Can you marry, date other people, and stay sane?
November 4, 2010 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Married and dating?

So, marriage is failing. Husband wants to stay married because we have a son and for legal and financial reasons. In lieu of divorce, he suggested we date other people. If we were to try this out, the parameters are up to me. The only way I can envision this is if I (or he) never knew about the person the other was dating. Yes, there many other issues at play here. Specifically, though, I'd like a non-judgmental voice of experience and/or reason. This isn't a polyamorous situation; we aren't accepting another person into our relationship. Instead, can married people who care for each other but have poor communication skills date others (assuming such people exist) and still live together and maintain a friendly relationship? I'd appreciate all viewpoints except those condemning this suggestion out of hand.
Some assumptions you can make/true statements:
1) He has not had an affair. Yes, he may have someone in mind but that is not a sticking point with me.
2) No, we are not at each other's throats. Our daily interaction is fairly limited and we've had more of a partnership than a marriage for the past two years.
3) We are not interested in making a quick decision. Many discussions, possible counseling (even if it is merely to discuss how to parent during a divorce/separation), and no doubt, gnashing of teeth, are in our future. Any book or website references (I can only find those wherein polyamory is discussed) would be appreciated.
My throwaway email is if you feel comfortable sharing a personal experience.
Thanks in advance for any help you can provide.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (58 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

you two would be roommates but that for legal and financial reason would stay married? Sorry to be so jaded, but make sure that you have some sort of proof of this BEFORE you start dating. You don't want to be accused of infidelity at the custody hearings.
posted by Neekee at 12:44 PM on November 4, 2010 [10 favorites]

I would suggest that, if you go along with this plan, you still make it clear to your son that you and your husband are no longer a couple. You are friends, who both care deeply for your son, so mommy and daddy are living together to do a good job of being parents. I think being told your parents are splitting up, ESPECIALLY if done in a truly caring and amicable way, is much preferable to constantly sneaking around and lying to him until he inevitably grows up and one day discovers the whole thing was a sham. Teach him through example that every one and every relationship is different, but trust and honesty is necessary and paramount.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 12:46 PM on November 4, 2010 [13 favorites]

What are you going to tell the people you're dating? "Yes, I still live with my ex. No, we're not divorced."

New York, I think, still has quite a long separation period required for people who want a divorce (it may be a year?). But generally, those people stop living together. That, to me, is the factor that complicated this the most. Well, that and the lying. If you never tell each other you're dating someone else, do you just lie when you go out on a date? "I'm, um, having dinner with a friend. See you tomorrow!" And what do you tell the kid, assuming he or she is old enough to know that one of you is not home that night?

I'm getting a headache just thinking about it. Is there really no way to just not live together for now? Like, nearby, so the parenting stuff is easier, but not together, so the dating/social stuff is easier.
posted by rtha at 12:46 PM on November 4, 2010

You can move out and still stay married. It's generally called a "separation," and I imagine it would make it a lot easier to find people willing to date you. I do think living together & doing this would try the patience of a saint. But that's for you all to decide.
posted by Ys at 12:48 PM on November 4, 2010 [7 favorites]

Thing is, most people are kind of hoping for a long-term committed partner when they date, and you'd already be married. And living with someone.

If they were okay with this, they'd likely be light-on-commitment themselves.

I think everyone would have to be okay with it largely being 'for fun' and having done some experimental type relationships in the past, people don't necessarily stay in it for fun and it can become pretty not-fun.

That said, I mean, if you go in eyes wide open and he does too and you're both okay with the short and long term effects, nothing's impossible and there are a lot of different types of working relationships in the world.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:48 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Marriage counseling, stat.

Sure, you two might enjoy having relationships outside your marriage, but really, what kind of example are you setting for your son? Is staying together really better for your son?

I have no problem with polyamory when it involves people who are childless, but your kid is going to be in a hell of a state when he realizes what's going on between his parents and his parents' new friends. And don't say you can keep it all a secret. That's ridiculous. Children know, man. They know when something is up.

