Can opening your relationship temporarily work to address an incompatibility?
That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.
Discussion Topic: How do you prefer to be broken up with?
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My boyfriend and I have been in a long term closed relationship for almost 6 years. Recently he brought up the idea of wanting an open relationship. Neither of us have been with other people ever or have been in an open relationship before. We decided on this after multiple occasions where we both felt we weren’t having certain needs met. My boyfriend is a very sexual person and I am just not as physical. We’ve talked about if we want this to be temporary or not and as of right now we want it to be temporary.
After listening to many podcasts of yours, we had in depth talks about boundaries and things we should establish for this transition. I am open to the idea but I don’t know the best way to go about this without someone getting hurt. I am not a person who enjoys having casual sex, but I feel this may give us both chances to explore.
We both do not want to break up, as we love each other very much and we want a life together. I guess I am just asking for some advice on how to transition and other tips you may have with combating the fear and anxiety that goes along with this transition.
In response to your question, I think that the first thing that I would do… I don't always think that opening relationship to address unmet needs is a bad thing, but I do think that sometimes people rush to that as an option, before considering other options, You say that this is about unmet needs. But it seems like it's a very one sided unmet need. It doesn't seem like there is a need that's being unmet on your side. It seems like your boyfriend is more sexual than you, and maybe wants different types of sex or wants sex more often than you. And so opening the relationship is the purpose of doing that.
I don't think that that that's necessarily a bad thing. But the thing that worries me about this is that when you decide to have a non-monogamous relationship temporarily or long term, specifically for the purpose of addressing an issue that is going to be a very big and valid reason for you to feel jealous and scared and it's not to say that you can't overcome that or it's not to say that can't be addressed. But when there's a specific issue where— and it depends on how you feel.
You may be a person who's like, “Look I'm not very sexual, I do not feel emotionally bothered by the fact that you are more sexual and you can have that with somebody else”. But it will be a scary thing and I think that that can happen regardless of whether or not you open a relationship or a relationship begins that way. A very good example of this, which I've talked about in the podcast and the columns before is that I am more of an introverted person and my partner is more of an extroverted person (the partner that I live with) and very early on in our relationship, I was very very worried about the fact that they really loved going to parties and I didn't really like it so much.
And I was very worried that they would find someone who would love to go to parties and I would basically be replaced by someone who they had more fun with. And over time, they did kind of explain to me “Even if I did find a partner who was interested in parties in the same way I am, you are the partner that I want to live with. You have a place in my life. It's not like I'm going to switch you out or something like that”. Now obviously that helps reassure me but I still have that fear.
So I do think that when you do open, specifically for the purpose of addressing a need, it can kind of make you,
understandably, feel very anxious about being replaced and feel very anxious about the fact that somebody else can give your partner something that you can't. I think that the very real reality, especially in a culture where this kind of toxic monogamy — not just monogamy — but this… if you've lived in the same culture as I have and maybe you haven't. But if you have, then you have learned that one person should meet everyone's need and that is what true love is and that if you're truly in love with someone then you'd never feel anything for anyone else.
This person is perfect and amazing — you learn that stuff, and you do start to believe that stuff. And for a lot of monogamous people learning that that isn't necessarily the case, but they can still love and care about their partner, and they can still feel connected to their partner and they still have a strong love for their partner is really challenging. So, if you literally have a need that you can't meet for your partner, getting to a point where you're emotionally comfortable with that can be quite difficult. So the thing that I have to wonder is can there not be compromises made here?
I’m sure that you may have already tried some stuff like that and it's not that I necessarily think that you should have sex when you don't want to. That's not what I'm saying. But I don't know as that you need to go into a full open relationship mode, especially when it's clear that like, it's something you want to try temporarily, which means that polyamory really isn't what you want. Because if you were polyamorous you would be looking for actual other established relationships with other people. And while it's not to say that all relationships have to be long term to be successful.
