Episode 107: When To End It

If you’re not sure whether or not to stay together but you want to stay together for the children, is that a possibility in polyamory?

If you’re not sure whether or not to stay together but you want to stay together for the children, is that a possibility in polyamory?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic:

How did your parent’s relationship with each other impact how you do relationships?

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Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

I'm a cis-het woman in my 30s married to a cis-het man for 13 years (together 16).  About a year ago I brought the idea of non-monogamy to my husband and he initially agreed, though it was reluctant. This past year has been incredible for me as far as personal growth and realisations about myself and my sexuality. My husband's experience has not been the same. He has met multiple women and has a stable FWB of 6-7 months, so that isn't his complaint.

He struggles with intense anxiety and jealousy, fears that I'm trying to leave him and has lashed out at me verbally in his hurt and anger. (He read your book as a resource, actually!) We have been in couple's counselling for 4 months and I'm also seeing an individual counsellor. He has said to me that he doesn't feel non-monogamy is something that he can do forever.

I am not willing to go back to monogamy with him, in fact I'd actually prefer polyamory as a relationship structure moving forward. Worse, I feel like I have lost the love I once had for him. We do have two school-age children, and trying to keep their lives stable is the main thing holding me back from seriously considering divorce. So, I would appreciate your perspective on if my marriage can be saved and is worth trying to save.


So the first thing that I kind of want to challenge here is the idea that I feel like is very understandable to have because it's it's very much engrained into our culture in our society. And it's a big thing right? And that is the idea that it is better for a child to have two parents who are married and together than to have parents who are divorced. And this is kind of a gross oversimplification of the issue because there isn't really anything stable about two people who are pretending to be in a relationship or trying to be in a relationship that doesn't work.

Like that isn't actually very stable for the child. And this is kind of why I asked the discussion question beforehand, because from my personal perspective, and not to give too much of the background of my history to distract from the issue, but my mom came out when I was two and she stayed with my dad who treated her very, very badly from what I gather and what she's told me for a number of years, and they weren't really together and it was something that I felt growing up that sort of normalised, a kind of coldness in relationships to me.

I don't think it was actually good for them to stay together especially because the “family” that they were trying to preserve wasn't very stable to begin with. And to be fair, my mom was quite young when she made this decision. And there's lots of complicated things about that decision. I don't necessarily blame her for that decision. But the idea that it is better for a child to have two parents who are married and in this sort of picket fence, Leave It to Beaver, I don't know— That idea, I don't think is actually very true.

Obviously, a big change to a child's life in terms of their living situation can be difficult for them to adapt to because what children tend to need from what I gather — I’m not a parenting expert — but what children tend to need a stability and consistency. So a big change is going to make things a little bit difficult for them. But I don't actually think that that is *that* difficult if the two parents involved in the situation are stable and consistent people in that child's life. So I feel like yes, divorce is difficult.

Changes to routine are difficult, especially when you sort of take in the fact that I feel like there's a little bit less stigma now for people to have divorced parents. It's a little bit more normal, but that is a kind of thing that they may need to work through and you can provide support for your children through that. You can provide them with therapy, if you're able, you can be a consistent person and hopefully your partner would also continue to be a consistent person that will consistently bring them love and support.

And I think that that would be fine. I don't think that it is necessarily so important to maintain this almost facade in some ways in order to give your child a “stable life”. And the assumption is that lying and that facade is stability when it's not. That said, I feel like there is a little bit kind of a complicated thing going on here. Because yes, you feel like you want polyamory going forward. He isn't sure if he wants non-monogamy going forward and I feel like he's only been in therapy for like four months.

He's had a friends with benefits situation for six months, relatively, if you kind of compare how long you've been together monogamously versus how long you've been together in a non-monogamous situation, it’s not really the same. And I feel like it's sort of— it’s kind of like if you were to move to a new town, right? Or you were to move to a city and maybe you've been in the country for the vast majority of your life.

