Episode 22: Backup Wife

A husband asks a wife to open their relationship after cancer, with some troubling caveats.

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

Discussion Topic: List five ways you are difficult to live with.

Listen below. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers.


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


We have been married 24 years, both of us over 50, and I am 1 1/2 years post breast cancer treatment. We both had cheating spouses the first time around, and when I met hubby, he was a total player, he was 22, five years younger, and way, WAY more experienced than me. He is very high-energy, (he’s a sexual machine, really), bipolar, and sees sex as a physical act, not an emotional one, he recently said he had his one love in life and she killed whatever he had in him that could love, because she betrayed him and abused their son.

After having no physical contact during chemo, (which totally sucked), he now says “I’m afraid to hurt you” (he IS a big, very strong guy), and “I love you but I’m not IN LOVE with you”. Because he had the fantasy of a threesome, I gave in years ago one time and granted it even though I didn’t want it, because I loved him and wanted him to be happy and thought it might get it out of his system. It didn’t. I didn’t have contact with her during it and we never saw her again.

Now he wants a permanent, live-in extra female to have threesomes with, but he doesn’t want to share me with anyone except the other female (he has this whole “you’re MINE, I don’t share” thing going on. Not that I want to wander, but it’s disturbing that he thinks it’s ok for him and not me). He has also mentioned the possibility of adding MORE women later because he feels he could “handle” multiple women (think sister-wives all in the same bed!). When we met he juggled multiple women at the same time but I wasn’t aware until we got further into our relationship and were officially “dating”.

I am not into it. I am monogamous, have never been anything but, and never cheated on anyone, even when just dating someone, even when I was in the Navy and we were not married yet. (I can count the guys I’ve been with on one hand). I’m about to throw in the towel and move on because I feel like this BS “you’re MINE” crap is going to have me going back into a psychiatric ward. (I have major depressive disorder, PTSD, anxiety, panic attacks, the whole thing. I am seeing a counselor, as is he, both through the VA. We are both disabled veterans who do not work. After going through cancer treatments, now I am on hormone suppression to curtail a reoccurrence of cancer, and that makes me horny ALL THE TIME. (You’d think he would like that, right? Wrong. He COMPLAINS.) Um, yeah, I get I’m not a supermodel, but he’s at least 100lbs overweight and it doesn’t make me want him any less.

I love him, have been in love with him forever, but if he is incapable of loving me back the way I love him, I don’t think I can handle the kind of betrayal that would feel like. I would rather cut my losses and be single until I die. I feel like he married me so I would take care of my stepson, I feel like he is planning on using an extra woman as a preparation for me dying of cancer, and that I am now a burden even though I have grown my hair back and can take care of myself. I am also afraid that he may be unwilling to let me go regardless because we have a lot of financial obligations and I would leave him with all of them because I am not materialistic and I can move into an apartment or 55+ community in the city and wouldn’t need a car.

Yes, I have been thinking about what-ifs. He has forced me to prepare myself for the worst by pushing me towards things I don’t want. I left an abusive man I was married to who cheated on me with numerous people constantly. In that instance, I packed a bag and walked out with what I could carry after 6 years of being duped into believing that my husband was faithful. His best friends told on him after they discovered that I was faithful and that he was the only one treating our marriage openly. They thought it wasn’t fair to me because I was innocent and did everything right. I didn’t date for a long time afterwards. We had no children because he caused miscarriages and eventually was the reason I had a total hysterectomy at 25.

Sorry, part of why I am disabled is cognitive issues, memory problems and concentration issues, so I talk in circles and write in them. Yeah, I’m fucked up, I know it, I didn’t cause it or deserve it, but I’m used to it. I can still make to do lists and follow them, my bills get paid, and I take care of responsibilities and have intelligent conversations, I just get a little lost in them as if I was on cold medicine.

I still mow the lawn, putter with my houseplants, play with the dog, and, for the most part, act and appear normal, if with a dirty sense of humor. So nutshell here: What the actual fuck!?!? And: how do I deal with this crap? I know I am strong enough to move on if I have to, I’ve been there before, I know how to survive, but I would rather save what we have if it can be saved to our mutual benefit. If not, then I will bear the pain and move on knowing I did my best to figure out an amicable way to work it out.