And think about the kind of message it sends to your kid: if you make a mistake when you marry somebody, you have to stick with that person till hell and high water if you have kids because divorce is bad. Show your kid that you still love him, and that you can love him in two separate homes. Show him that you and your husband do love each other, but in more of a brother/sister fashion, and that you want him to know that when it comes time for him to get married (if he wants to), it's important to really think about who you're marrying and why. Equip him with strong tools now. He deserves that.
posted by patronuscharms at 12:49 PM on November 4, 2010

This isn't a polyamorous situation; we aren't accepting another person into our relationship.

That's not what "polyamorous" means. This actually is kind of a polyamorous situation, except that there's no "amory" in the marriage apparently, just legal ties (if I understand you correctly?)

Opening Up by Tristan Taormino is the best book out there on how to manage all kinds of open relationships. Also, you will need a counselor who is poly- and alternative-relationship friendly. Also, you will each need a lawyer who is poly- and alternative-relationship friendly.

I think this is a bad idea, also. Keeping a legal marriage intact for financial reasons makes sense, but keeping a social marriage intact for financial reasons makes no sense. I vote for "get a legal separation and then date people who are cool with your still being legally married to the person who is your social ex."
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:50 PM on November 4, 2010 [10 favorites]

Agree with bunny hugger - this sounds like a bad idea. How old is your son? I think that at a certain point he would figure out that your family isn't like others (I.e. would you all be able to handle going on vacation together?) and you could be setting him up for tremendous amounts of stress (not to mention the potential for life-long intimacy and relationship issues because, I'm assuming, you will be lying to him - or at least "withholding the truth"). I think that you owe him a healthy family life, and it sounds like you will not be able to provide that if you stay together.
posted by purlgurly at 12:50 PM on November 4, 2010

Where do you live? Look into a legal separation if it exists in your state / country. But yeah, until something is official (as in, on paper and a court order) just don't. This is begging for trouble and heartbreak for everyone involved.

Wait a second, on re-read....does "legal and financial reasons" mean alimony and child support? Because if so, tell him he's free to date when the divorce is final. I've got a bad feeling that he wants to relive the fun (?) of single-dom while keeping the financial / household structure he's been accustomed to.

Don't agree to this.
posted by motsque at 12:51 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's a good idea in theory, but it will quickly get complicated if any one of the dating partners develops feelings for the other. What if it gets to that point or gets more serious? I think there are only three options at hand: fix the marriage, allow one-night stands with the obligatory due diligence, or move together towards an amicable divorce early on while you both are on the same page (which appears to be right around now).
posted by crapmatic at 12:52 PM on November 4, 2010

There are lots of people out there who are just fine with consensual non-monogamy, for the folks who have never heard of it. I'm not so much worried about "oh, you guys will never find anyone to date if you're still married" exists for a reason, y'all--but wondering why you guys are staying married socially if you're not digging it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:52 PM on November 4, 2010

This isn't fair to the people you would both be dating.

Anyone with self-respect (i.e. someone worth dating) would never ever be OK with this arrangement. I know lots of emotionally unstable folks who might go for it, though. Are these the types of people you want in your or your son's life?

I think your husband is off his rocker with this suggestion. Is there some compelling ulterior motive he is harboring that you are not aware of??
posted by jbenben at 12:52 PM on November 4, 2010 [12 favorites]

If there's one thing I could change about what happened when my first marriage fell apart, it would be to have not attempted to live with him for another 3 months before one of us moved out. On the face of it, it wasn't awkward, but it was weird at best, and incredibly hellish at worst.

Some people won't care that you aren't divorced yet, but other people really will. Also, the pool of people who don't care will become significantly smaller when they find out you still live with him.
posted by Zophi at 12:53 PM on November 4, 2010

The only way I can imagine this working is if you aren't living in the same place. You could then be separated and begin your own lives as if you were single, and then if one of you finds someone new you wish to marry, you could figure out the legal/financial aspects and get a divorce at that point. However, since you do wish to continue living in the same place, I'm with bunny hugger.

