Gender roles and non-monogamy

I’m in a monogamous relationship and I’ve been in this relationship for 4+ years. We’ve talked about non-monogamy but my partner is quite against it. What makes things worse is I cheated on her last year with a man. We slept together twice before I told her and broke it off with him.
I’ve had a hard time in monogamous relationships in the past because I feel like I get put into a gender role box. If I’m dating a woman, im put into the role of the man, and vise versa.
In my ideal world, I would be either in a triad with a woman and a man, or I would be in a primary relationship with a partner of one sex open to other relations.
My partner doesn’t really understand the gender stuff, even though she tries to. She is really good about treating me how I want to be treated, but a big part of it too is how I’ve been raised. I feel like when I’m with her, I /want/ to do the “manly things” because it makes me feel like a good partner. But it makes me sad that nobody does those “manly things” with me.
And, sex has been… sparse. We have sex maybe once a month if everything aligns. (Double periods makes things a bit tricker plus my partner is super delicate and only wants sex when everything is perfect.) For me, this can be quite hard because physical touch is really important for me to feel bonded with someone and feel happy in general. She does like things like hugging, hand holding, and small kisses (like a peck on the lips.) But sometimes it makes me feel undesired when someone doesn’t want more than that from me.
Anyway, I don’t really know what my question or issue is. Right now I’ve pushed aside any thoughts of the relationship opening up because I definitely shot that possibility in the foot when I cheated on my partner, and I’m fully aware of that. And, I haven’t been able to do much to increase our sexy times. These last few months I’ve decided to focus more on solo sessions and not think about sex with my partner and it’s been helping my mood a lot. But I’m still not fully satisfied.
Maybe my main question is, how long should I wait before mentioning non-monogamy again? It’s been about 6–8 months and she’s still quite hurt about it. I wont ever make the mistake of doing something behind her back again, but I also can’t stop fantasizing about having a man in the house. I also enjoy the thought of watching my partner with a guy. It sounds super fun and sexy.

There are a few key issues to address here but first and foremost, I wouldn’t necessarily say that infidelity means a non-monogamous relationship is completely off the table. I assume you live in a culture monogamy is really the only option is given to people and given that, a lot of people find their way towards feeling like non-monogamy is either part of their identity or works better for them through infidelity. It hurts and it’s unfortunate, but it happens.

Therapy to address infidelity

Any trauma or event in our lives that have had a very negative impact us can continue to impact us for years, decades, or even until the day we die. Some things we don’t “get over” and some healing experiences aren’t linear. What’s critical when it comes to being able to cope or move on from something like infidelity is being able to resolve the issue together. You don’t necessarily have to work with a therapist, but I do think that it is advisable if you can access it because there are some other issues here that need to be explored and sometimes a third party can help with that.

There isn’t a perfect amount of time to wait before mentioning non-monogamy. It’s really about whether or not your partner has had the space in her life and with you to work through these feelings. I think that mentioning non-monogamy may come up again if you’re talking with her about the reasons for infidelity.

Sometimes this does kind of feel like an ultimatum because… it can sometimes be and there isn’t anything you can do about it. If your partner has a naturally low sex drive, prefers to perform gender within a couple in a specific way and has zero interest in any form of non-monogamy that could be a compromise you are at an impasse.

However, before we assume that I think there are a few other things that need to be worked out together before non-monogamy becomes your only option — outside of her working on the pain that the infidelity may have caused her.

Therapy to address gender roles

As a non-binary person, I can understand feeling as though you’re being dictated in a relationship to a specific gender role. For me, this can add a layer of misgendering to a relationship. When I feel as though I’m being shoved in to specific activities that are generally associated with a woman’s role in a cisgender heterosexual relationship and I haven’t specifically chosen it… I do get tetchy about it.

However, I do think there’s a wider discussion to be had with a therapist about how you see yourself within a relationship and how to address your want to do “manly things” in a relationship and how you might be a good partner in other ways.

In some ways, I do think this is something we’re socially encouraged to do because we’re used to those tasks, but I do think this is something that can be addressed. If your partner is used to heterosexual relationships with people who are cisgender, it may be that she’s also doing what she’s used to do and things can change.

It might be worth exploring some of that because it seems like it’s not just an issue with regards to sexual incompatibility, but there’s also an issue with roles in the relationship and ways that you can be fulfilled in this relationship that may involve addressing some of your own specific issues and working those out.

