When you’ve conceded to many rules but your partner demands you dump another, what do you do?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Discussion Topic: What do you most regret so far?
This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.
I'm in a tough situation and would love your input.
I've been in a relationship with my wife for 10 years, we've been open for 7, married for 5. I'll say that aside from sexual intimacy, my life with my wife is beautiful. We have adventures, we have amazing friends, we travel, and we have shared goals. She's struggled with depression off and on, and the most recent time lasted 3 years. It's been challenging, and I've supported her through all of it.
When we got together, I didn't know that for my own fulfillment, I absolutely needed to prioritize sexual compatibility. To be happy, I need to feel sexually valued and desired by a partner. A strong, ongoing sexual connection is a cornerstone of a romantic relationship for me.
When we started dating, we had a pretty good sexual connection for about 3 months, but then her interest in sex began waning. Since then, she's generally rejected me when I've attempted sexual intimacy, she's avoided flirting with me so as not to lead me on, but when I've come right out and asked whether she's attracted to me, she says she is. I've asked if she would prefer we take sex off the table in our relationship, and she got angry and said no. I've also read a lot on AVEN and asked if she's noticed anything on the site that resonates with her— and I told her I would love and support her however she identifies. She got angry with me when I asked, and said no.
In the times that we have been sexually intimate, it hasn't been very fulfilling for me, because it felt disconnected, and she didn't seem present— for the most part she's had no passion, no zeal. She's even fallen asleep during sex on 3 or 4 different occasions. For a while I thought something was wrong with me. After almost 10 years of continual rejection, my self-esteem was shredded and my sexual well-being was impacted in a lot of ways. I'm now working to heal those wounds with a sex-positive therapist.
Because I was young, naive, and in love with her, I always made excuses, expecting things to change. I would tell myself, "Things will be better when x, y, or z happens... (name any and all external factors here)." I tried a lot different things to fix it, but I tried to tread lightly because the last thing I wanted was to make her feel pressured or inadequate.
Over the 7 years that our relationship has been open, my wife and I have had multiple connections with others, and it's always been a really fun and positive element of our relationship. In fact, she always said she thought it was hot when I had sexual encounters with other people. It was fun for me, and I felt sexual validation from my other sex partners, but I found that I still felt empty and unhappy, because my connections were casual, rather than the sustained sexual, romantic bond that I need to be happy.
My wife and I never defined ourselves as poly[am], and we've never gone as far as to have girlfriends or other committed romantic relationships. We've had connections that have felt more romantic than platonic, but we've always said that our connections would be based more on friendship and sex rather than romance and love.
A year and a half ago, I met someone who I have an incredible, life-changing connection with. (I'll call her A.) In the time that I've known her, I've felt more happy and fulfilled than I have in almost 10 years.
Several months ago, my wife started seeing a therapist to work through her sexual and mental health blocks. I've been supportive of her the whole way. She's now in the process of rediscovering her sexuality and is asking me to end things with A so that we can work on our (nonexistent) sexual connection. She says that it's incredibly painful for her when I spend time with A, because it triggers her feelings of inadequacy— that she couldn't give me what I needed, so she feels that I replaced her with A.
My wife and I are seeing a poly[am]/queer/sex-friendly therapist together, and even still, the therapy isn't helping, and my wife is devastated every time I do so much as go to lunch with A.
I don't want to hurt her, and I don't want to destroy our marriage, but she says she's distraught and can't live like this anymore. I want to be a good partner and continue to support her. And I suppose being a good partner means ending things with A. But just the thought of it makes my stomach churn. It's so hard to lose someone so important to me. I can't string A along like this, and she doesn't deserve to be treated as disposable.
My wife is upset that I'm hesitating to end things with A, and she's telling me that if our marriage was my priority I'd do it.
I've developed strong feelings for A, which is not actually allowed in our version of non-monogamy. But I want it to be, and I want the opportunity to expand into this connection. Despite developing feelings, I've continued to respect my wife's boundaries. To help her feel comfortable with A, I've complied with the rules that she's lain out over these past 18 months. (A is well aware of all the boundaries as well.)
The thing is, the sexual connection with my wife is not there, and I don't know that it ever will be. When we are intimate, it's not pleasurable for me, and in fact makes me a little uncomfortable, like being intimate with a family member. I don't know whether or not this can be fixed. I hope that it can?