A few major issues to consider:

* You have admittedly poor communication skills. That's going to be a big problem no matter what arrangement you make.

* You won't be able to fully commit to any future partners if you stay married -- particularly if you keep up the appearances of being married (i.e., living together).

* All the secret keeping and having secret lives/dates outside of your relationship seems rife with potential trouble to me. Plus, won't this situation be weird for your son? If you keep your dating life a secret from him, too, the eventual (inevitable?) discovery of your lifestyle may be traumatic for him.
posted by hansbrough at 12:53 PM on November 4, 2010

What are your goals here? Do you think that dating outside of your marriage will save it? Because it sounds to me like you and your husband just want to line up people for fear of going it alone legally and financially. Buck up and separate. Your kid wouldn't believe this farce anyhow.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:54 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why would YOU want to do this, other than that your husband wants to? That seems to be missing from your question.

And it also seems like the primary question you really have to ask does not have to do with dating or getting divorced, but with him still living with you without being a couple. You can date without getting divorced (plenty of people do), but dating while still living with your "ex" is infinitely more problematic.

Also, you may not see this as a polyamorous situation, but if either you or your "ex" gets serious with someone else, it's going to have many of the same dynamics, and is surely going to seem polyamorous to them.
posted by yarly at 12:55 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, you may not see this as a polyamorous situation, but if either you or your "ex" gets serious with someone else, it's going to have many of the same dynamics, and is surely going to seem polyamorous to them.

It is a polyamorous situation. I think the OP may be confusing "polyamory" with "polygamy"?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:57 PM on November 4, 2010

What about some marriage counseling not with the idea of saving the marriage but how to seperate as painlessly as possible?
Research suggests that in most cases, it's better to divorce than to merely stay together for the kids.
posted by WhiteWhale at 12:58 PM on November 4, 2010

Mod note: any answers with "fuck you" in them are deleted by a robot. I am here to tell you this. Please try harder so the robot works less. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:00 PM on November 4, 2010 [35 favorites]

You say marriage is failing, but despite that seeing a husband/wife with another partner can be tough for monogamous folks (like yourself). While the idea is that they wont see each other -- this can be tough. That means no going to your place? No running into each other? Etc?

Also if you think you will eventually get a divorce be careful! One spouse could easily get some evidence and try to use this against the other in a divorce. You can try to say "oh we had this agreement"... but if there's no proof...

And if you develop deep feelings for someone else... what then? I mean don't you _hope_ that happens? It's going to make it even harder to keep up the marriage pretense, and if that person wants to get married obviously you can't, etc. (I'm assuming you'd be with other monogamous-minded people, since (a) statistically there are more, and (b) monogamous people generally do better with other monogamous people). Sure you could date poly people who would be OK with it... but you're probably not going to be OK with THEM being in other relationships.
posted by wildcrdj at 1:01 PM on November 4, 2010

Thing is, most people are kind of hoping for a long-term committed partner when they date, and you'd already be married. And living with someone.

Right, it's not impossible to find someone who is both compatible with you in general and okay with dating someone who is still married to and living with their husband, but it will seriously limit your options. Especially if you keep your side relationships secret from each other as you are suggesting. Think about it from your own perspective, would you consider dating someone who had to keep you a secret from their spouse? As Sidhedevil said these kinds of situations are not unheard of but on a practical level the number of people who are comfortable with this particular flavor of polyamory is going to be significantly lower than the number of people you could date if you ended your relationship with your husband.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:02 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

(I think the reason the OP describes this as not polyamorous is that the husband/wife aren't in a romantic relationship anymore, just a legal one. While that may make this "technically" polyamorous, it seems clear that the OP just wants a single relationship with an outside person, not a relationship with both that person and their spouse)
posted by wildcrdj at 1:02 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow. Okay. Divorced woman here. I'm going to hit you up with some truth.

Moving forward after a divorce is haaaaard. Financially, emotionally, spiritually.

