Episode 58: Sexual Incompatibility

After more than a decade, your partner wants to open up because he’s not happy, but you think things are going too fast. What do you do?

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

Discussion Topic: How much detail do you want to know?

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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


My husband of 5 years, and partner of 11 years, recently came to me and asked to see other people sexually.

He sat down and we had a conversation about it where he hit me with a lot of reasons for wanting this and said he was scared to ask me. He said he felt sexually frustrated because when we got together he was mostly a top and I am also. I have tried to be versatile in many ways, but he is rather large. I have tried to use toys and devices to practice to make it easier or even pleasurable, but I can’t manage to. I just receive no pleasure from it. He said he felt betrayed and lied to. He said ultimately it wasn’t fair.

On top of that we never seem to be “in the mood” at the same time since we work different schedules. When he said these things it hurt to find out this way and that he’s been feeling this. I told him I didn’t like the idea and I was uncomfortable with this, but I would think about it and it’s not an easy decision for me. He said it’s not an ultimatum and that he won’t divorce me over it or anything, but deep down I’m still afraid he might since he brought divorce up.

You see he’s asked me for a divorce in the past and then changed his mind when I started to pack my things to move out, he broke down and said he didn’t want to lose me. He wanted to get a divorce but still live together and be in each others lives romantically and sexually. He told me then that he was feeling we had become friends and grown apart romantically. It hurt to hear him say that since I felt that we had become more than that not less. Ultimately I love him and want to make him happy, so I agreed to the divorce and when he changed his mind I agreed to stay.

I thought about it for a few days and told him I don’t like the idea and I am uncomfortable, but if it’s what he needs and makes things feel fair then we can do what he needs. He said for it to be fair we should both have the option, I said ok but told him I probably never would because of how I feel about it. I did ask him to think about some ground rules and guidelines and get back to me on what he thinks.

Less than a day later he is already “going out” (his way of not telling me he’s going to have sex with someone else) and has not even talked to me again about the subject let alone the ground rules I asked him to think about. The entire time he was gone I was a mess of emotions, I tried to distract myself with tv, video games, music, anything I could think of really. When one hour turned into two then three then four then five it got progressively worse and harder to even find a momentary distraction.

Nothing worked and all I could do was think about how I wasn’t enough for him. Would he want anything more from me than to take care of the house and clean up and cook and help pay bills? Would he be asking for that ever looming divorce when he realises he no longer wants or needs me for anything or falls for someone he’s with? Have I failed in this relationship? Have I not done enough, or shown enough affection over the years? By the time he came home over seven hours later I was emotionally exhausted and unable to sleep in our bed so I was trying to sleep elsewhere.

He wanted to talk and cuddle and tell me about it. By this time trying to sleep where I was was causing my back to hurt and I told him I was tired and hurting and needed to alone for a while. He went to his office and waited for me start to fall asleep then came back and tried to cuddle, when that woke me up he tried to talk to me again about his night out. I couldn’t emotionally process anything at the time so I again told him I needed some time and to let me come to terms with the new situation and we could talk later. He wound up getting mad at me and stormed off to bed.

I can only imagine that most of this is due to the fact that he’s asked for a divorce in the past and it feels like a guillotine hanging over me waiting to fall at any point in an argument. I want to make him happy and give him everything he needs to be happy and satisfied and feel fulfilled in his life. I have made many sacrifices over the years both in and out of our relationship. So if a sacrifice is what’s necessary from me I can do that with ease. I guess my questions come down to, does it get easier? What can I do to support him while not destroying myself? How do I learn to cope with this new situation?

Extra information:

When we got together and got to the point of discussing sex he said he was a bottom that occasionally liked to top, and I said I was a top and I had tried bottoming before and didn’t really like it but I would try for him. So throughout the years he was bottom and I was top, and I would try to bottom for him occasionally but it never really worked out, it was too painful for me or I didn’t seem to enjoy it so he couldn’t stay aroused. I have tried to use dildos and plugs to work up to it, but ultimately if I could I didn’t receive any pleasure from it.