Generally speaking, most people — a lot of people aren't necessarily wanting a relationship to have an end date basically when — especially when like a couple more or less are going, “Yeah when we feel tired of this we're going to end it.” That's not an enticing scenario for a lot of people who are polyamorous. That's not going to be a situation that they necessarily want to get involved with because they will get hurt. So, you know I'm wondering if — and since you don't necessarily enjoy having casual sex, it seems like you're really going to struggle to find any benefit in this situation for you.
There isn't really a benefit for you and the one thing that I encourage people to do … there's an article I wrote called “Thirteen mistakes people make when trying polyamory” which I think you should check out. And the first thing that I encourage people to do is think about an anchor that will keep them sort of understanding when they're in the difficult spots that this might bring to them. It helps them ground themselves a little bit and what their anchor generally is is the reasons why they chose to do this that don't have anything to do with avoiding breaking up with their partner.
And that's really, really important. Because, understandably, everyone like doesn't want to break up out of a relationship that they're in. But you can't let that prevent you or lead you into doing things that you don't want to do just to avoid a breakup because that will end up hurting, for a lot longer than just breaking up would. And I know that that's like incredibly difficult and I don't think that the vast majority of people are going to make a clean break. I think most people are going to try and save something before it ends and I get that.
However, there are other options that don't aren't necessarily a full open relationship like is seeing a sex worker option? Is this situation where your partner could see a sex worker, and that sex worker would be a professional. And I think that that would. I mean, depending on how you feel but I think if you became more informed about sex work and how it worked. I think that that would be something that in a way would be a little bit less scary for you in a way because the sex worker — I’m not saying that people can't fall in love with sex workers.
I'm not saying that it doesn't happen that a sex worker falls in love with a client or something like that. I’m not saying it doesn't happen, but generally speaking, it is a professional relationship and so there is less of a reason for you to worry there because if you see a sex worker that has had clients before then they will have had this experience of seeing someone. And knowing that they're with someone and, you know, they will understand those boundaries and so that might be an option.
I think that there may be— I'm not sure. Again, I don't want you to necessarily have sex when you don't want to have sex, but there might be things that — you could work it out in some way. It just depends whether you know, there are things to work out. I don't know the finer minute details of the sexual in compatibility so it's hard for me to say. But I do think you should at least try to exhaust those possibilities before you completely open everything.
I think that there are swinger communities. That might also be something that your partner might look into. It might be a lot harder for if your partner is a straight cis man. It might be harder for him to go into a swinger community and find people who are willing to swap with him. Usually it's a very couple based thing and I don't think you would probably be comfortable in a swinger situation. You might. You could try it. You can kind of form a relationship with another couple and swap. But, it depends.
I think that, barring all that, regardless of what you choose to do, I do think that there are a couple of things here that make me worry. And the first thing is that you deciding it's definitely temporary. I think that the thing that I worry about that is that who gets to decide when it's not temporary? That's the thing that you have to kind of really worry about because you know if he starts to fall in love with the person that he's with and maybe he doesn't want to admit it to himself and but you could kind of see the signs and you start going “Well now its ended now because I've said so. We said it would always be temporary and now it's temporary. Now it’s ended.”
He's not going to want to break up with somebody that he has feelings for and understandably that person he has feelings for also is a human being who shouldn't just be discarded because you guys aren't working things out together. So that temporariness is a little bit of a concern for me. I don't know if it's realistic. There are some people who — and this is one of the things I address in the article that I recommended to you.
There are some people who are very self aware and can have casual sex with people without falling in love with them, or who can experience a love for somebody, and not feel like that has to mean that they have to enter a relationship with them, or know themselves well enough that if they are having casual sex with somebody and they start feeling something that is a little bit more— well, I don’t want to say more.
