Trapped in guilt

I've been with my boyfriend for 3 years. I've always been fine with 3somes, him sleeping with men, but about a year and a half ago I started advocating for ENM after researching it and realizing I have never wanted to be in a monogamous relationship. I've always greatly valued my freedom and sexuality, and it really puts me in a bad place when I feel controlled or trapped. I had an epiphany one day and I haven't had any doubt since. He agreed, and he had a few encounters but he very much was not okay with me expressing interest in anyone. For me, it was eventually easy for me to work through him having other partners. Toward the beginning of COVID we were in a very rocky place and I felt so incredibly distant from him at one point. I cheated. It was not okay, and I regret it. There've been some issues here and there but if I ever express interest in anyone he'll say I don't deserve to have that while he's still having other experiences outside of us. He argues that he's a much better person than I because he has the OK to be with people he sleeps with. I have made it a positive experience for him to communicate with me and know that I will never tell him he can't have an experience or date with someone he wants to, so I imagine that's the reason it's so easy for him. He, on the other hand, doesn't make it so easy. He'll get upset and turn to the incident, or guilt trip me, etc.. It's so hard to communicate anything regarding my interest in someone else, which has led to more problems with me being somewhat secretive despite my behavior supposedly being within our rules.

I love him very much, I just don't know if i've done too much damage.

I am very unsure of why it is that, if you expressed interest in non-monogamy, this became a situation where you essentially had to be monogamous while he was allowed to be non-monogamous. You say you don’t want to feel controlled or trapped. Perhaps it is not monogamy that is trapping you but the situation between you and your partner.

While I absolutely understand that, when one violates an agreement one made with a partner, there is a period of time it takes, should the two people stay together, for trust to be rebuilt with one another. Even if I disagreed with your original setup where basically you waited until he was okay with you expressing interest in others while he was free, I could be understanding of a situation where he was struggling to deal with the cheating here. I would understand both him not being okay with you expressing interest in others and a fear after what is described here is cheating.

What I absolutely do not think is acceptable is you being told you do not “deserve” other partners and that he is a “better person” than you. It is one thing to think this as an emotional response to what feels like betrayal but it is quite another to say something like this to your partner. It’s a horrible thing to say. You made a mistake, and a quite understandable one given the circumstances, and you do not deserve to be degraded because of it.

You said yourself that when you attempt to communicate the result is upset and guilt tripping. Are you not trapped then here? Are you not allowing yourself in some ways to be controlled? I absolutely understand you love this person, but they are not treating you with respect or care in this instance. It’s possible for you to now allow his dislike of you showing interest in others to determine what you do. But my guess is that the same pattern would continue if you continued to try and assert what’s fair on your behalf.

At best, I would suggest seeing and discussing this with a therapist and checking out the book Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft. I would very, very much advise against therapy together. He could also get therapy himself to overcome the feelings of betrayal. But, I would really very much consider the longevity of this relationship in its entirety. I do not have very much optimism for someone who tells their partner such degrading things, that they do not “deserve” anything or insists they are a “better person”. For me personally, these would be completely unacceptable comments to make. I’m not sure I would even remain friends with someone who said such things to me, let alone date someone like that. Perhaps once I might forgive them if they said it in the heat of the moment, but I would never let something so disrespectful slide a second time.

You deserve someone who works with you and not against you in your relationships. Cheating does not make you a bad person nor does not cheating make someone a “better person”. You deserve to be in a relationship where you are not patronised and degraded. And even if you caused someone “damage”, you absolutely do not deserve to be treated like this.

I hope this helps and good luck.

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