Yes, he has accommodated my topness. When we got together, at least to me, I thought I was clear I was a top and it sounded to me that he was mostly a bottom. It seems to me that over the years he has become more top than bottom in desires than when we met, or didn’t want to “mess things up” by saying the wrong thing in the beginning of the relationship. That was part of the reason I was hurt to find out this way and that he had apparently (since he said he was always mostly a top) been holding onto this feeling for so long.

He says he loves me and wants to come home to me and enjoys our sex and doesn’t want any of it to change, but he just needs to be able to top more than bottom.


So the biggest issue that is coming out for me here first and foremost is that when you did when he did ask for a divorce. You both had such different perspectives of the relationship and that is a really really really huge red flag. Before we even get into all of the details about whether or not you should, or how you should be comfortable with him sleeping with other people, the fact that you're on such different pages is a huge red flag. And that really really needs to be addressed.

If one person in a relationship feels like you're just friends and another person feels like you're even closer than you were before, that is a big problem. So you're not really on the other page. The second problem here, and this is going to get in the way, not just of, if you both decide to open your relationship up a little bit more and it sounds like you kind of already have, and it's already becoming a problem. There is a really huge lack of communication here and that is kind of what leads to the first problem.

But if he failed to communicate from the beginning and you've been together for 15 years. And he's failed to communicate all of this time that this isn't sexually what he wants, that doesn't really bode well. And the fact that you know you open the relationship and you wanted to set some ground rules — and I'll get to the concept of rules in a second — but you communicated that you're going to try it but you wanted to have a little bit more discussion and his first reaction is to immediately go out for a very very long period of time.

And not only do that but then come home, and then you are emotionally distraught. You ask to just be given some space, and he doesn't give you that space and then gets mad at you when you are expressing that you are uncomfortable. That is a huge, huge problem. That to me doesn't bode well. And he has to be able to not only communicate his wants and his needs but he also has to be able to respect your space, and he has not really shown that here. And that's what really really worries me about the situation.

I think that it's understandable for him to feel like the situation has been unfair. I don't think it's fair to say that you've been unfair because you communicated from the very beginning what your preferences are. You have attempted to do your best to accommodate him. It hasn't really worked for you. I don't think it's necessarily fair for you to sit there and do something which is not pleasurable at all for you. I think that that's a bit much to ask. But you have always tried to be extremely clear in your communication. He has hidden his preference it seems like.

And then he doesn't really communicate very well with you so that is a huge problem. Let me address first before I go on to anything else the concept of “ground rules”. Now, you are understandably worried and scared that you're going to be replaced by someone who is more of his sexual preference and that is a valid fear, and there's all sorts of these other things like, you know, is he going to fall for somebody else? This that and the other, have I not been enough? These are all very typical feelings that people have.

And usually when people have these feelings, the first thing that they try to do is address them by making what you called “ground rules” and boundaries. I do think that there are important boundaries and things to discuss about opening up your relationship, especially because that isn't one thing. And sometimes you need to establish, you know, what time are you going to spend with other people? What time are you going to spend with me? What do you want this open relationship to look like? There's a lot to discuss.

And I do also think that sometimes when people have all these fears they want to create rules like “You're only going to love me and nobody else” and I don't think that's helpful. I think that's reassuring in the moment, but at the end of the day, whether you're open or closed, he can fall in love with somebody else and you can't prevent that with a rule. You can't prevent that with the rule of monogamy let alone with any rule that you set up within the standard of an open relationship. So I think that, your first instinct to say, “let's create some rules” is probably founded in that fear, which is very understandable.

When you open your relationship, it isn't an upgrade. It is a complete change to how you do the relationship. And not only is it a complete change but he's basically told you that he's been unhappy for a very very long time. And so there's a whole lot of processing that you have to go through in terms of why did I not see it? There's a lot there that needs to be addressed. Essentially, this has been an issue for a long time and he hasn't communicated that so it's almost like you have to rebuild foundations of trust with one another.