There's so much going on here. First I just want to say I'm sorry because like this really sucks. Like you've gone through cancer treatment and the treatment that you're getting right now is really aberrant. Like it's absolutely unacceptable. There a lot of really bizarre and just… red flags. Just like… There's a whole marquee of red going on through this entire thing.

First and foremost, like you know, if you’re monogamous and you don't want to be polyamorous, that is absolutely 100% fine.

I don't think you need me to tell you that. I think you're quite self-assured in who you are and I think that's great. The biggest things that just sort of hit me off the bat is that you say that he said he had his one love in life and she killed whatever he had in him that could love… That is a very very horrible thing to say. And also just a… what I feel is and you know I'm not a therapist and I'm not an expert in abuse but I have had experiences with people who kind of set things up in a way where they can say, “Well I told you that I was terrible” or “I told you,” as if you are to blame.

So this feels very much to me like… you know sometimes people who are quite terrible will give you these little warnings and then they can turn around and say “Oh but I warned you. I warned you that I am on this way so…”. So what? Like it makes it acceptable for them to be that way? He tells you and has told you multiple times that he is not in love with you. Or you know… how can he say that whoever this is killed whatever he had in him that can love? That’s such a disgusting thing to say.

People have been through, you know— and I'm not trying to minimise what he's been through. He may have been through a very very terrible relationship and he may… It's one thing to say like, “Look I've been through very very terrible difficult relationship. It's really hard for me to trust. It's really hard for me to be vulnerable. It's really hard for me to be intimate with people.” (Apologies for the siren) It's another thing to say that you can't love anyone else anymore. And it's such utter horse shit. With all due respect to him, it is utter horse shit. There have been people who have been through incredible amounts of trauma and still manage to love people.

So it's just patent bullshit. And it's one of those things that's just like a huge red flag. It just sounds like something that he can go back to later and say “Well I said that I can't love anyone”. Which is horse shit. He can love people. He can and that's no excuse for his behaviour. The other thing that I'm kind of picking up on and you haven't explicitly said that he's criticised your appearance but you talk a little bit about your appearance in here. You talk about how, you know, he basically wants to have this because he wants to have more sex, yet you are not, you know, you're not disinterested in sex. And then you sort of talk about how you know you've grown out your hair back and you can take care of yourself.

You had cancer. Like… the whole point— well, not the whole point but a big part of a partnership is supporting someone else and I don't know whether this is your talk to yourself, making you think that you were a burden for having cancer and probably needing some help and support from him, which I hope he provided. But you're not a a burden any point. Even if you were… even if you get, you know, your cancer comes back and you do have to go through chemo again and your hair starts falling out again, you’re still shouldn’t be a burden to somebody. And because you mentioned like your hair growing back and that you’re not a super model and that he complains, it makes me wonder is he complaining about your appearance?

Because that’s really cool. Like you know… There's one thing… I think that people who are together especially in a monogamous situation, you know, you can give feedback. Like if I have a partner and their breath stinks, I’m going to tell them that their breath stinks but there’s difference between you know something like that and what sounds like some criticism of your appearance, which is just… It crosses the line into abuse.

Like the reason why abusive people will sort of pick, pick, pick is it's picking at your self worth and your self-esteem. And the good thing is is that from your letter I get the sense that that isn't really working on you. I mean you do to kind of down talk yourself a little bit in this which I talk about later but you do overall seem confident. But that's the sort of thing that sort of chips, chips, chips away and gets at your confidence and undermines you and it's just really terrible thing to do. So that's not cool, you know. That's another big red flag .

The other thing is that like… you… At the end of this letter, you talk about— you want to see if what you have can be saved for your mutual benefit and yet throughout this entire situation, not only are you getting the feeling that he's not interested in mutual benefit but he's making that patently obvious. Now there's a thing within polyamory that people refer to as “the one penis policy” which is when— exactly this kind of situation— when a— and this is usually cis people that we’re talking about. Not saying that trans people can't have a one genital policy but usually it's referring to a situation with a cisgender woman and cisgender man and where the main is ok with the cisgender woman basically sleeping with only women but no men.

