Episode 366: Explaining My Polyamorous Relationship & Supporting a Partner in Grief Over a Pet

Hello, everyone! I appreciate your attention and hope you are doing well.

In our first segment, we dive into a topic that’s close to my heart – the evolution of my own marriage into a non-monogamous, polyamorous relationship. I unravel the intricacies of non-monogamy, elucidate the various terminology surrounding it, and give an insight into my personal journey of ‘opening up’. If you’re curious about polyamory, its various facets, or simply want to understand what it means to navigate such a relationship, this segment offers a comprehensive overview.

The next question touches upon a sensitive yet universal theme: grief. A listener reaches out, concerned about her partner’s impending loss of his beloved cat, Jimmy, who has been a steadfast companion through some of life’s most challenging moments. We discuss the profound impact pets have on our lives, the unique grief associated with their loss, and strategies to navigate this emotional terrain, especially when mental health challenges are at play.

As always, your stories and questions provide invaluable insights, making every episode a journey of discovery. If there’s a topic or question you’d like addressed in future episodes, please send them to duffthepsych@gmail.com. For a detailed breakdown of today’s episode, check out the show notes at http://duffthepsych.com/episode366.


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Question 1:

You’ve mentioned the change in your marriage into a non-monogamous, polyamorous relationship. How did that initial conversation even start? Who initiated the conversation? I’m a queer woman married to a man, and I really miss sleeping with women sometimes. I’ve considered opening my marriage before, but I can’t imagine how to have that conversation without my husband feeling inadequate, insecure, and hurt.


To begin, it’s essential to provide some context. While I’ve been open about my relationship style, it’s crucial to understand the backdrop. For my family tuning in, you might want to skip ahead about 20 minutes. My relationship with my wife, a bond that has spanned since our teenage years and crystallized into 13 years of marriage, has evolved into a non-monogamous dynamic. Within the vast realm of non-monogamy, there are numerous shades and terms. Ethical non-monogamy (often abbreviated as ENM) is one such term that underscores the consensual nature of these relationships, ensuring there’s no deceit involved. However, it’s vital to remain vigilant as some individuals might misuse this term to escape accountability.

Non-monogamy has various styles, from “swingers” who seek sexual experiences with other couples without forming romantic bonds outside of that context, to polyamory, which is characterized by having multiple romantic partners simultaneously. In my relationship framework, my wife is my nesting partner, with whom I share a life and children. Apart from this, I also have a girlfriend, forming a separate relationship, distinct from my bond with my wife. In the past, we’ve ventured into triad situations, wherein all three individuals share romantic and sexual connections. This multifaceted world of relationships is rich in terminology and structure, with some couples opting for clear hierarchies, while others, like us, advocate for a non-hierarchical approach.

Delving into the listener’s primary question, it’s imperative to realize that our journey towards non-monogamy wasn’t the result of a single conversation. Instead, it was a tapestry woven from multiple dialogues, shared experiences, and a foundational trust. Open communication has always been our anchor. Over the years, we’ve explored various facets of relationships outside the traditional monogamous framework, whether through media or personal conversations. Our mutual curiosity and openness set the stage for deeper discussions about the possibility of a non-monogamous relationship.

One memorable turning point occurred unexpectedly when we connected with a mutual friend. The chemistry was palpable, leading to a triad relationship, although we soon realized that such a dynamic wasn’t suited to us. As we ventured further into this world, we encountered myriad experiences, from my wife’s exploration of her pansexuality to understanding and respecting the boundaries and dynamics of each relationship.

To the listener’s concern about approaching their husband with the idea of opening up their marriage, it’s essential to approach the conversation with honesty, empathy, and transparency. Acknowledging potential feelings of insecurity or inadequacy is crucial. Initiating a dialogue might involve framing it as an exploration rather than an immediate decision, allowing both partners to process, research, and understand each other’s perspectives. The journey of non-monogamy demands robust communication, trust, and a commitment to ethical practices.

In closing, I’d recommend diving into resources and content creators who provide insights into non-monogamy. Some trusted names include chillpolyamory and Elizabeth Cunningham on Instagram, and Evie Lupine and Dr. Lindsay Doe (Sexplanations) on Youtube. For anyone contemplating this path, my advice is to proceed with an open heart, informed mind, and a commitment to mutual respect and understanding.

Question 2:

Hi Dr. Duff,

Long-time listener (about 2-3 years now?) and fan of the pod.

I had a question on how to support a partner through grief.

My partner has a history of severe depression and anxiety (couldn’t go to school, self harm, suicidal, hospitalised, etc.) but his cat named Jimmy has helped him get through it all. Now at the impressive age of 20, Jimmy’s health is failing and we don’t think he will live for much longer. How can I help my partner out during this time, especially with his history of mental illness?  (And yes, this is something my partner and I have discussed together).


Thank you so much for reaching out and for being a long-time listener of the podcast. Your concern for your partner speaks volumes about the depth of care you have for him. Let’s dive right into your situation.

Jimmy, the cat, has clearly been a pillar of emotional support and solace for your partner over the past two decades. His impending loss will undoubtedly leave a void. All pets, no matter how cherished, have a limited lifespan, and the bond they form with us is irreplaceable. Their unconditional love and companionship can offer solace in ways that sometimes even human relationships cannot.

Navigating the inevitable grief associated with the loss of a pet is a complex process. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all blueprint, but there are strategies to ensure the grieving process is as healthy and constructive as possible. While you and your partner have already initiated discussions about this, continuous communication is essential. Determining how you both envision the end of Jimmy’s life can alleviate stress and uncertainty when the time comes.

Additionally, this ongoing dialogue can also provide your partner with a safe space to voice his concerns, feelings, and potential fears. Validating his emotions and assuring him that his grief is neither excessive nor unwarranted can be immensely comforting.

To further aid the grieving process, consider tangible measures of support. This could range from handling daily chores, organizing meal deliveries, or even gifting him a journal to pen down his thoughts and memories of Jimmy. Rituals or memorials, such as creating a keepsake with Jimmy’s paw print or organizing a small remembrance ceremony, can provide closure.

Given your partner’s history of mental health challenges, it’s crucial to establish safety protocols. Monitor any significant changes in his behavior, mood, or demeanor. Reflect on past instances where he may have been in a vulnerable state to identify potential triggers or signs of distress.

If he isn’t already seeing a therapist, now might be a good time to consider seeking one. Professional guidance can offer a fresh perspective and coping strategies. This doesn’t necessarily imply long-term therapy; even platforms like Betterhelp, which allow sporadic check-ins, can be beneficial.

Remember, everyone grieves differently. While some find solace in solitude, others may benefit from social interactions like a weekly trivia night. It’s essential to strike a balance between providing space and ensuring he isn’t isolating himself excessively.

Lastly, always prioritize self-care. Supporting a loved one through grief is emotionally taxing, and it’s essential you have the resources and emotional bandwidth to be there for him. Over time, as the sharp sting of grief dulls, you both might find comfort in the idea of adopting another pet, though it’s crucial to ensure it’s a mutual decision.

Your proactive approach to this situation is commendable. Your partner is fortunate to have someone as caring and thoughtful as you by his side. Thank you for sharing this with me, and remember, time, patience, and love will guide you both through this challenging phase.

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