And so while you're doing this, you can't really do that if he is unwilling to at least discuss things with you first or give you a little bit of time or give you a little bit of space. Those are really really big things and the fact— the thing that really worries me about this, is the fact that when you clearly — and I don't know how clearly. Maybe you were more upset at the time, understandably. The first night is honestly always a shitty night. I would have told you if you asked me before that night, how should I prepare? I would have said, “You're gonna feel terrible” because it's sort of— that is pretty much going to happen.

I think it's very rare that somebody doesn't feel terrible when this sort of thing happens so I would have told you to be ready for that. I just think that even so he could have, the second you said “Hey, I need some time, I need some space. Please give me some space”, he should have been like, “Okay, I'll give you that space”. And the fact that he got angry and stormed off because you asked for space is really really concerning and that is the thing that worries me.

Now, the other thing and the last thing before I kind of will get into summarising my advice here that you also need to worry about is you are saying, “I’ve given the sacrifices. I've done this. I've done that”. You need to make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Because here's the thing about sacrifices. A lot of times and all relationships, typically, you know will often require some type of sacrifice in some points depending on how long they are. Maybe they won’t.

It's not completely unusual for there to be some sacrifice in a relationship. However, you need to be able to have that in a way that doesn't create resentment. And the problem with this kind of attitude of like, “Okay, I've sacrificed so much. I can do one more sacrifice”, is that if you feel like you're always giving and giving and giving to someone who doesn't give back to you, that will create resentment. That will become a problem.

As much as you want to give a gift, and have it be a gift, the thing of it is is that if it is a situation where you feel like “Okay, I'll give up this. Okay, I'll give up that” and you really don't want to, you're just doing it to keep this person. Inevitably, you're going to want basically repayment in kind for the things that you've sacrificed, even if you don't think so now, it does have a way of creating this resentment.

And the thing that I worry about here is that you are so focused on his happiness that you aren't really focusing on your happiness. I mean in a way you have had your topness needs filled by him and a lot of ways so that's not an issue. But that doesn't mean that you know you have no other needs, and that he should be able to behave the way that he's behaved. So just make sure that you're actually taking care of yourself. And that you're finding ways to support yourself because even if he hadn't behaved this way, even if he had been giving you space and been more receptive and understanding to your situation, you are still going to need that ability to take care of yourself because it's going to be difficult.

You're going to go through a lot of stuff in terms of being afraid of loss, all that sorts of things so you need that ability to take care of yourself. And you also need the ability to understand like… they call it in the UK they call it an MOT when you kind of like get your car checked up. But I don't know if that's what they call it in other places. I don't drive so…. Can you do a check up on your relationship?

Are you satisfied with your relationship or are you in a sunk cost fallacy where basically you feel like you've given so much to this relationship that  you would kind of essentially lose all of your investments in the sacrifices you've made? And you don't want to lose that so that's why you're staying in it. That's never really good reason to stay in a relationship.

So it's really important that you ask yourself, “Am I really happy in this relationship? Are things really going well for me in this relationship?” That's really important to— even though there is a bit of a mismatch in terms of your wants and desires. That doesn't mean that you get, you know, because you're getting your needs filled as a top that you don't have any other needs or that you're completely satisfied,

With all that in mind, I think that the thing that you should do in terms of how you approach this—  I'm willing to understand if his reaction to you needing space, and his sort of jumping at the chance to go sleep with somebody else. I'm willing to understand that as a first timer error, and just you know him being excited because he has been with you for a long time. He's really been unsatisfied for a long time, which isn't your fault.

So maybe he did get a little bit too excited. I think that first thing you need to do is find a polyamory friendly couples therapist and talk about first and foremost, the issue with the divorce, and you two being on completely separate pages, when it comes to how you thought your relationship was going because that is really a problem and that is going to be a source of anxiety and fear for a long time.