I just don't see a way out. Not one where I can be happy, anyway. If I lose A, then I'll go back to living the way I was before. Content enough, but never fulfilled, because it means abandoning a big part of myself. If I don't end it, I'll devastate my wife, injure our relationship beyond repair, and likely lose my marriage and the entire beautiful life we've built together.
The rules I've complied with have included: Seeing A a limited number of times per month, a curfew when I do see her, texting my wife every couple hours, including each time I move from one location to another when I'm with A, and setting up times for the 3 of us to hang out. (For a time, I couldn't spend money or go out for meals with A, so A and I would watch movies or play board games at her apartment, but then my wife changed her mind and asked me not to hang out at A's apartment. But neither of these last 2 rules are in place anymore.) To further demonstrate to my wife that she's my priority, A and I paused for 5 months last spring. A was understanding, but it didn't help my wife, and it only hurt A and me.
My wife has an intense connection with someone I'll call H. They had (and still have) a close, special bond, but then my wife deescalated their relationship to platonic friendship when we moved out of state 4 years ago. At the time, she told me it was because she wasn't feeling it anymore. Now, she's revealed that it was incredibly difficult and painful for her to end things with H, and that she only did it to prioritize me. (I was going through a rough time with the loss of a friend.) I never asked her to do this, and I never would have. Last weekend we were all at a wedding together, and my wife expressed interest in reconnecting sexually with H again. I gave her my blessing, because I truly do want this for her. But when I bring up A, my wife tells me that she can have this with H, because A is "a different situation."
So this is an incredibly unfair situation. That's my first comment about this.
Like, it's so massively unfair in so many different ways. Like when you first started describing what was happening, and you started saying about, you know, how you basically haven't been sexually compatible. And that's the truth of it, you're not sexually compatible, whether it's due to reasons that, you know, your wife needs to work through things, or it's due to her being naturally the way she is, which you've also been really, really supportive of, you just aren't sexually compatible. And you've tried your best to work through this. And yet, it's never enough.
And then you add this bit at the end, where you've complied with rules about, you know, you have— you can only see her a certain— see A a certain times number of times per month, and you have a curfew, that you're texting her when you're moving from location to location like… And then you're not allowed to spend money together, and then you're not allowed to hang out at the apartment, and then you're not allowed this, you're not allowed that. You know what, why not, instead of demonstrating that your wife is a priority, demonstrate that you are a priority to yourself?
You are allowed to be happy and you are bending over backwards in all of these situations to make your wife happy. And you're doing it sacrificing your own happiness. And it's also impacting A. Like, as you said, A is not disposable, and she shouldn't be treated like she's disposable. And given the fact that you know, you mentioned this side relationship with H like.. if anything— Well, first of all, she lies to you and for the re— like she can't even honestly communicate about it because she knows that she's making this decision. And I mean, it's just wild like I don't even have the words to…
She sacrifices something for you without telling you without you requesting it and then expects you to do the same when when you never talk about it or agreed on it. And the result is that it you know, you are being hurt and A is being hurt. Ahe should know exactly how it feels to just give up a relationship and throw it out the window. But she doesn't care. Because it's all about prioritizing the marriage and prioritizing you two and prioritizing her. What about prioritizing yourself? Like, you know, you've given up so much in this relationship, to try and make her happy. And it's not even about the sex anymore.
Like, here's the thing, like, if you had come to me to ask for advice about rules and starting off, I would have told you to stay the hell away from rules that say, ”I won't fall in love with somebody” because I don't think that's realistic. So it already kind of got off on the wrong foot. But it became— it has now become something where you're just literally not allowed to have anything that makes your wife feel slightly uncomfortable. And unfortunately, sometimes things make people feel uncomfortable. And I can understand why that freaks people out.
But she's just kind of like, dictating what you're allowed to do with other people. Now you can't even talk about A. You can't even go out to lunch with A without it being you ripping her heart out. And it's not fair. Like that’s— it's just fundamentally so unfair. The situation is… I'm like angry on your behalf by how unfair The situation is. now in this situation, like, you know, if it were one thing if… if she were making the simple request, and there hadn't been all these other issues about H and about her basically controlling every aspect of your relationship with A and she just wanted to
stop non-monogamy because the reasons that you started non monogamy were because of the sexual incompatibility.
