Your partner wants to open your relationship, but you don’t. And you have kids. What now? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
I'm in a lesbian relationship, married for almost 9 years with two children under 4. One drunken night last year my wife instigated a threesome with a mutual male friend and for a few weeks were were both into it, but the stress of it with a person well known to both of us caused us to end it. My wife still wanted additional outside sexual relations and found one on tinder, moving forward with meeting another woman after I angrily told her to go ahead and do what she wanted.
After that we worked on healing our relationship, but I was unable to fully commit out of fear that she would eventually look elsewhere for sex again as she continued to express interest in it. In October I approached her with a plan to open our relationship within certain boundaries, one of which being that as long as I was providing her enough sex she wouldn't look elsewhere.
For that whole month I was more sexual than I ever have been, touching her all day and trying to initiate sex. This idea of having a certain number of encounters was a turn off for her and she shut down sexually, while encouraging me to hook up with that same guy again without her. I did one time (after finding out that she had been with him again alone) and found the entire thing too stressful. I asked her if we could take November to focus on our relationship alone.
We did a lot of work on our communication and relationship in that month and for the first time since last spring I felt good about us again. As soon as November was over she asked if we could talk about opening the relationship again. I told her I really didn't want to, that I thought we needed to continue working to get us to a better place.
She was angry that I changed the goals and thinks that our relationship is just fine. Again in anger I told her to do whatever she wanted, but to know that by going to seek an outside relationship at this time she would be hurting me and that the first night we had a threesome was my biggest regret in life.
A few days later she tells me she wants to set up a date for the following week. Again I tell her she can do what she wants, but if she is dating someone else I'm going to consider our relationship on hiatus and ask her to move to the guess room. She says she will think about it. Finally she agrees to hold off until after Christmas for the sake of our children.
A few days later she wants to talk again and points out that she can handle additional sex without losing our relationship. I don't doubt that, I doubt me. She also says she just really needs a friend outside of our relationship, but she needs it to be a friend with benefits. I tell her again that I am not up for an open relationship yet, that I think we still are not in a good place and I need time.
I don't want to be in an open relationship right now. We have two little kids and life is hard enough without bringing more people into our lives. I want to focus on our family and each other. I'm not fully against the idea forever, and even said right now I'm okay if she makes out with someone else randomly. I feel trapped because I'm the stay at home mom and I know I have to give her whatever she wants because if she leaves then I'm giving up everything I want with my family because I'll have to go back to work, send the toddler to daycare and give up my dreams of homeschooling our older son.
I'm devastated right now that she had to keep pushing this before Christmas. I feel like I'm pushing her to want it more because right now I can't bring myself to be cuddly and sexual with her, but I don't know what to do.
So the first thing I want to say is that I’m sorry that you're in this position because it's really, really horrible for you. You're really really hurting and it seems like you have no other choice but to go along with something that you deeply don't want to go along with. I think it's difficult because initially I wouldn't suggest that you guys are inherently incompatible. It might seem like that on the surface because obviously right now she really wants to have an open relationship.
She really wants other sexual experiences and you're not necessarily interested in that right now, but I don't necessarily think that that means you're at base incompatibility because you have and are demonstrating some flexibility but I think there's just some problems with communication and also some problems understanding what the motivations are behind opening your relationship. Because I think that when you start off with these misunderstandings it can often spell a little bit of inevitable disaster and I do think that quite a lot of people who open up their relationships and start with these assumptions and then kind of end up in similar situations.
So first thing I want to address is the idea of just opening and closing a relationship as a way to deal with problems. A lot of people make this mistake when they start off in non-monogamy. They think that… They open the relationship. They experience a lot of unhappiness and a lot of stress and lot of difficulty and then they close it as a response to that. And there are a couple of problems wrong with that.
Firstly I think people assume that when they open their relationship that it's necessarily going to bring a lot of happiness and joy and I think it can such as the example that you gave. Like you started off in this because you had this supposedly good at the time experience with this person and then it sort of became sour as things went along. And I think that people don't anticipate that. They start to experience fear and jealousy a lot of very common things and then they read polyamory advice that sort of says… makes you feel like you shouldn't feel jealous if you're well put together. And then they go “Well clearly I'm not well put together so we’ll just close it until I'm in a better place”.
