Episode 133 - Pressure to Open

Coming at a crossroads in your relationship with compatibility can make you feel a pressure to open your relationship, but rethinking that might help.

Are you polyamorous and have come out to your family about it? Please consider completing my survey. I'm using it as research for an upcoming guide.

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

Episode 133 - Pressure to Open

Or listen on Spotify. Or you can use this handy RSS link.

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use my affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music.

Podcast transcript

A little bit of background, I've been with my wife for 10 years (married for 6) and have 2 young children, and after much discussion we have decided to open up our relationship and be ethically non monogamous after our anniversary this year.

My wife has always felt that she is naturally non-monogamous (despite being monogamous with me during our relationship), and she wants to explore her true self. She has had a wide variety of relationships and a varied sexual history. For me this wasn't the case, this has been my only relationship and I have only had a couple of one night stands before meeting her.

She has never hidden her desire for sexual freedom, and isn't looking for romance, or love, just the "freedom of choice" of having a different sexual partner.

I am keen to try it in theory, when I step back and think about it properly, but the negative thoughts still crop up. I feel it will be good for me to also have that freedom to experiment as I never got to as a young man, or learn to express myself sexually.

However, I feel like I flip flop, as it feels like it's a choice that I have to make, she has said things like it's the real me and that things may break down if she feels that I am restricting her freedoms. At times I want it, at times I don't. And feel pressured, even though at times I want it just as much as her. I naturally have an anxious attachment style, and I've done a lot of work in therapy the past 12 months working on this.

The audiobook of The Anxious Person's Guide to Non-Monogamy is available in the UK and is now available worldwide!


I think that one of the main things here that's important to think about is exploring why she's not looking for romance. Because there's lots of ways to do non-monogamy, right? There is swinging. There is swapping. There is having established relationships with other people.

And I think that you're not ever going to be able to prepare yourself for all of the inevitabilities and I do think some of your negative feelings are expected and understandable and there is an aspect of like you just kind of biting the bullet and jumping in. But I do also think that there's a little bit here that kind of needs to be discussed and explored and I kind of wonder, why isn't she looking for romance?

Is it that she thinks that she is not going to find it? What happens if she does find it? What happens if she does find herself attracted to somebody else? Has she ever been in that situation before? And what are you guys going to do if that situation comes up? What is your physical — I always go on and on about the physicality because I think that is really really important and it's often something that I think grounds people in situations where they are doing something that's you know, completely new.

Non-monogamy is not within the cultural script that most people are raised with. And so it's going off the beaten path and that in and of itself is naturally going to cause many people even who are super secure about themselves, to feel anxious, and it really helps when you actually sit down and go, “Okay” — especially with children, because you do need to plan out the physical aspects of your day.

And I'm pretty sure and I hope or maybe — I'm not sure what your life is like, but I'm sure that most people when they decide to have children, and they go forward with it, they tend to think about, “How are we going to plan our days? What time is going to be spent? Are you going to take care of — when are you going to take care of the kids?”. When are you going to— you plan the physical aspects of this because you have to because you have to be responsible for a whole other life.

But also that helps a lot. If you didn't plan anything, it would be way more stressful. And so I think that there's some aspects of this that you can kind of go through and discuss and I would recommend reading my 101 and 102 articles (nonmonogamyhelp.com/101 and nonmonogamyhelp.com/102). And really think about the physical aspects of this. What is her ideal situation?

Is she just looking for lots of different hookups? Do you have your protocols in terms of STI testing agreed on? Are there things about this — date nights agreed on? And how much information are you going to disclose to one another? Is there a point when you're going to disclose — there's a lot here to go through, and a lot to discuss.

And I do wonder if she isn't interested in romance, if she's not interested in polyamory, which is having multiple romantic relationships with other people, if she just wants to be (I don’t mean “just”) but if she wants to be non-monogamous in terms of just having other sexual relationships, have you tried other light touch approaches?

