Polyamory after infidelity

If your partner cheated and you feel forced into polyamory, is there a way to overcome some of your emotions -- and should you?

I am a cis mostly hetero female married to a cis mostly hetero (I thought) male. Together 19 years married for 13. 2 young children.

Six months ago my husband admitted to me that he had been having an affair with a man for a year and a half. He said he wanted to repair our marriage, and he would give the lover up if I wanted him to. So I said give him up and focus on us. We went to a marriage counselor. She advised my husband to disclose all contact with his lover to rebuild our trust and he agreed. My husband and I began to feel closer.

I had thought that their relationship was mostly over, but last month discovered that my husband had been seeing his lover other in secret a few times (he snuck over to his place during the workday). My husband now wants to open our marriage so he can continue to see his lover.

I love my husband and our family unit. I want him to be happy. Weirdly, this affair, and resultant jealousy and turmoil has re-ignited our sexual relationship and created much more honesty between us. We are now devoting more effort to our relationship. I now feel much more love from him than I did when he was having his affair in secret.

But I never imagined that he would fall in love with someone else, or ever want to open our marriage. Non monogamy is not something I ever imagined for myself. I have now met his lover a couple of times, and he never wanted non-monogamy either.

The lover admitted that he thought our marriage was effectively dead (because, he said, who cheats on a wife they love?). He thought that my husband would eventually leave me to be with him, and they would get married and have their own children. He never imagined himself as a concubine or a side piece.

My husband told us both that he does not want to leave our marriage. He wants to continue to live with me and our children. He says that I am his primary partner. But he wants to have this other relationship too and see his lover for a date night one night a week, to work from his apartment one afternoon a week and for them to go to the gym together whenever they want. Other times, if his lover wants to see him, my husband says he can come over maybe once a week and hang out with us and our children. The rest if the time my husband focuses on me and our family.

My husband said that he would not mind if I wanted to date women or men who were distinctly different from him. But I don’t want to date anyone else. I don’t feel like I have the time or emotional energy to take care of anyone besides my husband and 2 young children.

I waffle between wanting to be generous, to see if my husband can be happy and love us both. Maybe the lover and I can have some kind of relationship one day. I don’t want to force monogamy and have my husband resent me or feel that he is not living his fullest life. But because of the sneaking around, lying and general disregard for me while he was having an affair (he would tell me he was at a work event so he could go out with his lover while I stayed home with our children), I feel very triggered when he takes his lover out on a date. I created a rule that he has to get our nanny to stay late on his date night so I don’t feel trapped at home with the children, waiting for him to come back (that just feels too pathetic).

But sometimes I get home before him and it still feels wrong. I asked him to come home before me, but he bristled at the “cufew”. From my point of view, I never agreed to non-monogamy. It was trust upon me. This is hard for me, and I feel like my husband has been making all the decisions around our new marriage arrangement without considering my feelings or the damage the affair caused that was never properly repaired, even though a new dynamic was created.

And I know his lover feels that his feelings are not being cared for either. This past weekend they text-fought for two days straight, while my husband and I were with our children, because he felt that he (the lover) was not being prioritized enough. The negativity ruined our family time and my husband snapped at the children and at me (and later apologized).

Basically my husband has involved himself in relationships with 2 people, who were expecting monogamy, and tried to foist some kind of polygamy on us. I feel bad for his lover. I feel anxious when the lover pulls and demands attention. I want my husband to constantly reassure me that he loves me too.

I am disgusted by my neediness and the imbalance of my exclusive love for my husband and his non exclusive feelings. I feel like this all happened without discussion or my agreement. But the only agency I have is to leave my husband, chew off this limb, and wash my hands of this turmoil. But could there be a way for us all to be happy? It is consuming all my mental energy. My husband says he is being pulled apart.

Can I take control of this situation to make it less awful for everyone?

Opening a relationship after an affair “successfully” — as in all people operating within the different relationships are satisfied with the agreement — can happen. But I personally think that in order for that to happen, there needs to be openness and honesty about things. And there is a huge elephant in this room that’s not being addressed and I don’t know if you don’t realise the need to address it or if you are avoiding addressing it because it may be the nail in the coffin.

First and foremost, the fact that your metamour has essentially admitted that they are not polyamorous and that they are monogamous — as well as their admission that their goal and hope is that your relationship with your partner ends is… an incredibly huge problem that desperately needs to be fully addressed by everyone involved here but it seems like no one is talking about it or is just tip toeing around it to avoid a breakup.

And the unfortunate aspect of this is that it’s not avoidable. Someone is going to crack and whether it’s you, your partner or his other partner — it’s going to be someone and it’s going to be a lot more painful than just admitting the truth to one another.

Something needs to give here. It’s impossible to build a solid foundation in polyamory — even with the physical aspects agreed — when the goals of the people involved are inherently contradictory. It would be no different if your partner had a close family member who constantly asked when you were both going to get divorced and your partner never said anything about it.

It’s a natural reason for you to be anxious and scared of this relationship and it doesn’t mean anything if he tells you you are his “primary” if this is not addressed between all three of you. I’m not sure why his metamour disclosed to you that he wanted to end up with your partner monogamously (and it’s actually quite rude to suggest he doesn’t love you if he cheated) but since this has already been disclosed to you, there needs to be a discussion between all three of you.

Your partner wants polyamory but he’s not actually taking responsibility for his decisions. He wants to date two people who wanted monogamy, is forcing them both to adapt to polyamory and then snapping at you all when he feels pulled in two different directions. He has to get real with himself. If he is going to say you are his primary and that is actually what he wants, he needs to make that clear to his other partner.

My concern is that he seems to have a habit of promising things to appease people around him as a people pleaser instead of asserting what he wants clearly. I do think a part of you needs to accept that it may be you that needs to walk away. I’m not sure why it is that this guy has chosen to stick with your partner but one of you has to be willing to enforce your boundaries or someone’s going to explode.