The problem with that is that basically closing your relationship might sort of… it's kind of like a plaster on a gaping wound. It's not really going to address the inherent problems that are in your relationship and it'll actually kind of makes things worse in some ways. Because when it's closed… if the problems only present themselves whenever there other people added to the mix then when it's closed, those problems aren't going to present themselves. So you’re not really going to be faced with the same challenges. It’s sort of like saying that you can learn to swim by pretending to swim and doing the motions outside of water. And every time you get in the water and you experience the fear, you’re like “Ah I can’t swim, so I'm just going to get out again and I'm going to like practice the strokes when I'm not in the water”. It doesn't really work because you need to… in order for you to feel secure with your partner again and in the context of an open relationship, your relationship has to be open for that to actually work.
So closing the relationship isn't really going to fix those problems. Deciding not to allow this or “ok you can make out with people but you can do this or you can’t do that”… those are also kind of delaying the inevitable. Because what you’re not doing is addressing the feelings that you have, the feelings of fear you have. And because you're not addressing them, they’re only going to continue and continue to grow. So that's why it doesn't work to kind of open and close things and open and close things.
The other thing is that you know you haven't really talked to each other about how an open relationship would work and so therefore you are very understandably afraid. I think the problem with a lot of introductory polyamory advice again is that and so many people will say to people “Well if you’re afraid it's because you're insecure”, “If you're afraid it's because you don't know yourself well enough”, or “You just can't do it. You’re not good enough for it”. And that's just wrong. There a lot of reasons that people feel fear and insecurity in relationships and it isn't necessarily because they don't trust their partner or it isn’t necessarily because they don't trust themselves.
It’s that you know everyone… you know, when you started on your first monogamous relationship, I'm pretty sure you were afraid and a lot of people are afraid when they start their first relationships but they have this blueprint that society gives them for how monogamous relationships are supposed to work and they have these sort of cultural signposts of what to expect and what comes when and where. And so they don't feel as afraid in a lot of situations because they have that cultural reassurance. Non-monogamy isn't like a cultural standard. It's not something a lot of people know about and pretty much a lot of people colloquially will think that open relationships are doomed to failure.
So you don't have any models and you don't have any guidelines of what to expect and what kind of footsteps to follow so you kind of have to forge your own path and because you have to forge your own path it's really scary and you're going to be afraid. And I think what would be enormously helpful for both you and your partner is, if you want to have an open relationship, focus the time into thinking about what that looks like. Especially because you have children and you have every reason to be worried and terrified that like you have to go along with this or you lose this really important position you have as being a stay-at-home mum. And it's a really fair question to ask like… you do have two children. That is a lot of your time. And I always say to people like… you know I'm not going to be telling anyone how to raise their kids but I do very strongly feel like if you have a child and if you are the primary caregiver or a caregiver of the child then you need to… that child needs to be your primary focus in life. You need to figure out them first and foremost and your partner needs to be just as willing and devoted to those children as they are to anyone including you in any other relationship they have. And I mean… it might be that… and I'm not trying to say that your partner is not but I think that is very fair to wonder what an open relationship looks like when you have two children.
You know, is your partner pulling their weight or her weight so to speak when it comes to childcare? You don't want to end up in a situation understandably where you know… you're not necessarily that interested in dating and that doesn't necessarily mean that she can’t date and that you can’t have an open relationship but you don't want end up in a situation where she's you know… has 5 dates and you’re stuck doing childcare all those 5 days. And I mean yes, you are a stay-at-home mum but that doesn't mean that you don't have your own life and that you don't have things that you want to do and that you're not allowed to have a break once in a while.
So sitting down and thinking about like… what does an open relationship mean to her? What is her situation that she would want? Can you establish some not rules be kind of ideas of like how this looks physically? You know, is Tuesday night date night? And whatever she wants to do she can go out. That’s her date night and maybe Friday night's your date night. Have some real physical tangible ideas of what an open relationship means and then that will be really helpful for you to not feel so scared because you'll be anchored by something.
And then I think the other issue that you have… like the biggest red flag that I see you in all of this and one thing that really kind of worries me and it's not on me to like say how your wife should make friends with people but I absolutely do agree that you both do you need friends outside of your relationship, but the fact that she's like… you know the couple things that I kind of raising red flags here said she's insistent that she has to have a friend with benefits. I don't think that's true with all due respect and like… I know plenty of people who are very interested in hooking up with people casual sex is just something they enjoy. You know they don’t… all their friends are not friends with benefits. It's a bit ridiculous to say that you know… it's fine to say, yes we should have friends outside of our our marriage. Absolutely. 100%. You should have friends outside of your partner. Your partner should not be your only friend. However to say that this has to be a friend with benefits… it's just not realistic and not really fair. It's just a very odd request to me.