I don't necessarily think that it's the divorce that sort of hanging over your head like a guillotine. I think it's the fact that when he did ask for divorce you were on such different pages, and that created understandably a heck of a lot of anxiety for you. Because essentially it came out of nowhere, so what you're afraid of is not necessarily a divorce. It's that it will come out of nowhere. So you have to kind of address that first and foremost with each other.

Work on your communication issues. Have that discussion about… not necessarily ground rules. And always question your rules. Is this about preventing emotion? Preventing loss? Does this rule actually address the situation that it's meant to address? Thinking about what your ideal relationship looks like— how will he go out and meet people? Is that something where he is actually going to develop relationships with other people?

What will you do if he starts to have emotions for somebody else? You know all this stuff are things that you both need to have a talk about, and he needs to be able to do that without, you know, getting frustrated and upset and having a therapist there can sometimes help with that. Also, maybe he needs to come to a better understanding of how to give you a little bit of space when you need it. I understand that it's frustrating. You know when you want to tell your partner — maybe what he wanted to tell you, was that “Hey this can actually work!”.

And he is actually relieved because he was afraid you would have to break up but then it's like, oh no I can go out. I can do this and then I can still come home and my partner still here and I'm really happy about that. It's cool. It’s great that he's happy but you've just sat there for like seven hours and understandably been freaked out and you need some space, so you need to work out things like that together.

I would say it does get easier in terms of those kind of raw emotions and that fear. It definitely does get easier when you rebuild that trust together, but you have to be able to communicate well in terms of “this is my boundary” or allowing yourself to sit in the discomfort and see that he's still there and he's not going anywhere. But you have to address that ultimate issue of the fact that you didn't know that divorce was coming because if you didn't know, if you had no inkling, then that just tells you that something else could be around the corner without you knowing and that is what is going to freak you out the most.

Also, last but certainly not least, just as a reminder, you have to be able to support and take care of yourself and maybe you should see a therapist on your own about your willingness to sacrifice things. I'm not saying that no one should sacrifice anything in a relationship at all. I do think that sometimes you know we make compromises and that's okay. But you can't be the person that's always sacrificing, always sacrificing because as much as you might think now, “Oh I’m absolutely fine with this. I just want to make my partner happy,” if you are not being satisfied or if it’s not mutual, resent will build.

And that isn’t necessarily about you being a bad person. I’m a sacrificer too. So I totally understand. And it can feel really hard because later on you’re like, “Shit I gave up all this stuff and I’ve been trying so hard and working so hard and nothing is coming of it”. And then you almost feel like, “Am I secretly manipulative and passive aggressive? Did I only just give this person or did I only just work this hard to get something in return?” It can be really hard. It can be really difficult.

There’s lots of fucked up ness about it. I do think people can be naturally giving and naturally sacrificing and I don’t think that just because you end up in a situation where someone isn’t giving you the support that you need, it doesn’t mean you gave with the expectation that they were going to return— I mean everyone should have that returned to them by someone that they care about. It’s not manipulative to give something in a relationship and expect that that person will also be there to support you and be sad when they’re not.

But that sacrifice thing is a doozy and you need to be able to be really introspective about, “I’m going to sacrifice this with the caveat and know that okay— at what point am I going to say I’m done giving. I am not being supported in this relationship— And this isn’t necessarily about how much I’ve given—“ although that will absolutely frustrate you. But, “I am not being supported in this relationship so I need to start giving to myself”. And that’s really important for you to remember and for you to work on.

Right, yeah. I think I’ve summarised all the points. I don’t think it’s completely lost. I do think that if your partner continues on this path of just doing whatever, not talking to you about it and also getting mad at you for wanting to have your space, that is really not a good sign and then you really need to think about whether this is going to work. Because I think if everything was perfect and you had a partner who got angry at you for putting down a boundary and saying that “I need space and I need time,” that’s just a bad sign overall.

And not a good sign. Even if he were like, “Okay, fine I’ll never sleep with anybody else. We’re closing this up”, the fact that he got mad when you said, “I need space” is a huge problem and so if that happens again, you definitely need to think about other options unfortunately.

I hope that helps and good luck.

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