You know, then I might ask you to examine the reasons that you went into non monogamy and be really honest about them. Because the thing is, is that the whole reason for you— you need to get rid of A because A reminds her of her inability to please you. And I just think that you guys need to be really, really honest about this. You did go into non monogamy seemingly, unless there's something you haven't included here, because she didn't want to have sex with you in the way that you wanted. Like, you have a base level incompatibility. And I know that it sucks. And I know that it's going to be a source of insecurity for a lot of people.
But sometimes people are at a base level incompatible. And the only thing that you can do is either break up, or you can choose to make some compromises. And this is a subject, in terms of sex, you know, where you can make compromises by opening up your relationship. And I don't think it necessarily has to be about incompatibilities. It doesn't have to be like your wife wasn't enough. It's about the fact that for whatever reason, she wasn't interested in having sex and rather than pressuring her or, you know, making the situation into something that you would resent, you both agree to something else.
And she also had other encounters it sounds like not just with H, but maybe with other people. So you know, the kind of trigger for it, even if you don't necessarily believe she's completely and utterly, you know, not good enough or anything like that— the trigger for it was very much that you wanted to have sex with other people. And if you revisit that and say, “Well, our connection isn't really, you know what I need yet. So I don't want to end my relationships with other people”. And I think that's totally and completely valid.
And it's not fair after all of this stuff like I am— quite frankly, I'm surprised that A is still hanging around. Because if anyone asked me to pause our relationship for somebody else for five months, and I was being jerked around like this, and my partner had to like, text someone every time we moved, and then oh, now they can't spend money on me or we can’t— like I would have dumped you quite honestly a long time ago, because I wouldn't be okay with someone who's not involved in the relationship dictating my relationship. So I'm surprised A has held on for this long given given the push pull of this.
So it's just not fair. Like and and you've demonstrated that she's a priority over you. You've already demonstrated that and yet it feels like her level of anxiety— and I totally understand her level of anxiety and I don't blame her for having it. I don't think she's a horrible person. But there's a thing about anxiety where if you give it an inch, it will take a mile and this is one of the reasons why I really advise people to sit with their discomfort when they're in polyamorous situations, sit with that and don't immediately start creating rules around it. Sit with it, go through it know that you'll survive.
Because if you just, you know, I found it very similar to the anxiety that I've felt in other situations in my life when I've had compulsions. And when I've been like, “Oh, you know, I've created, you know, these fears in my head that, Oh, I can't do this thing or something horrible will happen”. And the minute I fed into that, and I stopped doing that thing, it— just more things will be added to that list. Oh, now I can't do this, because something horrible will happen. Oh, now I can't do this because something horrible will happen. Feeding my anxiety or validating it never made it go away, it only just helped it grow.
And I think that, because you've complied with these rules, it's only just fed her anxiety. She's only allowed her anxiety to continue to grow. Because it's just growing and growing like at first, you know, you'll only can see her a certain number of times a month, then you have a curfew, then you you know, and I don't know at what point these rules were all in effect, or whether they were all in effect all at the same time. But now you can't even talk about her. Because, you know, it tears out her heart every time you talk about her, it’s— or go out to lunch with her like… it's growing and growing. And it's, it's not— she's never really going to be satisfied unless she either addresses this anxiety and learns how to cope with it with whatever therapist she has.
Or until you break up with A. Like, unfortunately, she's putting you in that position. And you throughout this whole letter, like you're trying to be a good partner, and trying to prioritise her and you’re— like, it's so sad, because it's, it's she didn't she's not doing that for you. in this situation. You know, the only time when she's actually prioritising you is when you don't even ask for it. And she's making herself into a martyr for a cause that no one asked her to be a martyr for. So it's just— it's not a fair situation. And unfortunately, I don’t— Unless your wife decides to address her anxiety, I don't know as that there is a situation where everything's gonna work out fine.
I think that you need to put your foot down and prioritise yourself. Okay, stop prioritising her, stop prioritisng the marriage and prioritise yourself. You are happy with A. You have this great connection with her. And it's not so much about choosing A over your wife, it's about saying to your wife, “I want to be in a non-monogamous relationship, I want to continue my relationship with A. I will not be dumping A at your request. I will not be— and I don't think you should— I will no longer be allowing you to dictate the time that I spend with A and when I can. Obviously I'll try and work with our schedules and make sure that I give you enough time, but you will not be dictating to me at what times I can or can't be with A and I will work with you to rebuild our sexual connection. I will work with you to rebuild our trust. I will work with you to rebuild whatever it is we need to rebuild. But I'm not going to get rid of this relationship to do that, because I don't believe I need to do that. I don't believe that A is preventing me or preventing you from actually working through this. You may be feeling insecure about A. You may be feeling challenged about the situation with A and we can work through that. But I'm not going to react to your insecurity around it by dumping someone that I care about.”