Because there are monogamish ways that people do things. So there is MGS (megs), which is monogamous group sex, which is where people who are monogamous will have sex within the physical vicinity of one another, but don't necessarily swap partners. There are swinging clubs that you could go to where you do swap partners. But everyone kind of still goes home with their — usually a lot of swingers are married and they kind of swap wives or wife swapping is a thing.

There is a sex worker — you can hire a sex worker together and make that a thing. Have you tried any light touch approaches? Why is it that it has to be this, “Okay, we're just going to completely open everything”? And the reason why I'm asking that is because that you know — there isn't sometimes a way to ease into polyamory. I think. Sometimes you just have to kind of jump in the deep end.

But if this isn't about having multiple romantic relationships, then there are definitely ways that you can ease in to non-monogamy. There are definitely light touch ways where you can see how you feel emotionally with how things happen. And if it's not about having romance and having a steady relationship, then those light touch approaches should be just fine.

I don't see why you can't try things like that. Even MGS, even some things where you don't actually swap partners. Maybe you just go to a sex club together. And you know, you just have a see how you feel kind of a thing. There's ways — even hiring a sex worker if that's something that you can do where you are, I think could be enormously beneficial to seeing how you feel in those types of situations. So I would definitely think about those types of things.

There are a couple of things here that really kind of make me a little bit worried. The first is that this — and I don't know if this is verbiage that she used or if it's verbiage that you use, but this sort of mild threat of “It's going to break apart if you restrict my freedoms”. I don't really like that. I get where that comes from. But you're going to have an emotional response to something. And that's completely reasonable.

And I do often see a lot of situations where people have an emotional response to their partner being with somebody else, and their partner can't really deal with that emotional response. So they freak out and they end the relationship or they feel restricted. A lot of people take the emotional responses of others as orders or as demands when they're actually not. And it becomes this really kind of difficult situation because one person's having an emotional response.

They don't really know what to do with that emotional response. Sometimes they hide it from their partner because they don't want to kind of ruin what their partner has going on. And sounds like you have a little bit of that going on. And they just end up in situations where they're just trying to — they have like a top up life vest.

And they're trying to just top up their life vest with these little, “Oh, it's fine. I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay”. And because they feel like they can't share their emotional response it often kind of ends up compressing, compressing, compressing until they explode. And that's not the best situation. I don't feel like it's a good environment to have this and maybe she didn't mean it that way.

But I don't feel like this idea that you are restricting her freedom and you ****are responsible. And basically like if you mess up if you aren't cool with this enough, then you will be the one who's responsible for the end of this situation, when actually it could just be a compatibility issue. It doesn't have to be that you are restricting her freedoms. Maybe this isn't for you, and that's okay.

And I don't really like this kind of shame aspect that's happening with this. This kind of, “Oh, you are restricting my freedoms”. And again, I don't know if this is your verbiage, or if this is her verbiage. But I really think you need to back away from discussing things in that way. I understand that she wants to be free and have all these freedoms and yada yada.

And that's fine. But that doesn't absolve her of having an emotional responsibility to other partners. Just because you want to have a freedom to explore things doesn't mean that someone else's feelings about that are necessarily irrelevant, or they're sometimes like a way to restrict you. It's not like that. I don't think you want to restrict her. It doesn't come from that place.

So if you're not coming from that place, then I don't really feel like it's fair to characterise you in that sort of situation. Whether you're doing that to yourself, or whether she's doing that. I feel like a better way to put it is that she wants to have this freedom and that's absolutely fine. And there are lots of ways for you guys to explore that slowly but — and to also discuss the physical aspects of it so you're not freaking out about, how long is she going to be away? You know, things like that.

But you know, does she characterise wearing a condom as a restriction to her freedom, or somebody wearing a condom? Do you know what I mean? You can you can have that. And there are certainly people out there who do characterise basic sexual health protections as a restriction to their freedom.

