Life Advice



Ask Anna: Navigating the ripple effects of a poly breakup

Anna Pulley, Tribune News Service on

Published in Dating Advice

Dear Anna,

My primary partner, who I’ll call Alex, and I have been in a loving, committed relationship for five years, and for three of those years, we've been in a closed triad with Sam. Our relationship with Sam grew organically and became a significant part of our lives, deeply intertwining with our daily routines and social circles.

Recently, Sam expressed feeling disconnected and out of alignment with what we originally sought together. After many heartfelt conversations, tearful nights and reflection, Sam decided to leave our triad. While Alex and I respect Sam's decision and want what's best for her, this has gutted me — and Alex, too.

The breakup has not only affected our emotional equilibrium but has also raised questions about how to manage our mutual friends, shared spaces and social commitments. Our poly community, though supportive, is tight-knit — and there’s no way we won’t run into each other. Sam has requested space, and we want to give her that, but can we without also talking about how we’re gonna manage accidentally seeing each other?

Moreover, there's an underlying fear of how this change affects the perception of our remaining relationship. We worry that those outside our community might see this as evidence that poly relationships "don't work," further stigmatizing our choices. We're anxious about being viewed as less stable or committed.

I guess my question is, how do Alex and I navigate the aftermath of this breakup both as a couple and as individuals? How do we handle the shared social dynamics and spaces without causing more pain to ourselves or Sam? And how can we support each other in healing without our grief becoming a wedge between us? — Adrift In The Aftermath


Dear AITA,

First, I want to extend my sincerest empathy for the s--- stew of emotions you're currently navigating. Any breakup is inherently painful and disorienting, but adding the complexities of a polyamorous triad can amplify these feelings and the WTF-ness of how to move forward.

It's great that you and Alex are approaching this change with respect for Sam's feelings, and a desire to manage the shift in your relationship dynamics with grace. It’s one of the harder things to do while grieving, so kudos to you there. This depth of care will serve as a solid foundation while you find your footing in this new reality.

Addressing your shared social dynamics requires a touch of delicacy. Depending on what “space” meant for Sam — did it mean “no contact”? And if so, for how long — a practical first step might be to have a short discussion with Sam about how to approach group settings. Establishing certain boundaries, such as ensuring each of you feels comfortable at social gatherings or agreeing on how to communicate availability for events, can help manage potential awkwardness. If, however, Sam wanted no communication for a while, then you might just have to suck it up and accept that you’ll run into her. It won’t be the end of the world, though it might cause some short spikes of anxiety. Don’t worry, they’ll pass.


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