So he's owning you. He has this “You are mine. I don't share,” but not with other women. Not that it would be better if he didn't let you sleep with er— if he wanted to sleep with other people and didn't want you to sleep with other people. I mean that's not better, but it is very… The problem with this kind of policy where it's like “You're not allowed to have sex with other men but you can have sex with other women,” it's just really gross because not only is it generally transphobic because,  you know generally people who have this kind of policy aren't very open about gender and aren’t very understanding or judge trans people in negative ways and probably you know are just flat-out rejecting the fact that non-binary people exist.

But this kind of thing is very… it's basically saying that women aren’t a threat. It’s very sexist and an outdated and ridiculous. So he's going to let you sleep with his other “females”— which by the way I don't know if that is a word he used or it’s a word that you use. If it is a word that he used… again another red flag here. When people call women “females”… Female what? He wants a live-in extra “female”. A female what?

It's a degrading things to call a woman a “female”. It’s very… It's hard for me to adequately describe it, but it is just very cold and it is objectifying. He's objectifying these women. He's objectifying you and he thinks he can “handle” multiple women and yet here you are wanting to sleep with him and he's complaining about that? He's complaining about your appearance? Here you are like… you know trying your best and he's not putting up any effort. He can't even handle the person that he's in a relationship with. Let alone multiple people because he's being incredibly selfish and sexist here. It's absolutely unacceptable.

There are people who choose to live in this kind of situation where there is one guy and a bunch of women. If that’s how everyone in this situation is choosing to live,  I still think it's not ok to basically act like women aren’t a threat or to basically create this kind of system when it's based on the idea that you know men can handle multiple women. I just… even that word “handle”. Like it's just… It's just gross. It’s just gross. It’s horrible. It’s a massive red flag that he doesn't have any respect not only for you but for these women.

It would be a totally different thing if he had come to you and he had said “You know, I'm struggling a bit with my libido and the fact that you've had cancer has been really stressful on me”. You know it's ok that he's scared of hurting you. Like that legit and if he would like… “If there was some say I could kind of do something sexual with somebody else to kind of let off some steam”. That would be one thing. This is not that thing.

You know there might be very understandable things going on or underneath all of these layers of terrible there still a lot of layers of terrible. And the other thing is that you need… you know you've got an intuition here. I mean you need to look at what you've written. The saddest thing that you've said in this letter is “I feel like he married me so I would take care of my stepson.” So his child I assume. “I feel like he is planning on using an extra woman as a preparation for me dying of cancer”.

So he's trying to figure out like basically… have a backup wife and that’s really horrible. Like, you know, dealing with death this is quite difficult. And it’s quite a hard subject for a lot of people to talk about. It’s a very taboo subject. This is like a whole other thing in terms of the taboo nature of death that I could talk about for hours but I won't get into it. But the point is that it's ok for him to be scared of that but if he wants to make sure he's not you know alone, there better ways of doing it. I think maybe underneath all this there are some understandable feelings but what he's doing is displaying an incredible lack of respect for you and an incredible lack of respect for what you have together.

And so when you talk about if it can be saved for your mutual benefit, it doesn’t exist your mutual benefit right now. You know, he isn't helping you out right now. You've gone through so much. Like you've survived cancer and you know what has he done? You don’t write about how he supported you. I really hope that he did support you. But now he's complaining. And now he wants essentially a backup bunch of women who he can also lean on, that can help support him and do whatever he wants to do. He doesn’t— He's not showing a remote— Like how scary it must be for you to have faced this? How scary must it be to have this threat hanging over your head?

You do seem very self-assured but just because someone seems self-assured doesn't mean they don't need support and there’s nothing that he's doing that is demonstrating that he respects the enormity of the situation in front of you. He's not even showing that so how can you create a mutual benefit situation where someone is clearly not invested in you? And an amicable way to work it out?

So this is the last thing and this is the last big red flag and the thing that I'm really worried about and I might be taking what you said off on a tangent and that's fine but the fact that you said, “I’m afraid he may be unwilling to let me go”. He has to. Because you’re a grown ass adults. It doesn't seem like you have any qualms about leaving but I don't know what you meant by “I’m afraid he may unwilling to let me go” and you talk about trying to find an amicable way… I mean are you afraid of him? Are you really worried that something might happen to you? That he might hurt you if you leave?

