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.


But, knowing that, the best laid intentions sometimes fail. You might plan and plan, forgoing your weekly Settlers of Catan game night or munch, only to accidentally see Sam at the Baldur's Gate Compersion Trivia Night. (I know that’s not a real thing, but it should be.) The point is that accepting some growing pains is part of the deal when it comes to transitioning out of a romantic relationship.

With regard to people-slash-judgments from outside of your relationship, remember that you don't need to shoulder the burden of representing “successful” polyamory. (No one should! Just as no monogamous couple should present themselves as such.)

Relationships, regardless of their structure, have their natural courses, and an ending does not equal a failure. As much as you can, lean on trusted friends who can provide you with support without judgment.

In terms of supporting each other, Alex and you may benefit from carving out individual spaces to grieve and process. While shared grief can indeed bring people closer, individual healing happens solo. Indeed, it allows personal growth and perspective that you can then bring back into your joint processing. Mutual support does not mean experiencing every emotion together; it can also mean being the pillar that each leans on after a solitary exploration of climbing Mt. Feelings.

Remember, also, to approach the future with kindness—both towards yourself and Alex. It’s essential to keep the lines of communication open about what you both need during this time, which may fluctuate day to day. Find comfort in routines you share, and respect any new boundaries that may emerge as you navigate this adjustment.

Lastly, embrace the lessons this relationship has taught you. Each connection in our lives brings with it growth and understanding. Cherish the moments you had with Sam and allow that gratitude to help guide both of you forward.

As you move through these choppy waters, remember the words of Haruki Murakami, "Once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in."

May you both find strength in the journey and emerge with new insights and a renewed bond and possibly a new idea for trivia night.

©2024 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



blog comments powered by Disqus