But moving forward while still tethered to the putrefying corpse of your non-dissolved quasi-marriage? I cannot IMAGINE how that would work. Sure, maybe it COULD... but trust me on this: it may be easier financially. It will be enormously harder in a LOT of other ways.

Which sounds better... breaking your arm nice and cleanly and giving it time to heal, or getting it caught in a vise for weeks, months, years?
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:05 PM on November 4, 2010 [23 favorites]

Anyone with self-respect (i.e. someone worth dating) would never ever be OK with this arrangement.

Be aware, this is how some people will see this situation. And the great thing about asking a bunch of strangers is that other people can tell you that they DON'T see the situation that way.

Reading up on polyamory will be useful to you whether or not that is how you define your relationship. Learning about how people in plural relationships relate with one another [defining primary relationships and secondary relationships, setting guidelines with eachother, talking to partners, explaining it to other people] will give you some good ideas of how such a setting can work.

My opinion that you didn't ask for is that you are postponing the inevitable actual separation. Poor communication skills are a bad match for complicated relationships. I'm concerned that one of you may be over a barrel [needing the support and safety of a marriage but being in a loveless relationship] which passes on bad messages to your child.

Personal aside 1: My parents were in one of those "we have a business arrangement" sorts of relationships and growing up in a house where my parents were not affectionate with each other was sort of lousy and was a bad start to me understanding how to be in a relationship with someone I cared about.
Personal aside 2: I have been in a similar relationship which I talked about here. My experience led me to believe that there are some people who naturally enjoy, can work within and can emotionally accomodate plural relationships and other people who do it because they fall into the "well this is what I have to do for some reason" situation. I am not seeing you move into this situation with joy in your heart which concerns me because it's my personal feeling that people should try to maximize their enjoyment and that of others when at all possible. I wish you the best of luck but I'd try to be open and honest about why separation is not on the table because it's a much more easy/normal thing to explain to people and if communication skills are lacking somewhere in this situation, easier to explain may be important.
posted by jessamyn at 1:11 PM on November 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

My ex and I have remained legally married for practical purposes and other people have entered our lives (I have a SO, he does online dating). We are completely and totally separated though, and have been for years, and there is no confusion on the part of the kids.

New people deserve to have relationships with untethered people in uncomplicated situations, and you will find very few people interested in pursuing a relationship with you if you are still living with your ex. Your ex will have even fewer options, because women he wants to date will often see "separated" as code for "my wife doesn't understand me but I swear I'm going to leave her soon, really baby I am." Then again it depends on what you mean by "dating."

The other thing about deciding to stay together because you have a kid together is that the household is more than where a kid sees/learns how intimate relationships work, it's also where he sees/learns about regular social lives & friendships. My kids came of age in a house where, yeah, we might not have been at each other's throats, but we also never had friends over, didn't cook together, didn't plan parties or outings, etc. It was a quiet, polite, kind of chilly place. Only once we fully separated, and I started developing a social life from scratch in a new place, and we ended up with a house of open doors and music and plenty of yelling and kids coming and going etc. on all the time did I realize how much I'd shortchanged my boys by not giving them that all along.

Do yourselves a favor and separate if your marriage really is done. That way, in the best-case scenario, your son will see two happy people free to develop satisfying and fulfilling relationships with other adults, which will help him make decisions of his own down the road.
posted by headnsouth at 1:21 PM on November 4, 2010 [22 favorites]

A guess on my part: the kids will know what is going on or at least that something is not
what is ought to be. Mommy is home and daddy is out night after night. They are here and they are gone and they spend no time with me but for a brief time here and there. You may think this is going to be good for the kids but I suspect is is more off putting than an announcement that you are getting divorced.
posted by Postroad at 1:25 PM on November 4, 2010

I'm not sure what legal (e.g., power of attorney, next of kin status) or financial (child support, presumably) reasons couldn't still be satisfied between divorced roommates. If you want to live together for the sake of your son, I think that's fine, but remaining married seems like a confusing notion for both your family and other people you'd potentially date.