And I think you can totally do that. You can still continue to support her and you have supported her. All the times that you've been with A you have consistently demonstrated that you care about her even when it has been unfair to you and unfair to A and I don't think you should do that anymore. But I do think you can say “I’m absolutely willing to stay in this relationship with you. I’m absolutely willing to make sure that I give you the energy that this needs in order to work”. It's not about prioritising one relationship over another. Because it’s— that's really just weird.
Like, I mean, imagine if you know, you were tending a sick cousin or something like that, like, would you be thinking about “oh, I have the sick cousin but I need to prioritise my marriage”? I just human relationships don't work that way. Like and it's and it's just weird and competitive to be like, yeah, I need to— I have this other relationship but my wife is more important than anything else. Like that's just not how humans work. Different— like obviously, like, you know, we care more about the people that we have relationships with than random people we see off the street at certain points, you know, but I just feel like even those cut and dry situations are like, you know, anyone who forces you to choose… That's not a good thing. And she shouldn't be forcing you to choose.
And if she's using exact language, like you described about saying that basically, if you cared about her, you’d dump A. That's just not fair. That's absolutely, completely unfair. And whatever couples therapist you're working with, if she's saying that while a couples therapist is in the room with you, and the couples therapist is not saying anything about that, then you need to fire that person and find a new one. Because that is fundamentally horrible. I mean, it's emotional blackmail, like absolutely, no, no, no, no, no, no.
So yeah, to sum up, yeah, this is an incredibly unfair situation. And I'm sorry that you're in this situation, because it's really shitty. I think that A is absolutely not disposable. And you shouldn't treat her like that. And if anything, your wife should know what it feels like to have to— to feel like you have to dump somebody, even though you never asked for that. And the biggest kind of message that I have for you is that rather than prioritising your marriage, you need to prioritise yourself, you need to secure your own mask before you start putting on everyone else's mask, and figure out what it is that you want.
And put your foot down and say like no, and if that's not a tolerable situation for your wife, like, I understand, like, you know, yes, it's going to feel shitty when you know, your partner, and you have a have an in compatibility. I mean, I've had similar situations with my domestic partner, where I'm not a big party person. And my domestic partner is a big party person. And it took me a long time to not feel inadequate. It took me a long time to not be scared that my partner would chuck me and leave me for someone who loves parties too.
And I understand that and she's allowed to feel those feelings. But just because she feels those feelings, doesn't mean that A needs to be thrown out, you know, and chucked out. Like that's not how you handle that. You can be absolutely willing to work through her feelings with her, absolutely willing to reassure her. But
I wouldn't dump A especially not in this situation. And I would actually stop doing all of these things like I would absolutely refuse to allow someone else to tell me how often I could see someone else.
Like it's one thing if you were going out with A all the time, and she said, “Hey, I don't see you, as often as I'd like to see you and it's really hurting me”. That's one thing. But she can't dictate to you, the number of times you're allowed to see someone per month you're not a child. You don't have a curfew. And I don't think you should put up with that anymore, let alone dumping A like, absolutely not.
So yeah, I'm sorry, I'm just— I'm kind of very frustrated on your behalf. It's just… it just seems like you've, you've done so much. You've bent over backwards for this person. And then they have the audacity to say to you that you need to dump this person or else you don't care about me like, wow, that's horrible. Yeah, and I'm really I'm really sorry, again, that you're in this situation. But yeah, I don't I don't think you should get rid of A. I think you should put your foot down, figure out what you what your wants and needs are. I think you know what they are. Put your foot down. And unfortunately, if it makes— if it means that, you know your wife can't be with you anymore, then maybe that is the way that things should be, unfortunately.
Because you know someone who— is someone who clearly isn't prioritising you. Just.. I don't know if it's worth it. To be honest, even— I know it seems hard because you put 10 years of your life into this situation. But don't don't do something for a sunken cost fallacy. And that’s— look that up. It's basically the idea that like you've already put so much into this, you have to keep putting things into it. Like, okay, 10 years, that's a long time. But just— as I said in the beginning of this episode, didn't even mean for it to be necessarily related to the letter today. But just because you've known someone for longer doesn't mean that they have your best interests at heart.
So yeah, I hope this helps and good luck.