The other thing about what she's doing is that she's very… she's not really giving you a lot of space and she's very insistent that this happen within a certain timeframe. Now on the one hand I do understand that she is frustrated that you’ve moved the goalposts because you know… it is kind of a weird thing to sort of say ok… that's that's another reason why opening and closing the relationship doesn't really work is because it puts a time frame on it. If you say, “Alright we're close in a relationship for one month and then after one month will open it”. And then at the end of the one month… like all that person has to do is wait for that month to end and it's not to say that I don't think that she's putting in any effort to make you guys work but what I'm saying is that when you put a timeframe on it you kinda have to go with it. Whether you're not you're ready at the end of the month for it to close. If you keep going, “Oh well, another month, another month”. Understandably she is going to get annoyed because you've put forth a timeframe and now she can’t trust that timeframe that you've put forward is actually your word and what's going to happen.
And that creates a lot of confusion and inconsistency and that is understandable to you be concerned over however… you know nobody… to the best of my knowledge you haven't included in the letter. Nobody has any terminal illnesses. Nobody hear is on any time frame. You know, you do have time. I don't understand why she's pushing this so hard for this to happen so soon especially when you know, you've been together for a while. You do have two kids like… There is a lot of things taking up your time and you make the very valid argument that you’re just like… we have enough on our plate without having to deal with more things and this is more things, you know.
Opening a relationship is a big changing decision. I mean, I would argue that you've already opened it so you've already kind of more or less… I do kinda think once you've opened something it's kinda… you can't really put that cat back in that bag more or less. But you know putting a time frame on it isn't really helpful and I don't think you know… I can understand where she's frustrated because you have changed the goalposts but at the same time equally pushing you into the situation isn't going to fix it either so she also needs to be cognizant of that. She needs to realise that pushing you… you know clearly you have a problem with establishing and keeping to your boundaries because you keep just frustratingly agreeing with things and that must be really confusing for her.
I mean either she knows that you're frustratingly agreeing with things and is going with it anyway knowing that you're not going to be happy with it because when you actually did set your boundaries down… When you actually did say “You can do this but our relationship is ending and you're gonna move into guest room”. She didn't do it. So you know… it is hard for me to say not being in the room when that happened. If you frustratingly saying yes is really obvious from her point of view but you guys need to get better at kind of not putting time limits on boundaries and also kind of respecting what those boundaries are and communicating them clearly.
It's hard for me to say that I don't blame her… If you said yes to something and she went ahead with it… you know sometimes tone isn’t… I am a person who sometimes can't read between the lines. I’m not very good at understanding tone so I would be quite frustrated if someone said I could do something or they were fine with something or said you know more less gave me permission (which I don't really like to do for other reasons) and then turned around and said “Well actually I wasn't happy with that”.
That can be very hard to work with because then your kind of you know… from her position if that threesome was kind of the worst experience or biggest regret in life… Well you don’t say ‘worst experience’, you said ‘regret’. Then it's hard to say like what you know… how can she go on any of your yesses in the future. So I think that you know equally she needs to stop rushing you but also I do think that putting time frames on things isn't helpful for you or her.
I also want to say that another thing that kind of raised my… raise a flag for me in this is that your perception of why she's interested and polyamory might be a bit off and I think that is something that might continue to trip you up. Because your response to her wanting an open relationship was to say, “Ok you can do it but only if you don't get enough sex from me”. And you know you tried your hardest to like provide as much sex as possible in that one month and that… it really misunderstands… I mean I'm assuming for her why she's interested in polyamory but generally speaking it's not necessarily like… most people are not interested in polyamory or opening their relationship because one partner isn't good enough for them.
And I think a lot of people especially because so much of the culture that they’re in endorses monogamy by saying like “You're the only one for me. You’re my everything”. Blah Blah. And they start believing that if someone is interested in open relationship it means that one person isn't good enough for them and we don't really say that about children. Like having children… like you don’t have two children because one wasn't good enough for you. It's not really how it works. Like she may be just interested in having other sexual experiences in her life and that doesn't mean that sexual experiences with you aren't fulfilling any need for her. They are fulfilling a need but it's just not the same need. It's just a bit different. Another quite common metaphor that people use like just because you want to go out for dinner doesn't mean someone hates your cooking. And I think that's a really apt comparison as well.
Just try and… I think if you sit down like I said an established what the ideal is for polyamorous relationship… like why she's interested in polyamory and what she wants out of it. Then that might lead you to a better understanding that it's not about you being inadequate. Because I do think a lot of your pain here is coming from this assumption that you're inadequate and that's why she's interested in it. I can't speak for her obviously, but I'm fairly certain as with most people interested in open relationships, it's not because one person is necessarily inadequate. That isn't really what it's about so I think that having that understanding and remembering that will honestly help you.
