So today, I decided to let my very best friend in the whole world take a crack at the Letters file. In addition to just being a smart cookie, Miss K also happens to be a therapist, which makes her a handy pal to have. Her advice is advice worth taking. Thus, without further ado...
For the past two years I have been dating a man in what can only be called an abusive relationship with a woman he's been with for over a decade. Typically the abuse, which from what I can tell started about five years ago, is verbal, but it is occasionally backed up by threats of or actual violence (such as punching, throwing things or biting).
I've discussed the abuse issues with him, but if you know anyone who's been in such a relationship for a long time, you know how futile that can be. So I've been continuing to see him, enjoy him, and offer him whatever support I can while not entangling myself in their issues. Since my relationship with him is long-distance, I've managed to draw a pretty thick line between me and her.
About a month ago, she found a book I'd given him on emotional abuse. You can imagine the consequences. Their relationship is one with a veto, and apparently the veto has no time limit, because she's used it. The thing is, he wants to continue to see me, but in secret. I've always considered myself an ethical, upstanding poly person, and normally I wouldn't consider cheating. But every rule has its exceptions, and I'm wondering if this is one of them. In another situation I'd insist that he stand up to her and tell her he plans to consider seeing me if he does in fact want to. But he'll be punished--severely and for a long time--if he stands up to her and says he wants to continue to see me. And while I don't have any illusions that I can save him (until he's ready to save himself), I also don't want to withdraw the love and support that could eventually help him find the strength and courage to leave this situation.
In short, my ethics about how to deal with a friend and lover suffering in an abusive relationship are in conflict with my ethics about honesty and disclosure in multiple relationships. What's an ethical slut to do?
***Miss K says: An ethical slut must do what's right for herself, and allow others the opportunity to do the same for themselves. You must consider this as any other poly relationship: If you would not see someone secretly under normal circumstances, you must not do so here either. Your love and support, while valuable, can still be made available to him if/when he decides to change his circumstances.
In the meantime, he is an adult who knows his options, and only when the pain of maintaining the status quo becomes greater than the pain of changing will he make a move. Your removal from the situation may turn out to be just the thing that tips those scales. Besides, who are you to keep him from his misery?
It comes down to this: You are not his only resource. You are not even his most important resource - that title goes to his own will to survive. Step back, maintain your ethics and open-heartedness, and let his process unfold.