They start feeling a kind of romantic attraction that isn't allowed within those boundaries can pull themselves back before they get into a situation where they feel like they've gone too far. I don't know as that most people are that aware. And the thing is that the biggest mistake that a lot of people make when they try polyamory, when they open the relationship, when they try anything, it's making the rule that I won't fall in love with anyone else. And I think that that is a unrealistic rule. It's just unrealistic.
You can't control that. And you can make yourself aware of how you're reacting to somebody and you can separate yourself from them so that you don't continue to have those reactions. But you can't stop yourself from falling in or out of levels with somebody. If you could, the world would be a lot less complicated, so I don't think it's realistic to try to agree that you won't fall in love with somebody else you or your boyfriend.
I just think that that isn't going to work. What you need to decide to do, is— what will happen if your boyfriend does fall in love with somebody else? Can you imagine a situation where your boyfriend has maybe one other partner that perhaps is more sexual than them? How would that work with the life that you have now? How would that change the life you have now? And think about like the physicality of it. Maybe your partner is gone, your boyfriend is gone for two nights a week or on the weekends or something like that. How would that change?
Because you say you don't want someone to get hurt, but easily in this scenario, the person that generally ends up being hurt, is the person that is discarded when the couple wants to save their relationship over others. I know you don't want to break up and you want a life together, but the other people that your partner may or may not see also have rights. They also have their own life that they want. And it's important to consider that. There is a whole guide you can look up on “unicorn hunting”. I don't really think that that's what you're trying to do here, but it's always good to understand the way that people who are often kind of sought out in a little bit of these kinds of scenarios, it's important to understand their perspective.
And even if your boyfriend is having casual sex with somebody that doesn't mean that they can't be hurt. Because as well even if you're having casual sex with somebody, you could still be friends with that person. And a friend isn't someone that you just kind of chuck aside and never talk to, again without that hurting them. So, it's also important to be aware of that as well. I think sometimes when people make these kind of sex only agreements or I'm only going to sleep with these people, they often kind of forget that friendship is also a thing. And just because, you know, you might still be friends with that person and just suddenly cutting them out of your life would hurt, even if you didn't have romantic feelings for them.
Those are things to think about. Just to recap, all of the things I've gone through here. I think first and foremost exhaust all of the possibilities of you being able to be somewhat sexually compatible. Again don't force yourself to have sex if you don't want to have sex. That's not what I'm saying. But depending on what kind of incompatibility you have, is there any room for, you know, some compromises to be made at some points? Just make sure you've exhausted that possibility before you necessarily jump to fully opening a relationship.
Think about other ways to open, but not necessarily have a fully open relationship. So like, allowing your partner to see a sex worker is one option that you can consider. Maybe going into the swinger community, again with the caveats about the swinger community that I've given. And then the other point is being realistic, both with your wanting it to be temporary and also with your— Basically you haven't explicitly said that you have a rule against falling in love. But it kind of seems like that's what this is basically because it's about casual sex and it seems like it's more about casual sex than it is about forming another relationship.
But just make sure you aren’t doing that without saying that because I think that is really an issue. Definitely challenge your kind of assumption within this dynamic that, or at least make it very clear to any person that you or your boyfriend does get involved with that you do have a hierarchical dynamic so they know if they want to get involved in that or not. And again be realistic about whether or not you may fall in love with somebody. Consider talking about what will happen if that does happen.
Can you see yourself living in a situation where you don't get all of the time? I mean I do think if you're agreeing to an open relationship, then you are agreeing to, maybe not fully polyamory but you're still agreeing to allow— you're agreeing that neither one of you will spend all of your time together in the same way that you would monogamously. Some of your time is going to go to other people. So, what if that wasn't temporary like and what is that it was somebody that he did have a love for or that you have a love for?
And then last but not least check out the “Thirteen mistakes people make when trying polyamory article” that I wrote. I think that has a lot of stuff about grounding, a lot of stuff about the kind of rules that people make without realising it, sometimes realising it, when they first start polyamory and that might help you out a little bit there. I hope that helps and good luck.