And for the first four to six months of that you were really struggling and really like “Oh god I want to go back home. This is horrible. Why did I do this?” You might hesitate to just completely abandon the decision so early. Because yeah, sometimes when you make a big change and a big shift, you have big emotions about it in the exact same way that your children would have big emotions about big changes like all human beings, regardless of their age and where they are at. When something big changes in their life, it causes a lot of fear.

It causes a lot of anxiety. That is actually quite normal, regardless of whatever kind of emotional resiliency a person has. It's very normal and understandable to have all of this anxiety, I don't know as that big decisions need to be made right now. I do think that it's worth keeping in mind that there is a possibility that you could be incompatible and not making decisions from a standpoint of protecting children from experiencing the divorce. I don't think that that should be the main motivator of the decision.

I think that the main motivator of the decision should be whether or not this is something that's workable for you both, something that makes you both happy, and it might be a little bit too soon to call right now. So you said that he read my book in terms of like using that as a resource. And the things that I'm kind of wondering here are, you know, one of the first things that I ask people if they're interested in non-monogamy but they don't really know if it's something that they want.

Or aren't really sure is — could you be in a monogamous relationship with someone who is gone a lot of the time for a time intensive career or time intensive hobby? Because at the core fundamental basis, the difference between monogamy and non-monogamy is that your partner or partners are not going to be spending 100% of their time with you. And that is the thing that I think people often don't really consider or think about or that is the thing that becomes difficult for a lot of people to deal with. And even within monogamy not everybody can date someone who is let's say a lawyer and isn't home for a lot of the time.

So I think that that's kind of the first thing that needs to be looked at. Like could you actually deal with a situation like that? Because that is the physical reality of the situation you'll be dealing with if you agree to non-monogamy. The second thing is my concept of the anchor which I explore in the book. Does he have an anchor? Does he have a personal reason for being interested in non-monogamy? Now he's expressed the he's not sure if this is something he wants to do forever.

Is that based upon the fact that he's going through a lot of emotions right now? And you know, dealing with the fact that he's in a different style of a relationship. He doesn't have any social models for that relationship in the way that he did and monogamy and is understandably very concerned with the idea of losing you. All of those are very, very rational emotions, and it makes sense for him to be like, “I don't know if I want to feel this way forever”, but he may not actually feel that way forever.

So is he noticing a change in his feelings? Is he noticing a shift? Is the counsellor saying anything about this? Like have you talked to the counsellor about this? I think that it's worth continuing along this path together, especially since like, he does have other partners. So it's not necessarily an issue of him being unwilling or you know, in denial about the situation. He's not in denial, but it's understandable for him to kind of still have big feelings, still have big emotions, still have a lot of kind of, you know exactly the same as the example that I gave, if you move to a different city, if you left all of your family and friends behind.

And sometimes in non-monogamy, this does feel like that because you are leaving behind an entire kind of social safety net in a way. You are going off the path of a sort of prescriptive narrative that society has given you of, “Okay, you get married, you have kids, this is the way— the path to happiness”. You are deviating from that path, and you are going into territory that is unknown. And that does cause a lot of stress.

And you don't necessarily have the ability to talk to all of the people in your life for support in the same way or you can feel that way because sometimes when you say, “Oh like I'm struggling” and you're in an open relationship or you're in a non-monogamous relationship, a lot of people's responses to that — as supportive as they're trying to be — can be, “Well, you're in an open relationship. What do you expect?” It's similar in a lot of ways, in some instances, to being queer and being— and you know, that's why there is a queer community.

That's why a lot of people really struggle because even if they do have a supportive family, they're going down— I mean, it's a little less true now because we have more media examples of queer people. We have a lot more examples of queer relationships, but way back in the day, like you're going off on a trajectory that society was actually actively telling you would lead to death and sadness and horrible things. So luckily, we don't tend to have that about non-monogamy.