Secondly, it’s one thing to acknowledge that your partner has made a mistake in their cheating on you, to forgive them for that, and to be understanding about why they did what they did and to move forward. I probably wouldn’t have advised you to tell him to break it off with his other partner and I also wouldn’t have advised him to offer you something which he didn’t really want to do.

As I’ve mentioned, it’s difficult to build trust on this shaking foundation. Either he doesn’t understand himself well enough to know what he can or can’t promise or he is just a liar — either way, both of these erode any hope you have of rebuilding the trust you have with each other.

This isn’t just about being a permissible or understanding wife — you are. This is about the fact that your trust in this relationship has been eroded down to nothing. I’m surprised you’re not more anxious, if anything. You say you feel more loved now, but has he really put efforts into being honest about his wants?

Not only did he lie the first time but continued to lie and doesn’t really seem to be willing to assert his wants to his other partner and you’re the one having to pay for that. It’s going to be difficult to go forward if he is not doing anything to actually repair the mistakes he’s made. And that isn’t as simple as just getting rid of his other partner. That’s addressing the symptom but not the disease.

Thirdly, I’m concerned about the balance here of the domestic aspect of your relationship which is likely contributing towards resentment and unhappiness. If he has another partner, great. But he still has children and he still is equally responsible for those children as you are. Is the balance of your domestic responsibilities in a state that feels equal to you?

Even if you don’t want to go out on dates, if you’re required to take care of the children while he goes out on dates, then why not have him take similar responsibilities and take yourself out on dates? He’s got his date nights sorted — but what about yours? He says you’re free to date others but there’s not really been much care taken to think about the physical reality about that — at least not in the description of the physical arrangements you described.

I’m wondering if his sort of steamrolling you into non-monogamy represents a general problem with the division of labour within your house and the general types of agreements you have together. Is there any discussion about these decisions? Any kind of agreement? Or is it his own needs that are constantly prioritised in this agreement? I don’t necessarily think he has any kind of malice, but his general decision to continue to see two people who want monogamy doesn’t speak for him really considering others in his decisions.

So there are all of the problems within this situation. It’s not just about the cheating — it’s about the giant elephant in the room and the lack of consulting you regarding the larger decisions. Normally I would involve a more parallel type of relationship but if it is your partner’s desire to have his other partner visit your house and if that’s something you’re open to then you need to actually talk about what you’re not talking about. Sit down together, all three of you, perhaps with the couples counsellor if available, and address the problem head on.

Your metamour needs to understand that your partner has no intention of leaving you and beginning a monogamous relationship with children with his other partner and your partner has to mean it and be honest about what he wants. Because he’s already promised something he can’t commit to. Everyone needs to be fully honest about what they need and brave enough to walk away from the situation if that’s not what they’re getting.

You can negotiate time with your partner with your metamour like a custody agreement but if your metamour has made it absolutely clear that he hopes to have a monogamous relationship with your partner, it’s like negotiating custody with someone who says they have every intent on challenging your right to see your child all together. If your partner is willing to assert that and your metamour accept it, then is the time when you negotiate all of your time together with the reality that you have two small children that need to be considered in this and that, even if you aren’t dating anybody, you deserve the right to your own personal time away from the house if he’s getting that too.

There is a lot of avoidance going on. Your partner is avoiding being honest about what he wants to both of you. Your metamour is avoiding reckoning that he is not on the relationship escalator that he wants. And you’re avoiding, understandably so, leaving a situation where someone is consistently eroding the trust between the two of you and is potentially not doing much to rebuild it.

But given the life you’ve got with each other and given that perhaps your partner has some people pleasing tendencies he hasn’t worked out, I’d say if he’s willing to have that sit down discussion between all three of you with the help of a counsellor to address the situation head on, then I’d say give the situation another chance.

I’d also consider it positive if he was willing to go to therapy as an individual to address why he offered to break off a relationship if he had no intention of doing so or couldn’t do so and how he can stop promising things he doesn’t mean or really want and be more brave about asserting himself.

However, please understand that you have no control over whether or not your partner chooses to be honest with himself and tell the truth about what he wants. You have no control whether or not your metamour gets real with himself and realises that he’s not going to have the picket fence and 2.5 children with your partner and to walk away and find someone who will give him that.

You only have control over your own actions and your own happiness. As much as it may be difficult with two children, I would encourage you to at least consider speaking with a lawyer and understanding more about what your options would be if you had to walk away from this situation. Be prepared for the reality that you may be the only one out of the three of you that has the courage to choose the life you want instead of just accepting what’s happening.

I believe it to be incredibly likely that at some point there will be some kind of break that will make the situation more painful and dramatic and there just isn’t any reason for that. You may be the only one willing to end the cycle of avoidance and that’s really difficult.

Be kinder to yourself. You’re chastising yourself for having these feelings, for needing reassurance and that’s extremely normal in this situation. Of course you want reassurance from him. But if, for lack of a better description, he never puts his money where his mouth is and you can’t trust his word, the assurance isn’t going to last very long — and likely his metamour is feeling the exact same thing.

You’re not “needy”. You’re normal. Give yourself a break. Your emotions are breaking through because of the avoidance going on. They’re afraid of the instability of this situation and are trying to protect you.

Learn to see your feelings as signals and allies to the inner workings of your mind and feeling of security rather than an enemy. This all did happen without your discussion or agreement and if you have a proper discussion between all three of you and an equal negotiation of time where your needs are also prioritised, I think you’d find your anxiety would decrease significantly however it will take time for you to rebuild trust with your husband. But certainly if he makes his wants clear and you have that discussion, it’s a step in the right direction.

I hope this helps and good luck!