How Should I Handle a Rape That Happened in My Poly-Quad Relationship?

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A man asks Eli and Josie for help with an assault that happened in a poly-quad relationship he’s in.

Author’s note: For this question, we called in sex-positive advocate and educator Julie Gillis to step in for an expert opinion.

Dear Sexes: My wife was raped by the girlfriend of the guy I was sleeping/cuddling on the couch with after being too drunk for them to drive. We were forming a poly-quad structure, and now I’m as anxious as the girl about the conversation we’re having soon about boundaries and consent: I want to let her have it with both barrels, but I know that would destroy any chance of better times for us as friends. I presently hate her. I worry she also might be abusive to him, her male partner. How do I face this rationally and constructively?

Julie Said: First of all, let me start by saying how sad and angry I am that you and your wife are having to undergo such a traumatic situation, both from the assault but also from the loss of friends and trust in a particularly complex relational situation.

On the surface, this question seems complicated as well-it’s a mixed gender, poly quad situation (newly dating/forming) involving sexual assault. Though yes, there are complex moving parts, the answer seems as simple to me as if it was a singular act by a new friend with no other connections:  your wife was sexually assaulted and the relationships that you were forming are now a no-go.

Your partner was raped and while I appreciate your desire for rationality, I can’t see maintaining a friendship with someone who hurt your wife so deeply and perhaps is hurting her own partner. You are posing this as a poly question, and I understand all too well how hopeful a couple can be when they meet “the ones” they wish to form a longer term romantic/sexual commitment with.

Poly is complicated and all the factors that lead to finding chemistry, friendship, ease, and commonalities are hard to put together in one amazing group relationship. When you think you find it, it’s an amazing emotional experience and one hard to let go of. But in this case, I don’t think of this as a poly problem. It’s a sexual assault problem.

This woman’s actions are a huge red flag. Actually, red flags, a neon on-fire “get out of this situation” flag is what is going on. There are boundary issues, there are sexual assault issues. There may be abuse issues between the couple. There will now be trust issues between your dyad and theirs, and you and your partner if the relationship continues with the other pair. This is not good.

In my frank opinion, you shouldn’t be worrying about putting hard times on them, but they should be appalled and ashamed and overwhelmed that they caused harm to your wife. 

In the short term, get away from this couple and break it off. In the longer term, find a therapist or counselor in your area who is kink and poly friendly and will help you process both the weight of the sexual assault but also how it manifested, in a hopeful and loving group context that you’d placed a lot of stake in.

I wish you good luck in healing the pain that this assault has caused, and I hope you are able to move forward with each other in your search for trustworthy, ethical people to be connected to.

He Said: I truly admire your willingness and commitment to be understanding and considerate of other people’s feelings. I mean that with all sincerity. However, it sounds to me like you’re being far too considerate of others. Why do you care about maintaining a relationship (now, or in the future) with someone who raped your wife (or who rapes anyone)? Rape is a seriously debilitating, harmful, and hateful act (for everyone involved). I cannot overstate this.  It is also a crime.

All your love, energy, attention, and understanding need to be on focused on your wife—her needs, her state of mind, and her road to recovery. Even if (by chance) your wife says she wants to maintain a relationship with this couple—the other half of this poly quad structure—you need to be the voice of reason, and explore relationships with people who have a greater understanding of boundaries and consent (your wife could be suffering a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder and not thinking perfectly clearly).

If you are concerned about the guy being abused, then you should reach out to him, and show him avenues of support he has available (friendship-wise and/or professionally). But your focus should be on recovery for your wife, and the two of you as a unit. When you are both emotionally ready to add others to your relationship, only consider those who will treat your wife and you with the utmost respect, love, and satisfaction. Rape should not have to be part of that conversation (with the right people/partners involved).