Sexual incompatibility

Aside from working through some of your internal inclinations towards roles in relationships and working through your feelings together on the infidelity and resolving those problems, there is a wider issue of sexual incompatibility which is quite frequent in monogamous relationships. There are a few ways to address this.

First and foremost, seeing if your partner recognises that your differing libidos can create some stress and how they feel about it. Just as much as it is difficult to feel neglected or ignored, it can also not help in terms of having sex if you feel a constant pressure to do so. Is the current frequency something she’s happy with? Is it typical in the relationships she’s been in? Is the pressure of you wanting more sex something that makes it harder for her to want it?

If this is about physical touch and intimacy, is there a way she can be involved with your solo sessions where she doesn’t have to do anything but it still meets that need for you? Is that something she’s willing to do to kind of meet that need? You don’t mention what types of sex you’re doing or wanting and it may be repetitive to remind you that penetrative sex isn’t the only type of sex that can be had and many folks with vaginas may struggle to even get satisfaction from that type of sex — so maybe trying different types or focusing less on penetration and more on other things might make things work between you.

If you’ve tried to mix things up that way and it still doesn’t work because there are specific types of sex that you prefer to have that she doesn’t, then you may need to talk about compromises. Depending on the frequency you feel you need, you may not need to have another entire romantic relationship with another person or even a friends with benefits type of arrangement. You could potentially see a sex worker a few times a year, if that was something you found would help satisfy you.

Although a lot of people are whorephobic or anti-sex work because many societies are and believe a lot of incorrect information about sex workers, this situation could be something that might provide a better compromise than you having another romantic relationship or a friends with benefits situation that could get complicated or seem more threatening to your partner. A sex worker is there in a professional capacity and while I obviously can’t guarantee feelings will never develop on either side in this situation, I feel like that’s probably less likely if you hire a sex worker. And in terms of STI safety, a sex worker is actually far more likely to get checked frequently than other people and know how to use protection well.

If you require something a bit more frequent or a sex worker is out of the question, then you might look into getting involved in swinger communities — however, I generally would advise that, unless you live in an area where it’s an exception, most swinger communities are very cishet focused. From what I’ve seen and read, they don’t necessarily feel like welcoming spaces for non-binary people and specifically I have heard that single bisexual men struggle to find couples or people to swap with.

It’s worth a shot in case you find a couple that has an interest and in a way a swinger community might feel safer for your girlfriend because you will be likely getting involved with people who are already in committed relationships who aren’t looking for other romantic connections and are just looking for sexual hookups.

If all of those options don’t work for you and what you actually want — given you’ve mentioned gender roles are part of a reason why you cheated — is a romantic relationship or the ideal scenario you’ve put out then you may just be at an impasse in terms of your compatibility with your partner.

In summary

I think it’s worth you finding a therapist who is non-monogamy positive and sex work positive and going through the issues of healing from the infidelity, addressing gender roles within your relationship (possibly seeing a therapist individually to discuss your inclination towards taking on a specific role and how to fight against that a bit better), as well as establishing how your partner feels about your sexual incompatibility. Once you’ve kind of addressed these three issues, you can begin working through some compromises in each field.

You can figure out what she needs from you to heal from the infidelity, you can work out compromises you can make together to make you feel like you’re not taking on a specific gender role and work through some ways you can have different forms of sex together in a way where she feels less pressured, if she does feel pressured, and you both are satisfied. If those don’t work out, you could address sexual compromises by looking at options like sex work or swinging and then consider non-monogamy or polyamory as a kind of last resort of none of these situations really help you.

I think you also need to do some introspection. You’ve been with this person for four years and that is quite a long time, but it’s not as if you’re discovering this about yourself after being together for 25 years with a lot of children and a house together. You don’t really state whether or not you have any immediate ties together.

So it’s worth you really thinking it’s worth compromising so much to ensure that this relationship stays alive. Because you could work through all of these issues and find out you’re just not compatible. So it’s worth you thinking about whether or not multiple romantic relationships are the thing you actually want and need out of relationship and whether you want to compromise not having that for the rest of your life.

And again, I don’t think infidelity means non-monogamy is out of the question. A lot of people can and do start from that point — but it is important that you’ve taken the steps together to address the infidelity in a way that allows for healing as much as possible.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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