When my wife and I first started seeing each other, our sex life was great. It was new and exciting, if not slightly more subdued than to what I was normally accustomed.
After we moved in together, it seemed like our sex life became far less active than before, and I attributed it to a combination of external factors; she’d just returned from her last semester of her degree studying abroad, we’d just moved into our apartment, she was trying to find work, and deciding what she wanted to do next in life.
A residual dichotomy from my repressive religious upbringing is that even though I was very active and comfortable in my sexuality, it had been very difficult to openly discuss sex. Because of this, it wasn’t until about a year into our relationship when I was finally able to broach the subject, and we began a dialogue. Initially she was very alarmed, as she told me how when many of her past relationships had ended with this situation as a contributing factor.
After many more discussions, and much more reading, she explained how she had learned of asexuality, and that is how she now came to identify. Specifically, she’d realized that although she enjoys sex, once she begins to develop a strong emotional attachment or bond, her interest in or desire for sex declines.
We’ve now been together over 5 years, and celebrated our first wedding anniversary a few months ago. We try our best to make sure the other is happy and fulfilled, and though I still struggle from time to time, our sex life and communication about it is the best it’s yet been.
We currently remain monogamous, but we both have had open relationships in the past, though hers admittedly more casual than mine. Since very early in our relationship, we’d discussed non-monogamy conceptually, but also theoretically for ourselves. As of late, these conversations have suggested the potential for me to have my sexual desires fulfilled, and for her to explore her as-of-yet unexpressed bisexuality, but still I have my misgivings.
In past relationships, I’d felt generally confident and secure in all aspects of the relationship, physical, emotional, or otherwise. I believe that helped me to only very rarely have any difficult or negative feelings. On the contrary, I’ve sometimes sought out or introduced individuals in whom I thought my then-partner would be interested. But things seem very different now in my marriage, and it seems to come down to 2 quandaries, and the interplay between them:
1) Even though I have no doubts that my wife loves me and wants a future with me, and that she enjoys the sex we have, I don’t know how to handle the thought that she no longer experiences an enthusiastic, excited desire for me that she would with a new partner.
2) I don’t know if we’ve identified the limits of our relationship and are entertaining the possibility of freeing ourselves to have experiences beyond, or if we are approaching non-monogamy entirely wrong, as a patch for the one glaring difficulty in our relationship.
Thanks for reading, any thoughts or input on either predicament, or both, would be greatly appreciated.
First and foremost, I’m glad to hear you have reached a place where you feel you have good communication with your partner.
When it comes to your questions, I think with regards to your first one, you handle those thoughts in two ways: by allowing yourself to experience them without judgement and punishment and also by refocusing yourself on both the “signs” that your partner loves you and the reality of what you can control.
In terms of the latter, it’s helpful for me personally whenever I’m worried my partner may find someone who is “better” than me (or even when I’m worried a crush I have might find someone “better”) to realise that there is no way for me to control who my partner falls in and out of love with and that part of this attempt to control it is my brain trying to help me survive. Most of my anxiety is about convincing myself that I can control things I can’t because, in a traumatic situation, it is more comforting for your brain to believe you can change the behaviour of people through your actions than to realise there’s little you can do.
Monogamy and the promises people make within it don’t stop them from finding or meeting someone “better” and deciding to dump their partner and be with them. Ultimately, if that’s the sort of person my partner is and if they think so little of me that they would “replace” me… I cannot control that and I probably wouldn’t want to be with that person anyway. Now, obviously, you can be a total asshole to your partners and no one would blame them for dumping you. But outside of doing your best to treat your partners with respect and love, you can’t do something to make them not “replace” you if that’s what they decide to do.
And that’s where this fear is coming from: a combination of you wanting to have that desire between the two of you and not having it but also a fear that her having that desire with someone else will mean something more. Reminding yourself of the ways your partner has shown you love during those moments of fear might help you refocus on what’s important.
I’m an introvert and the partner I have who lives with me is an extrovert who is very social. I used to worry heavily they would find someone who was “better”, who could go to parties where I had no interest in doing that. While they were out at parties, I used to write them long love notes and cards so I could refocus on what our connection did have and what we meant to each other which would then make our differences seem smaller.
Lastly, when it comes to your first question, you need to also just allow yourself to have these feelings and not judge yourself for them. A lot of beginner polyamory advice makes it seem like you’re a bad person for not being over the moon that your partner is with someone else. But sometimes, you’re not happy about it. Sometimes there are real differences here, such as your partner feeling more sexually energised by new connections than longer ones, that are going to understandably spark those feelings.
Letting yourself experience these feelings, sitting with them, and realising your partner is still there in the end and still loves you will help out loads in the long term. Even without your differences, I would tell someone who is starting out in polyamory to expect to feel miserable when their partner is with someone else because you can’t just grow up in monogamy-centric society and expect to be fine and happy and dandy when you’re doing something like polyamory. Emotions are going to come. So will fear. And the more you accept those will come and learn how to cope with them instead of pretending you can fight them off by being “strong” somehow, the better you will be in the long run.
Allow yourself permission to feel shit and learn how to take care of yourself in that moment. In my experience, ignoring or trying to ignore your emotions just causes you to act frantically to protect them which may mean calling your partner when they’re with someone else or feeling like if you don’t “do something”, you will lose them. In my experience, as my partner has gone out and been with others, I have had less and less fear because I know that they are likely to come back to me and that I can’t control if they decide not to. I also realise that going back to monogamy won’t solve this problem because a monogamous society gives people the perception of security but not a guarantee because of the way it is socially endorsed.
In terms of your second question, this is a quick one. You’re not approaching it wrong from what I can see. You both have an individual personal reason to want to try non-monogamy. You’re communicating well and are trying your best. There isn’t one right reason for trying non-monogamy, it’s just the reasons that work for you. I address some of the polyamory pitfalls you might find yourselves in in my introductory polyamory article which you might find useful.
Otherwise, to sum up I think that you will have these scary thoughts and feelings but re-framing them into both an understanding of what connection you and your partner do share as well as understanding what you can and can’t control will help enormously as well as giving yourself permission to feel like shit and knowing how to cope and soothe yourself when you do will also be really helpful for you going forward.
I hope this helps and good luck!