My husband and I have been dating for four years and married for almost one. When we met, I was already polyam and had a long-term boyfriend. My relationship with this boyfriend was already starting to “cool” a bit, though, so I was free to jump in with my future husband and devote a lot of time to him without having to consult my boyfriend much. The three of us lived together for a few years, but even then I spent much more time with my husband. Now my husband and I live together, just the two of us. I don’t see my boyfriend very much, but we’re both pretty fine with that.
The main issue doesn’t actually involve the boyfriend, I just wanted to provide some context.
I have been openly polyam since the beginning of my relationship with my husband. He also wants to be polyam and has tried to date other people. Nothing has lasted very long or worked out very well for him. Over the years I’ve gone on one or two dates, but nothing has really come of them — partially because I just didn’t hit it off with that other person, but partially because it made my husband clearly very uncomfortable. Rather than deal with his discomfort, I ended those relationships. Our only “rule” about having relationships with other people is that we need to have a discussion about it first, which we did. But I felt too guilty about causing my husband so much pain.
Recently, I’ve started dating again with a newfound determination not to let my husband’s fear dictate my relationships. It’s been tough for both of us. I’m starting to worry that my husband is not suited to live a polyam lifestyle, and that he’s just trying to convince himself for my sake. I am willing to make compromises and sacrifices for my husband, but I worry that if I make too many I will resent him. And I worry that he will likewise resent me if I ask him to sacrifice too much.
I’m also unsure how to define what would be too much of a sacrifice on my part. I’m perfectly willing to talk things out at length with my husband, and I’m willing to plan special time to spend with him, but it often seems like that’s not enough for him. I know that his anxiety is normal and I want to make sure he has the freedom to feel those things, but I worry that they will end up making me feel guilty again and that his feelings will impact my relationships. He often says that he does not want to be monogamous, but I worry he only says that for my sake.
I’m also concerned because my husband has effectively asked me not to date his friends. I developed a crush on his best friend and he was very upset when I told him. Since then, I tried to ignore my feelings for his friend and these feelings have somewhat gone away, but they’re still there. I have always felt weird about the concept of “veto power” and I worry that this will cause me to resent him in the future (and perhaps already do, a little).
Essentially my question is: do you think my marriage is doomed, or do we have a chance to work this out?
We are both seeing therapists separately and we are planning to see one together, but I’m trying to weigh advice from multiple sources, and your column has been incredibly useful to me, so I’d love to get your advice.
I think the big question to ask yourself is… what do you win by avoiding what could be inevitable?
There is absolutely nothing you can do if your husband doesn’t actually want non-monogamy. I think there are certain aspects of what we want that can be flexible. There are some people who maybe weren’t aware non-monogamy existed and then discovered it and it ended up working for them and that’s why they decided to go with it. But there are and can be people for whom, no matter who they love or how much they try to shift their paradigm, it just isn’t the lifestyle they want. And that’s fine.
Delaying dating other people won’t change that. I know your brain is seeing a direct cause and effect relationship because it may seem on the surface that you pursuing things *causes* your partner distress, but really, you’re doing everything that you can to try and be cautious and respectful, but nothing about that will change if he just doesn’t want this. And likewise, if he *says* he does and he is lying to himself, there isn’t anything you can do to force him to tell the truth either.
When it comes to dating his best friend, I can absolutely understand why that’s a boundary for him. I dislike the way ‘veto power’ is discussed as if people’s boundaries around who their partner dates comes from a place of control and not a place of just maybe feeling a bit weird about it because of the way it can tear apart relationships. People have feelings like this all of the time, monogamous or not.
We’d feel weird if our partners dated our family members in some instances (I guess some people wouldn’t be bothered — but plenty would, and that’s fine) friends are the same kind of boundary. He has every reason to be worried about the way a relationship with you, especially if he’s struggling with non-monogamy, would impact his friendships, and I feel like he has every reason, even if non-monogamy did work, to be anxious about you dating his best friend.
If you were living in an isolated area where dating options were not very frequent, then maybe I would understand the need to act on the feelings, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case, so I might just weigh up the benefits and cons of causing further distress with your partner over pursuing this interest right at the moment. Waiting might be a better option, especially if your partner is up to non-monogamy and potentially might be more okay in the future.
Overall, I don’t think things are necessarily doomed, but I don’t think that it’s something you can control either way. It’s something your husband has to work out himself.
I hope this helps and good luck!