For information on how to support a loved one who has been sexually assaulted, read How To Help a Friend Who Has Been Sexually Assaulted
Do you have a question for Eli, Josie or their friends? Ask it here!
Originally appeared at She Said He Said
Julie Gillis is a coach, writer, and producer focused on social justice, sex, and spirituality. She is dedicated to sexual freedom and education, equality for the LGBTQ community, and ending sexual violence against women AND men.Julie is proud to be a co-producer and performer with the Austin located Bedpost Confessions.For writing, speaking, or coaching services, please contact her at her website 


Photo: Flickr/Wetsun

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About She Said He Said

Eli and Josie, friends since college, realized how lucky they were to have one another—an honest friend of the opposite sex who tells it like it is. They wanted to share that with the world and so was born.


  1. wellokaythen says:

    Leaving aside morality and ethics for the moment, let’s look at it in terms of pure self-interest. Let’s just think totally selfishly for the moment.

    She raped your wife. You suspect that she’s abusing her partner. So, don’t you think it’s likely that she’ll mistreat you as well? Think rationally – do you rationally think that YOU will be the exception? You would be the latest in a string of people she’s victimized.

    This is why I suspect this particular guy looking for advice is a survivor of abuse. It sounds like the all too common syndrome where someone who’s been abused feels drawn to an abusive partner. (I’m NOT saying that poly people are all abuse victims or that they become poly because of abuse. Just that in this particular case I see what could be a warning sign of abuse.)

  2. wellokaythen says:

    I don’t see anywhere where anyone recommended the obvious starting point: check in with your wife to see what she thinks. Don’t just comfort her. Get her point of view about what should happen next. Her opinion ought to count for something. You know, as the actual victim and everything….

  3. It was a woman that raped her? Comfort her as best you can, because in the eyes of the law it wasn’t rape.

  4. Non-consensual sex acts are assaults, period, regardless of gender, orientation, monogamy, or polyandry. And distinguishing rape from other forms of sexual assault is a red herring. The writer’s wife either did not consent, or withdrew her consent. That should be sacrosanct, regardless of the poly context.

    Open relationships, polyandry, BDSM, and other non-traditional lifestyles require that explicit thought be given to the notion of consent, and that care be taken in order to make it explicit. Maybe that was lacking here….however, no still means no.

    As for the writer, I’m curious why he would attempt to further this set of relationships when such an extreme violation of boundaries has taken place.

  5. It’s impossible to say anything constructive without knowing exactly what happened. I bet 100:1 the girl who did it doesn’t see whatever happened as rape. I mean, I don’t think she cornered her in a dark alley at knifepoint and thrust her penis into the girl. She might have thought she was into being dominated, or just thought everyone was having fun. These are the things you deal with in multi-partner sexual relationships.

    Obviously if your wife feels she was violated there’s a problem (was “rape” your word, or hers?), but before you call up the lynch mob consider the possibility this was maybe just a (very) drunken misunderstanding about boundaries among some people with (very) unconventional notions of boundaries.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I assume many people who commit rape don’t see it as rape. That’s part of the problem. That does NOT make it less rape.

      See Steubenville.

  6. To be honest, I’m disappointed in this comment thread. It seems as though whenever something ‘taboo’ gets posted on this website there are a lot of ignorant and misinformed comments that follow.

    1) Poly does not mean you’re not 100% devoted to your wife. It means only that you’ve opened up your heart, mind, and sexuality to have a relationship with multiple partners who you give 100% of your devotion to as well. Consensual devotion. All parties involved are experiencing deep connections with all the partners. Poly implies consent from all parties involved.
    2) I was impressed with the response of he said, she said. I found them to be professional and well, true. If the asker decides to take their advice or not, that’s his choice.

    • Consensual devotion? Gimme a freaking break. This is about children who want their cake and eat it too, who know nothing about commitment and just want to sleep around. Sorry, but if the guy hadn’t been so wrapped up with his pleasure he may have been able to protect his wife. And to compound this he shows he really doesn’t care because his reaction is to have a talk about boundaries and consent instead of calling the cops. These are kids that need to grow up and so does anyone who condones this. If you dislike someone passing judgement too bad. We don’t do nearly enough of that nowadays.