Also I think it's helpful for you to remember that… and one thing that I remind people of constantly is that a monogamous relationship isn't inherently safer. And I think that's another bit about opening and closing a relationship that people do because they think, “Oh if its closed, it's monogamous. It’s safer.” And it really isn’t. A monogamous relationship… meaning someone being monogamous with someone doesn't mean that they won't fall in love with someone else. It doesn't mean that they won't desire someone else. You know you can't prevent that. Nobody can prevent that. Again, it's not an inadequacy on your part. It’s not a deficiency on your part. It's just part of things that you can’t control. There isn't anything that you can do to stop anyone that you're with from falling in love or being sexually interested in someone else. There’s just nothing you can do to change that. It's just something that is going to happen most likely.
The only thing that closing relationship for having a monogamous relationship does is it sets boundaries around the way people are supposed to behave. But it doesn't necessarily stop those feelings from happening. That's really helpful to remember because closing it can feel safer. And you do feel safer but again it's kind of an illusion of safety and then it keeps getting… you know clearly your partner wants to have an open relationship and that's understandable. And I think if you said “I don't want it” then I would say your at base incompatibility but I think the fact that you are kind of willing to be flexible and what’s been tripping you up is kind of her pushing and also equally some misconceptions you have about the reason she might be interested in this might have been making this more difficult for you than it needs to be. So I think that's really helpful.
The other thing, that last thing I would say is that if you're going to attempt to do this, if you're going to open your relationship up, it really helps for you to think about how this benefits you as well. I do think the people you know… there are plenty of cases of people who are monogamous with their partners but their partners date other people so they're technically monogamous people within a polyamorous relationship and that is a thing. It's not completely unheard of however I do think that for the most part if you're going to to do this you should have a good idea... what really helped me when I had anxiety and fear and terror that my partner would leave me or whatnot… is have a good idea as to why non-monogamy benefits you. What you do you get out of it? Why do you want to do it? And that can kind of bring you back. I can’t tell you why you would want to do it. There are lots of reasons. You can probably find them online if you want. If you wanted to know why different people decided to go out polyamory. Some people feel it's inherent part of their own sexuality. Other people don't but you know you're welcome to explore that.
So to kind of some up and one thing I'll say as well in the summary is I do think a non-monogamy friendly couples therapist should definitely be helping you guys, if you can afford it on because it's just good to have that person to bounce things off of and who can help you negotiate boundaries. And also realise where you are either relinquishing your boundaries or you're not communicating them. And also help her realise maybe to have a little bit more patience and also address… she needs to have someone to address that situation whereby she thinks that a friend has to be a friend with benefits. I just think that is pretty ridiculous notion and it illustrates an issue that she has that you can fix that she needs to deal with.
To sum up, you know, I do think that it is a salvageable situation especially because you're willing to be flexible but I do think that you need to stop opening and closing things up because that is only delaying the inevitable. I think you should open it up but you should have some really long talks preferably with a polyamory friendly therapist and your partner about what polyamory means to your relationship physically and mentally and emotionally and all that sort of stuff. Think about it in real physical terms and that'll probably help you feel a lot better.
I do think that you need to maybe also go through the reasons why she's interested polyamory and understand that it's not a reflection of your inadequacy. I think that you need to like slow things down but stop putting time frames on things. It is a little bit silly that she's like, “I think the relationship it's fine”. A relationship is two people or more people and one person going “Well this is fine for me” doesn't really work. I think as well like… yes have friendships outside and address that situation where she thinks that it has to be a friends with benefits situation, cause it doesn’t.
And just think about you know what this means for you and what benefit you get out of it because I do think that is a big part of your decision to continue to go with this as well as something that will help you when you're having really difficult parts of it. And last but not least like… the fact that you're afraid, the fact that you’re nervous is very very normal and very very understandable. And you might read a lot of advice that says like that if you're feeling insecure scared than you maybe you can’t hack it and I don't think that's necessarily true. A lot of people are nervous and scared of these situations because it is a brand new stressful thing to bring into your lives. And it does seem like a pretty big need for your partner but there are ways to do this there are less blunt and more understandable of your feelings and understandable of ways that… sorry and can work in ways that can adapt to your feelings and cope with them rather than just forcing this to happen.
Because equally your partner should be really aware that forcing you into the situation is not going to make it magically happen either. It’s just going to make it worse and going to make it less likely to happen if she forces you into it. Yeah, I really hope that helps and good luck.