On second thought, I suppose there are the tax and insurance issues. Is it possible for one of you to become a legal dependent of the other? Maybe that would solve it.

When it comes down to it, the real question is whether you would be happy having your ex-husband as a roommate. If the answer really isn't "yes", it would probably be better for all of you to live in separate households regardless of what you do with your marital status.

And speaking as someone with at least a modicum of self-respect, I'm OK with dating someone who is roommates with their ex-husband, but a little less so with their not-legally-separated current husband.
posted by Cogito at 1:33 PM on November 4, 2010

Much depends on the living arrangement. My parents split up when I was about seven but our house was easily converted into a duplex by the addition of a single door (which could be locked from either side). They lived reasonably amicably this way -- me and my mother with the ground floor and the basement, my dad upstairs -- for several months before my mom found a place and moved us out.

As for the parenting side of it, I would think it is no different than any other separation or divorce. My wife and I never had kids, so it was not an issue with my own marriage but from having been the kid in an ending marriage, I think the best thing you can do is to keep it civil. You sound like you are avoiding high drama, which is good. Of my contemporaries, the ones who now have the worst relationships with the opposite sex seems to be the ones who grew up with a bitter mom and dad, each sniping at the other.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:36 PM on November 4, 2010

Although it seems simpler to just keep going on as you are but not trying to make it work, in the long run, it won't be.

Don't use your kid as an excuse; it's actually easier for them to deal with "Mommy and Daddy divorced" than with "Mommy and Daddy are married but not really."

It's hard to work up the strength and the determination to end a dead relationship, but you have to do it if you want to create a decent life for yourself--and for your son, and really, it will benefit your husband too, whether he thinks so or not.
posted by emjaybee at 1:47 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Husband wants to stay married because we have a son

Wait, what? How is this strange arrangement any better for the son? This sounds cargo cult-ish to me, with someone mindlessly mimicking the "stay together for the kids" advice while completely missing the point.

I have no idea about the larger question, but this particular reason given for it rings hollow for me.
posted by losvedir at 1:49 PM on November 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

This question is not about polyamory. Someone above noted that similar dynamics to polyamory may crop up in the scenario the OP's husband is proposing, which is undoubtedly true.

Let's take this from another perspective...

OP, if you had written that you and your husband had trouble communicating AND you were thinking of becoming a polyamorous couple, most folks here would be throwing up red flags at the idea because relationships like that require great communication - and lots of it! You don't have that communication now. Your concern seems to be that things will only get worse if you go along with this plan, and I tend to agree.

Moving on...

As someone else asked, I also wonder why you are considering this arrangement?

It is really really hard to move on after a relationship ends - quadruple that if you are still living under the same roof. Trying to move on with your lives outside of the home, while shielding the bulk of that process from each other and your son sounds uncomfortable, emotionally messy, and potentially explosive.

When I wrote that only "emotionally unstable" dating partners would be interested in putting up with the drama your husband is proposing, this copious amount of relationship messiness is exactly what I meant. It's not the shades of polyamory that you may deal with that are problematic in this plan, it is the fact that you will be asking possible romantic partners to accept some pretty unacceptable baggage and ongoing issues (possibly without resolution in sight?) just to get to know you. As presented in the original question, this situation doesn't sound fair to anyone.

Furthermore, I am worried there is something going on financially or legally with the husband that the wife (OP) is unaware of, and a divorce would perhaps force these issues to light?

OP - I'm sure this dating suggestion was couched in very logical and compassionate terms, but you already have communication issues, are you sure you know everything here that you need to know about the legal and financial details of your marriage?
posted by jbenben at 1:59 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with those who say staying "together" for the son, yet dating other people, makes no sense. Staying together for your son without dating other people isn't very good, either, but at least there's less distorted logic. Either you're together, just the two of you, for your son, or you're separated and seeing other people, and you tell your son it's not his fault (if he's old enough to understand those sort of things).

