Can you compromise on polyamory?

My husband and I have been married for almost 3 years, together almost 7 years. I had 5 kids and he had 1 so together we have a very uneven “Brady Bunch”. We met thru a threesome with someone he and I both knew. Instantly I felt pulled towards him and I couldn’t stop thinking about his eyes, eyes that when I looked into them I could see his soul. We began to hang out a lot as friends with benefits basically.
Anyways we were supposed to have another threesome again but mid way my husband quit and left. I asked him why and he said he didn’t wanna do that anymore cuz he was catching feelings for me. Nothing made me happier cuz in my mind I thought he only wants me to himself and has feelings for me so to me this was great. But then he told me he wanted to try swinging/switching partners and we did cuz I wanted him to be happy. I hated every second of every single time. I’d have to get really messed up drug/drunk to follow thru and when it wore off I was always in tears. I still can’t get the images of him with other women out of my head.
The threesome we met in was the first time I’d done ANYTHING like that sexually. I thought it was like a fairytale at one time. Now I mostly feel inadequate, unwanted and like I will never be enough for him. He says it’s just combining energy and that sex doesn’t have to involve love or any feelings other than the energy created by combining multiple people on that level. We’ve been going to therapists and working on bringing our thoughts closer but I don’t know if we will ever be on the same page or even in the same book when it comes to this. We are so extremely compatible in EVERY SINGLE other way. It’s only wrong to him because it hurts me, if not for knowing it would kill me he would absolutely prefer that lifestyle sexually.
But he says he wants to change his thinking so he won’t continue to talk sexually with other women and exchange nudes etc with other women because all that to me is cheating and it’s killing me. He is doing it a lot less but how do I know if he can really be happy with me or if he’s gonna just resent me. I have a genetic condition that means my life will be cut dramatically shorter than usual.
Here’s my question, is it possible for us to both be happy and be only with each other or will it always be one of us sacrificing our happiness and sanity to make the other happy?

First of all, I want to say that I feel for you in this situations you’ve been in where you’ve gone along with it to make someone else happy. I know what that feels like and it’s a really hard thing to break yourself out of. You say that you have a genetic condition which means your life will be cut dramatically shorter than usual and, although I don’t have that same thing, I do have a condition which makes it a lot easier for me to die than for others and I’ve always felt like that gave me more of a reason to consider the time I do get on this Earth and how to make myself happy because ultimately, once I’m gone, I’m gone.

This is a situation where I feel like… if circumstances were different, perhaps there would be a way to compromise. Let me break down why I’m worried that that won’t actually solve your problem.

Incompatibilities both big and small

You have a basic incompatibility here. Neither of you are wrong in how you functionally see sex and what it means to you. There’s no one “right” or better way to do that. Some folks see sex as an intimate expression they only share with individuals they feel close to. Other folks see sex as an intimate expression they love to share with anyone and can get a type of intimacy from that and a type of excitement from that that they just can’t get from the same individual. Both feelings here are valid. And it might be that your husband has a bit of both.

Now this is one incompatibility but the pressure of how much it matters is individual. Two people can be perfect for each other but one wants to have kids and the other doesn’t. One wants to travel the world and the other doesn’t. There are some incompatibilities for which it is impossible to make compromises on. Sex can and can’t be one of those things. Because the thing is… sex and it’s relative importance to different people is… well, relative. For some people, sacrificing their want to go out and have sex with new people to stay with their wife and family is not a big deal and they can do it without a second thought. For others, it’s impossible for them.

You aren’t ever going to be on the same page when it comes to how you view sex and I don’t think that either of you should force yourselves to try and be on the same page. It would be one thing if he said he was *considering* ways to meet his needs and he was trying to work that out with you. What really concerns me is that he has already basically cheated on you to fulfil his needs. And I have to also wonder how he could go through with swinging or sex seeing you drunk or on drugs, seeing you cry, and doing this multiple times without considering that maybe this wasn’t something that you wanted to do.

Compromise should go both ways

It’s not just that you’re incompatible here, but that he seems to be willing to find a “compromise” that means you are unhappy. Some people can successfully negotiate some incompatibilities in their lives by both sides giving up something. My domestic partner and I have a basic incompatibility when it comes to the way we handle safer sex. I wouldn’t have sex with someone unless they had been tested relatively recently. My partner would have more casual sex, using protection, but without asking about testing. We make compromises where I give up the idea that they are going to have everyone tested before they sleep with someone and my partner gives up some of the ‘freedom’ they would have by asking questions before taking on a new partner — but this is a compromise both ways.

Your compromise hasn’t been both ways. And while some of this is due to you being willing to put your needs aside for someone else… part of it, especially when it comes to witnessing you being upset in multiple situations and actively cheating on you, is your husband’s fault. It’s going to be incredibly difficult for you to create any sort of situation where you can trust that he will equally sacrifice something because he is already demonstrating that he has no qualms about cheating or entering into a sexual situation where he knows the likelihood is high you’ll come out of it in tears. You say it’s only wrong to him because it hurts you but… clearly it’s not wrong enough for him to completely stop doing it when he knows it’s cheating. It doesn’t matter if he’s doing it “less”. It’s still wrong, period.

Secure your own mask

You ask at the end of the letter if it’s possible for you both to be happy or will it always be one of us sacrificing your happiness and sanity to make the other person happy but… let’s been real here. You’re already sacrificing your happiness and sanity to keep him happy. You said it yourself you have a short life. Do you really want that life, especially with the kids you have, to be spent feeling, as you put it, inadequate and unwanted?

If his behaviour had been different throughout this relationship, I would have advised you consider meeting in the middle and even giving him some freedom to go out swinging on his own, but it genuinely concerns me that you’ve been with this person for so long and there have been multiple occasions where you have used substances to literally get through a sexual experience and he either hasn’t noticed or didn’t care. I know it’s not always easy to tell, but the very first time you ended up crying after a threesome session, he should have been instantly concerned as to why. He should have cared that it bothered you so much. Even if my partner was saying “I’m okay. Really, I’m fine” through tears, I would have paid enough attention to their behaviour to notice they were using substances before these experiences and then getting upset afterwards. That’s not exactly a 1 million piece single colour jigsaw puzzle.

You have five children who love you and care for you. And I don’t need to tell you how important it is for you to be there for them, especially if you have less time on Earth. But if you were on a plane going down, you would have to secure your mask before you put on their masks. And in this situation, you need to take care of yourself before you start sacrificing so much for this one individual. From what you have written, he isn’t and hasn’t been willing to sacrifice his happiness for yours — so why continue to expect that?

I get you’re attracted to him and I get the draw, but ask yourself if it’s worth trying to go to therapy to a convince this man to stop cheating on you. That’s the minimum he’s supposed to do in a relationship. If he does nothing else, he could at the very least not cheat on you. You can and will find other people you’re attracted to. And I know it might be difficult if you’ve put your families together but… don’t go in for what’s called a sunken cost fallacy. I can tell you as someone who has been in households of adults staying together “for the children”… it’s much better for you and for your kids if you are with someone who does not cause you this much hurt, or even if you’re on your own and happier without the drama and mess, than for you to stay and continue to get hurt.

Especially if you don’t have as much time as others — why waste it with someone who is at the best incompatible with you or at the worst is cheating on you? You deserve better.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Subscribe to Non-Monogamy Help

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.