But we generally kind of see that at least a lot of people see that as, “Okay, you're kind of being immature”. So I feel like characterising it this way is something that both of you — whoever's doing this phrasing things in this way — I would really back away from that. It is possible that non-monogamy is not for you, whether it's a light touch kind of monogamish version, or whether it's full on you don't want to have other romantic relationships with other people.

It's possible that it's not for you. You're not necessarily going to know until you get into it and to be quite honest with you the amount of times and it is usually men and women couples, but I have seen many, many cases where the partner who is absolutely sure that they want to do non-monogamy ends up finding themselves in quite an interesting situation when they're partner is with someone else and they have quite a lot of feelings about it.

It's very easy to feel like this is for you. But nobody really knows until — it's just like any situation. You may think, “Oh, I want to move to New York City. I want to live in New York City. I love the big city life. I want that.” You really know until you're in that situation if it's what you really want and things can change sometimes. You're you know — I lived in London for 12 years.

I loved London for a long time and then eventually I was like, do you know what? I'm tired of this. I don't want to be in a big city anymore. And things change. So I just feel like this characterization isn't necessarily best for you.

The other thing that I want to mention and I don't want to rag on it too much because people who have read my columns and listened to my podcast for a while will know that I'm not the biggest fan of attachment theory. And I want to bring it up not to like rag on it again for too long, but I want to bring it up because the reason why I'm not the biggest fan of attachment theory, and why I very much don't want people to characterise themselves as adults as anxiously attached or whatever the hell it is, is because I feel like characterising yourself as a grown adult by the attachment patterns you've learned as a child is like shooting yourself in the foot.

To me attachment theory and the way that people go about inhabiting attachment theory is sort of like if I decided to call myself a raped person for the rest of my life because I had experienced sexual violence in a certain part of my life. Yes, you have experienced some issues with attachment as a child. The vast majority of people have. That doesn't make you an “anxiously attached” person.

And the reason why I would really challenge you to think alternatively about this is because I really feel like when people decide that they are an “anxiously attached” person, that influences the way that they go about relationships in a negative way. Because then they think, “Oh, I fit in this neat little box and I'm an anxiously attached person” and I get why people like boxes, believe me, I get it.

But sometimes those boxes end up I think eventually causing more problems and helping. So I get that you've had — I'm not saying you haven't had these issues and I'm not saying you shouldn't work on them. But I do think characterising yourself as an “anxiously attached” person… I would really encourage anybody to not characterise themselves and their entire way of doing relationships with that because the thing about it is—

And Todd Baratz on Instagram, he's yourdiagnonsense on Instagram. I really feel like I agree with him in terms of the aspect of adult relationships are not secure relationships. So you're talking about attachment theory. You're talking about you're not securely attached to your caregivers and that is traumatising. That is stressful. But your partners are not your caregivers, and adult relationships are inherently insecure.

Your partners are not your parents. So I don't think it's healthy personally. It's my opinion. You can disagree with it. But I personally don't feel like it's healthy to try and create this attachment with a partner that looks like an attachment that you had with a caregiver. I don't think that that's appropriate. And I think that a lot of people who use attachment theory to characterise their entire selves rather than using it as a tool to get better end up in situations where their expectations of adult relationships are unrealistic.

And because they expect themselves to be attached securely to a partner in the same way they would a parent, they constantly find themselves let down. That reinforces their belief that they are anxiously attached, disorganised or whatever the hell it is. And that just kind of ends up in this cycle. That's my opinion. You can disagree. If thinking of yourself as an anxiously attached person has actually helped you is between you and your therapist.

But I wanted to put that out there just because I feel like especially in situations like this, especially where you are the person who's not sure about non-monogamy and the other person feels super sure. I feel like adding attachment theory to this is unhelpful in my opinion. So yeah, and the other thing about this. I think that you need to be real about is that you aren't really being given a choice. This is the nature of these types of compatibility issues right?

If you went back in your relationship and you didn't want to have children and your partner did and you kind of were at a crossroads — you don't want to have children, your partner does. So what are you going to do about that? Either you stay together and have children or you don't. There aren't really in between halfway — You can't — I mean, I guess maybe you could adopt a dog and see how that goes. But like there aren't really halfway ways of dealing with that.