Staying a legal couple for financial reasons might work, but do you have a long-term plan? How long do you stay married? Is it until you both get good enough solo benefits? Until you find someone else to marry who will provide those health benefits? Until your son is old enough to live on his own?

If you're going to date other people, plan for an end to your legal marriage at some point, and plan now. If either of you falls in love and wants to start a new family, or there's another baby on the way, it will make exiting this marriage trickier, to say the least.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:03 PM on November 4, 2010

Also: I disagree that no one would want to date you in your proposed situation. Some people are comfortable with dating someone who is in a declining relationship, with the idea that the other relationship will end at some point, or at least won't start back up. But the more vague hold of that old relationship, the harder it will be on your potential dates to accept the situation. "We're getting divorced in 5 years, and here's our timeline" is a lot more comfortable than "we're separated, and probably won't get back together, but we're bound by our financial situation that might never improve."
posted by filthy light thief at 2:07 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had a coworker who did this. It was the husbands idea. He lived in a Mother-in-Law suite in the basement of the house. They had four kids, and he couldn't afford child support and an apartment of his own. So she agreed to stay married ("It will save so much in lawyer fees."), let him stay in the house ("It will be better for the kids if I'm around all the time instead of the hassle of visitation."), and just date other people ("We just won't bring anybody home.")

He was singing a different tune when she was dating successfully and the pool had dried up for him. Rumor has it that he actually went after one of her dates (not even boyfriend) with a gun. All I know is that he was arrested, but there were lots of legal problems because they were still married and she couldn't testify against him or some such nonsense.

Even before that incident it was a nightmare for her. We heard all about it at work. He got most of the benefits and she dealt with most of the crap. So I've got to recommend not doing it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 2:39 PM on November 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

The couple I know who tried something like this (he moved out, 5 minutes away, so the kids could stay at the same school and move freely between the two places) found it worked really well. The kids adjusted quickly and were elated that their parents had enough physical space between them to be civil to each other instead of bickering. It worked great. Until he decided that his new relationship was more important than the previously agreed plan to disrupt the kids' life as little as possible. He made plans to move across the country with his new fiance and tore up the verbal agreement he and wife#1 had, and played dirty in the custody dispute. He also told the very young kids a mix of truths and half-truths about their mother specifically to make them afraid of living with her. He got custody, and never lived up to the terms of the agreement (bringing them for visits, letting them visit even if he didn't have to provide transport, planning family vacations during periods they were to visit their mother, providing minimal financial support during times they were to visit their mother, etc). Then, when child#1 was old enough to leave home, he divorced wife#2 and forgot all about all the reasons wife#1 was an unfit mother. He announced to wife#1 that he was leaving the country (where child-support lawyers couldn't get to him) and child#2 was going to be living with her. Thankfully his parents helped out a bit financially.

But he was so reasonable at first! Based on this, if you were to try anything like this, speak to a lawyer first. I have no idea if the divorce/custody laws/courts where you are would recognize the kind of written agreement you need to prevent being taken advantage of if his situation, character, and priorities should change further down the line.
posted by K.P. at 2:56 PM on November 4, 2010

Instead, can married people who care for each other but have poor communication skills date others (assuming such people exist) and still live together and maintain a friendly relationship?

No. You need good communication skills to pull this off.

Find a way to fix those first. Honestly, given that you have kids, you need to fix this no matter what happens in the future for your relationship.
posted by nat at 3:00 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thank you, jessamyn, both for the Civility Robot and your less-fighty answer to the below:

Anyone with self-respect (i.e. someone worth dating) would never ever be OK with this arrangement.

Let me try this in a less-fighty way:

This is completely false, and it is simply a statement of bigotry about relationship styles. Unless you think many of the world's most famous artists, musicians, writers, and entertainers aren't "worth dating" you are uttering nonsense.

If an open or polyamorous relationship doesn't work for you, enjoy your monogamous relationship. Talking trash about people for whom that relationship style works beautifully--often for decades of happy relationships--is just being childish and judgey.