If you are worried about that, part of the battle with people in abusive relationships is them-- I think the statistic or something it is 4 to 7, the average amount of attempts for someone who is in an abusive relationship to leave that person and some of it has to do with you know the fact that it's very hard to break the cycle. And because of the kind of manipulation that abusers do and it seems like he has manipulated you a bit but it doesn't seem like you are… You know you say “I’m strong enough to move on if I have to,” and it seems like you have that confidence to sort of go “You know what? I’m done with this”.

And you've got the right vigour. Like you’re sitting here going “what the actual fuck? How do I deal with this crap?” You don’t. That's the answer. You don't deal with this crap because you deserve 100% better and you know if you are scared of him or if you think that he might physically prevent you from leaving, then you do your best to make arrangements. Talk to a domestic abuse shelter and they should have programs that help people get, you know, physically escape situations if that's what you're really worried about.

But you seem like you’re able to take care of yourself in terms of living on your own. It really sucks. This is such a terrible situation for you to be in. And I can't even express like how… how sad I am for you in this situation. You don’t seem like the kind of person, I could be wrong,  but you don’t seem like the kind of person who necessarily wants anyone to feel sorry for them but you’ve just gone through so much and I think the least of what you deserve is someone who respects that and someone who respects you and someone who is willing to give you the support you need.

The last thing you need right now after you just survived through a bunch of chemo treatments and dealt with all that stress— the last thing you need is someone going, “Oh yeah I wanna have a bunch of women and you can sleep with them but you can’t sleep with anyone else and yeah I think I could have multiple women is a think I can handle them”. It’s just patently fucking ridiculous. Like I'm so sorry you're in this situation because it’s so ridiculous and you deserve so much better. I just… I really hate sometimes having to give this advice because I think you know… I usually, for most situations, unless they’re a direct threat to someone, I try to see if there can be ways to solve it because there are some times when people just have… they don't have inherent incompatibilities but they have just disagreements and sometimes there are ways to solve them.

There are probably people out there that exist in a very similar scenario to this where you know their partner has multiple partners and you seem like the kind of person where if he had approached you and said that he wanted to have multiple partners but didn't place any restrictions on you, you might have even gone with that. Maybe, you know, even though you're monogamous. Or you might have considered the possibility but your spider senses are tingling for a reason. Like this whole ownership of you is unacceptable and you can't work— you can only work—  this is one of the reasons why I tell people constantly that relationships aren’t skills, that you don't fail relationships.

Because it takes the people within in that relationship working together and you can't work with someone who refuses to work with you. You can’t build anything amicable or build to a  mutual benefit with someone who clearly does not have your best needs at heart or cares about your benefit. I mean he just like… there’s so many things here that just say he doesn't care. Complete side note, I know I’m trying to come to a close. But let’s just examine the cognitive dissonance within his statements. He’s saying he’s lost his ability to love because his ex-wife stole that from him or what not and then he's also saying that he can handle multiple women.

And maybe he means just sexually, but like you know these live-in wives, are they not going to be loved? Is he just going to have multiple “females” in his abode that he doesn't love? I mean this is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous and you deserve so much better than this. I wish that I had… If he had come at you trying to explore polyamory clumsily… If he had come at you and said, “I’m interested in extra liv—“ Even “extra females”. That’s like an extra what? It’s like the person is an extra side order of fries. Ugh.

If he had come to you with a request to open up your relationship so that he could meet some of his sexual needs without the complaining about your appearance, without the “he can't love anybody anymore”, without the instinct you have that he's trying to find a backup wife, it would have been one thing. You could have maybe worked that to your mutual benefit but he is showing you who he is and I just don't think that you should put up with it.

I'm really sorry that there isn't anything that better can say but you know what you've done so far— like you’ve come so far. You've done some amazing things. You've survived so much. The relationship you described with your previous— the  abusive man you were with— absolutely freaking horrible and you’ve survived through a lot and you just deserve especially after you survived abusive people,  you survived cancer, like after all that-- you really deserve to have somebody in your life who respects you and who cares about you and who cares about you know your needs and your life just… You can do better. I really genuinely think so. It's never too late but yeah. That's my advice with this and I really really hope it helps and good luck.

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