Your partner gets a job offer in another country. Your partner wants to go to another country. You can't really halfway deal with that. Either you go to another country you don't. So I don't really think it's helpful to think of this as forced. I don't think she's trying to force you. But I do think that if this is something that she wants, and she can't really see herself, you know, being in this relationship monogamously for the rest of her life without regretting it, then that’s in a way that's very good that she is willing to do that.

And willing to be real with herself and willing to be real with you. But it's not necessarily about force. This is about a basic compatibility issue. And as I said, there are some low touch things, especially in this case where she isn't interested in a romantic relationship (although I do think you should explore as I said, why she's not interested and what she plans on doing if she does find herself developing feelings for someone).

But there are some very low touch things that you can try and see how you feel. I don't think it has to be — for most of the time I tell people for polyamory, like you're not going to know. The rubber’s gonna meet the road. Expect the first nights to be, you know, really shitty to have negative feelings and that's fine. That happens. You will have negative feelings.

I think that if you expect yourself to feel super happy all the time about this, you're having an unrealistic expectation. Think back about when you guys first decided to have children. Most people, I would hope, really want to have children, but it's a complicated decision. And sometimes people feel scared and nervous and anxious and all sorts of feelings. That doesn't mean that you don't want to have children.

And because we have a more reliable cultural script for having children and because we do expect people to have mixed feelings. I mean, there's a whole aspect there about like regretting having children and the cultural kind of shame around that that I won’t even get into. But in general, we do— we don't necessarily expect people to be completely and utterly happy.

But for some reason with non-monogamy because there is no cultural script I think people have this expectation that they're going to be completely and utterly happy. And at any time that they're sad, this is some sort of secret sign of jealousy and “Oh my god” and “I can't do this”. But you're gonna have mixed feelings about it and that's okay. But you can try some low touch things and see how that goes.

And try not to think of this as you're necessarily being forced. It's like okay, “My partner has done the right thing, which is be honest with me about , what they want to do with their life. We may be incompatible”. But that could happen at any point for any reason. That could happen because, you know, like I said, job offer in a new country. Your partner wants to move to a different country. You don't.

Anything could happen and tonnes of things could happen that could cause this kind of crossroads situation. So try not to characterise it as like it's a forced thing. But it's definitely a situation where, you got to decide if you're going to try it or not. So, yeah, to sum up, I think that you need to explore a little bit of the physicalities of what a non-monogamous relationship would look like between the two of you, what that means in terms of time spent apart. I think you should explore a little bit about why she's not looking for romance and what she plans on doing if she— what you plan on doing as well.

If you find yourself having feelings for somebody, I would also really think about like the light touch approaches that I've said. MGS. I would think about hiring a sex worker if that's possible for you, or going somewhere where you can do that. I would think about going to a swinging club going to even just going there first time just to like have a look around getting to know people.

You don't necessarily have to just go full in and jump full into the edge. There's lots of stuff that you can do to see how you feel about it and see if you have any interest in it. I don't think you should expect yourself to be completely happy all the time. Expect yourself to be nervous. Expect yourself to have all sorts of feelings. And I don't think that those feelings need to be a command.

I think you guys need to rethink this whole concept of you're restricting her freedom. I don't think that that's helpful. I think that's a little shame-y and isn't going to benefit you in the long run. I don't think you should see yourself as an anxiously attached person and I have already gone into why. And then yeah, it's just… I don't think you're going to necessarily be able to prevent having negative feelings.

I think that you need to understand that you very likely grew up in a monogamous centric culture. You have a monogamous centric cultural script in your head, and it's going to be scary to step outside of that and that's okay. And it doesn't mean that you're secretly monogamous or anything like that. It doesn't mean you're trying to control her or that you're trying to restrict anybody are trying to do anything. Sometimes feelings are just feelings. So yeah, I hope that 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.