Choosing polyamory to keep a partner

My wife of 19 years and girlfriend for almost eight years before that recently admitted to me that she cheated on me a couple months ago with a long-distance friend of hers who she had gone to visit for two weeks and that they are now in love with each other. She told me that she has realized that she is polyamorous and that she had been struggling with the idea of monogamy for a long time, but hadn’t talked to me about it because she was scared to assert herself, as she had a traumatic childhood where her very conservative and misogynistic church (LDS) instilled in her a sense that she had to conform or else.

This has been very painful for me even though I’m happy that she’s finally feeling free enough to express her needs. She has apologized to me for cheating on me and I know she means it. I told her that I’m okay with her continuing their relationship and having cyber sex (due to the long distance) because they love each other and I wouldn’t want to be separated from someone I love.

This was an extra hard choice for me because we’re in couples counseling right now and because I’ve been so clingy and anxiety prone throughout our relationship (due to my childhood trauma and abuse) and my pursuing has generated a pursuit-withdrawal dynamic, sex between us is off the table for the time being. In fact, we’ve only recently been able to start to hug again.

Sorry for the long preamble. Here’s my question. You wrote about anchors, “It can really be anything, but it can’t and should never be that you won’t have to break up with the partner who is asking you to be polyamorous when you don’t think you want to.” Well, I am being forced into a decision between either having my wife divorce me or negotiate new relationship boundaries where I consent to her having an additional romantic relationship. I wouldn’t be agreeing to my wife being polyamorous because I want to enjoy polyamory myself [it’s possible that I would, but it’s hard to see through this heartbreak right now].

I would definitely be agreeing to it to avoid losing her. But I would also agreeing to it because it would make her a happier person and she says that having a loving relationship with another person gives her more energy for both romantic relationships, which would in turn make me happier. Do you think that’s an okay anchor, when I’m also doing it to avoid the break up? I should also say that I’m writing from a place of intense sadness and anxiety right now and that as I begin to feel more comfortable I may find other anchors.

I think it would be unrealistic for me to assume that nobody is going to try polyamory to save their relationship. A lot of people do. It’s a very understandable choice to make.

However, the thing I usually have someone explore before they decide on their anchor is this: could you be in a relationship where your partner does not spend 100% of their time with you? So for example, if you’re monogamous, could this relationship survive if your partner had a time intensive career and you were not able to see them frequently. Could you do that?

The emotional management of transitioning from monogamy to non-monogamy is one thing. Many people assume that choosing polyamory is a more ethical choice which is always grounded in positive self esteem. But I can say for myself that coming from a background of child neglect, my issue has always been that because of the neglect, I am used to not having someone’s full attention. It has taken me a long time and exploration to ask myself — do I want that time? There are likely loads of people who don’t feel jealous but don’t want to have less time with their partners.

Before you get started trying to find an anchor, ask yourself if you are okay with less time with your partner. Is it something that you want? You honestly may not know the answer to that until you actually try. But that is the first step.

Next, considering you’re not only having to adjust to switching to non-monogamy but also reeling from the realisation of your partner cheating on you, it might not be the best time for you to try to find your anchor. I would say that it’s an excellent sign that you didn’t immediately demand that she leave the person she cheated with, though I would have emotionally fully understood that choice.

Mono-polyam couples do exist and not all of them are made up of monogamous introverts. Until you have a little bit more experience and know whether or not you’re okay with having less time with your partner and what it is you might personally get out of polyamory, it’s okay to go forward and find it. Especially when, as much as you judge yourself for being “clingy” and “anxiety prone”, you have made huge steps forward in not allowing your anxiety to reach a point where you try to control your partner to stop it and you have a therapist, I feel like you’re in a safe enough position to go forward.

Last but not least, one thing I would recommend you do is get a therapist for yourself as an individual and also talk with your therapist about how to accept that you have anxiety and that this is actually quite normal for this situation. You just experienced your partner cheating and you’re now going down a road that you never have been down ever before and that you have no social scripts for. Give yourself a little bit of credit here and allow yourself to make mistakes. This isn’t about either of you being perfect.

Given that you have the support of a therapist together, that your partner apologised, that you did not react to this by attempting to control… I would say all of this is a very good sign that you two can find something that works with each other. And I would say, to soothe some of your heartbreak and comfort, even if either of you figure out that you’re not actually compatible together, you will likely still continue to support one another as good friends.

In my 101 and 102 articles, as well as talking about anchors, I talk about facing and releasing fears and about the sort of false sense of security many people get from monogamy because it is so culturally scripted. Releasing yourself from the responsibility to keep someone with you can help enormously with anxiety. It’s not going to be an overnight thing. And it definitely will be a journey. But you will get there. Continue supporting each other and get some support for yourself individually and I’m sure things will get better. I hope this helps and good luck!

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