We don't tend to have these horror stories or as much awareness around it, but we do still kind of have this perception. I mean, if I guarantee you— I've never seen a study done about this. So to be fair, this is like my own qualitative— I don't even know. I'm not— I shouldn't even be trying to use fancy words like — look, this is my own kind of personal perception, obviously, but I feel like if you ask the vast majority of people about open relationships, their first concept of that is that it doesn't work.

So you are going against a lot in your mind. A lot in your mind that's there to protect you. A lot in your mind that's, you know — you haven't even been given the tools to see this as a potential. And I think also a lot of people forget that we spend a lot in our lives as children and you know, young adults and teenagers imagining a future that is monogamous, and being given examples of relationships that are monogamous.

And so we're kind of— when we're starting off in non-monogamy, we haven't had years and years and years to pontificate about what our lives might be like. So it is a very, very scary thing. It is a very new thing to come to grips with. It's very understandable— even if monogamy actually isn't that safe, even if we are kind of living in a assumption of safety within monogamy because of the society that we're in. And even though it's fully possible for somebody who has been married for 13 years, to have their partner fall out of love with them and leave them within monogamy, it's still given a type of protection in your mind that you don't have in non-monogamy and that takes a lot of adjusting.

So I just feel like — yes, I do want you to come to terms with the idea that divorce isn't the worst case scenario for your children. That divorce between you two doesn't have to represent the worst thing to both of your children. As a person who grew up with parents who weren't really in love with each other, and, you know, more than just that, but, as a person who grew up with people who tried to stay together for the kids, I would very much encourage you to consider that two people who are really unhappy with each other can create more instability, even if they're physically in the same place for children than two people who are happy and apart.

And that is something that I definitely want you to consider. However, I don't think that necessarily means that you should break up and end everything right now, just because he isn't sure that he wants to do non-monogamy forever. I mean, you're sure that you want to. Now, things can change both on both sides and I have seen things change. So I think that making decisions right now, based off of only a few months really of exploring this is a little hasty.

I think that there's more talk that you both need to do. To summarise, I think that there's more talk that you both need to do with your counsellor about things. I think that it's worth giving him some time and asking all these questions like, you know, does he want to spend a relationship with someone who's not going to spend 100% of their time with him? Is — he may not know right now. Does he have an anchor? Is he noticing a change in his feelings? You can continue along this path together and see where things go and see how things change.

You could have an agreement like I — one time when I was dating somebody, I really really wanted kids and they really really didn't want kids. And I didn't necessarily want to end the relationship because I felt like it would be a good relationship and because I was non-monogamous there was the option of me potentially having kids with someone else. So I just thought, “Okay, I'm going to pursue this relationship and I'm going to check in and five years and see where I'm at”.

I ended up changing my mind and not really sure if I wanted to have kids. So you never know how things are going to change. I don't think that if you have a solid relationship together, if you're both happy the vast majority of the time, but this is obviously a struggle point. I don't necessarily think it's worth just abandoning everything right now. I think that you should hold off a little bit. Find stability within the two of you in terms of like your own personal happiness.

Speak to your counsellors a little bit more about what's going on. And he needs to explore some of these questions himself. And also both of you kind of talk about the reality that you may be incompatible in the long run and how you might deal with that. Maybe you're both happy in terms of how you want your lives to be to consider being together with the understanding that you might break up when your kids reach a school age.

I don't think it's necessarily a bad idea to stay together for the kids. But I do think that if you're both severely unhappy and if you both resent the decision, and if you're both just doing it because you think that being together creates a stable environment — that's very different than going, “Okay, we're not so sure if we want to be together forever, but I think that we should — we're happy together as we are and for the most part obviously like no relationship is perfect. But we're, for the most part, this relationship is fulfilling and worth continuing. And we can reexamine how we feel about the relationship structure in five years or in that certain amount of time”. I think that's a little bit different.

So yeah, I think that there's a few things to think about to work through with your therapist individually and as a couple, but I don't think it's necessarily at this point in time worth completely abandoning everything. So I hope that helps and good luck.

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