      • Sterling says:

        By that line of thinking gay men are just taking the easy way out in not having to deal with women. Or lesbians just hate men. Or bi’s are just greedy.

        • That’s your line of reasoning (or projection): anyone disapproving of his idea of commitment and good times is anti -gay/lesbian/bi. Your own intolerant stereotype while presuming stereotyping.

      • wellokaythen says:

        So, if a wife is raped her husband needs to share some of the blame because he wasn’t there to protect her? I’m thinking the person most responsible (really the only person responsible) is the actual rapist.

  7. Ken_in_SC (@Ken_in_SC) says:

    He does not want to break it off because the woman is hot. She will ge away with this until she is too old and then she won’t.

  8. bokhara says:

    And all this time I always thought “Poly-Quad” was some sort of lower order of amphibia … the things one learns every day!

  9. I’m wondering why the guy didn’t intervene and help his wife when she was being raped. That seems like the obvious question to me.

    • All that was stated was that he was making out with the man on the couch. I think it’s pretty obvious that the assault of his wife took place elsewhere, e.g. in a bedroom

  10. I’m an old timer, I actually make judgement on a “poly-quad relationship”. If you’re with your “wife” and have no problem getting drunk with two “friends” only to end up having sex with the other guy, and really surprised the girlfriend forced herself onto your wife it I think you need a reality check on what it means to enter into a serious relationship with a woman. Things like faithfulness, commitment… maybe even ‘love’.

    • I’m sure there are things you do in your life that they would condemn, too. Jesus said “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”

      • That’s just too easy and simplistic. His is a story posted in a public forum, we agree disagree or have no opinion. I suspect many will say he needs to own up… in a big way.

      • Your use of that little cherry picked out of context scripture does not remotely mean what Jesus meant it to mean.

    • wellokaythen says:

      I think the poly-quad issue actually a secondary issue. It makes the question more salacious somehow, but basically this is a question about what to do when someone close to you victimizes someone else who’s close to you. One could imagine a very similar question if the rapist was your brother or your cousin or your boss.

      Moralizing about polyamory does not really get us anywhere. Sure, it’s fun to be self-righteous, it’s one of my favorite hobbies. It’s fun to poke fun at people who aren’t like me, because they must not be doing it right, so I can feel better about the choices I made. How’s that working for you?

  11. Not to diminish the advice but the article should be:

    How Should I Handle a Rape That Happened in My Poly-Quad Relationship?
    She said: Like a rape.
    He said: Like a rape.

    But you can tell the guy isn’t going to take real advice anyway, since he’s still planning on “the conversation we’re having soon about boundaries and consent.” The whole premise– question and answer, is ludicrous, if the people involved are serious about it having been a rape.

  12. questioning says:

    “All your love, energy, attention, and understanding need to be on focused on your wife”

    Well, if he could do that he wouldn’t be poly.

  13. PursuitAce says:

    Exactly. Can they make a case on this one?

  14. What did the police say?

  15. Sterling says:

    “but THEY should be appalled and ashamed and overwhelmed that THEY caused harm to your wife.”
    She. She did the rape, she did the harm. The guy isn’t the guilty party here.

    • McGillicuty says:

      I’m wondering why “rape” is so softly reacted to~ because it was female-on-female? I’m sort of shocked by the responses both of you gave. Is it less-so because it wasn’t a male perpetrator, or because it was a set-up sexual encounter? I don’t get it. If it was a college girl with 3 guys in the living space, surely the response would have been outrage and a call for getting the law involved. Please explain. Thank you.

    • You’d better believe that if it had been the man who did it, “they” would not have done anything “HE” would be held accountable. But since it was a woman..


  1. […] the Good Men Project I read How Should I Handle a Rape That Happened in My Poly-Quad Relationship?  The person seeking advice claims that his wife was raped by the girlfriend of his male lover. […]

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