are their partner, not their counselor.