OP, if you guys decide to go through with this (and I have explained why I think it's a bad idea, even though I am very pro-relationship diversity), the least of your problems will be finding awesome people to date.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:01 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Since you have probably made an accurate assessment of your communication skills, let me offer a translation. When the husband says he wants to stay married for -- what was it? -- legal and financial reasons, what that means is he wants to (a) get his gonads serviced elsewhere but retain the domestic conveniences and privileges he has in the home and (b) avoid the cost of getting rid of what is usually an economically dependent "stay at home" housewife -- at least until he can line up a real or imaginary "sure thing" to replace her. It is also almost always the case that the husband is one of those people for whom the wrong body is better than nobody -- hence the disinclination to "man up" and bring an unproductive situation to a grown-up and definitive end.

With respect to divorce: divorce agreements can involve all kinds of settlements with respect to, say, living arrangements. There actually are people who divorce but continue to live under the same roof for five or ten minutes for a variety of reasons. Of course, this requires a certain amicability and maturity on the parts of both spouses.

Also with respect to divorce: in the State of New York for reasons that have never been clear to me, many, if not most, divorces involve the couple entering a formal separation agreement for a year with the divorce becoming automatically final after a year plus a day if the couple has not formally reunited in the meantime. Lawyers seem to think that a "cooling off" period during which time the couple has the option to reconsider is a good thing. (When couples reconsider during this period, it seems to be driven by the husband's dismay at having to look after his own domestic affairs and his sudden appreciation of the wife's value as a domestic servant.) However, separation agreements are not required by state law, and those with an attitude that it's time to "poop or get off the pot" go straight to formal divorce. (My divorce back in the last century took, from the first discussion of the subject to the judge blessing the papers, exactly ten weeks plus a day.) (And we continued to live together for some months -- quite amicably -- after the fact.)

As to whether or not I think going down this road is a good idea for either of you or, more to the point, your child: in a word, no.

With respect to potential dating partners, almost anybody with whom it might be worth developing a long term relationship isn't going to buy the "we're getting divorced, really" act. The sorts of people who get involved with the married-but-not-really crowd are either (a) specifically and intentionally not looking for anything with long term potential and merely interested in a little bit of short term fun, or (b) not that terribly mature or tightly wound themselves. In a pique of I-don't-know-what, I tried the former (as the non-married party): it was the least interesting five minutes I ever chose to waste.
posted by SuzB at 3:02 PM on November 4, 2010

I have no problem with polyamory when it involves people who are childless, but your kid is going to be in a hell of a state when he realizes what's going on between his parents and his parents' new friends.

No. I know literally dozens of children whose parents are in open or polyamorous marriages, and none of them are "in a hell of a state."

Note, too, that the exact same argument is used against same-sex and interracial marriage.

That said, the suggestion that they want to lie to the kid seems like a huge problem. Nobody I know who is in an open or poly marriage or relationship lies to their kids about it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:05 PM on November 4, 2010

The sorts of people who get involved with the married-but-not-really crowd are either (a) specifically and intentionally not looking for anything with long term potential and merely interested in a little bit of short term fun, or (b) not that terribly mature or tightly wound themselves.

Can people PLEASE stop saying stuff like this? It's okay if none of you want to have open or polyamorous relationships. It's okay if you advise the OP that this seems like a terrible idea in her circumstances.

But the part where y'all are armchair psychoanalyzing millions of people and getting it so horribly wrong is just not useful.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:07 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

You can be divorced and do it amicably. IF you two decide the terms then it does not have to be expensive. It only becomes expensive if both of you decide you hate each others guts.

Just get divorced

PS if you really do care for each other and it does show then counselling might help.
posted by majortom1981 at 3:20 PM on November 4, 2010

You mention quite a bit about the husband's and wife's needs/wants, but nothing of the child.

If you are going to engage in some premeditated actions that will impact the family, maybe assess the child's needs too.

ie. You both are married, out of love, staying together for legal/financial reasons, and have a others and engaging in a really difficult arrangement should be much lower on the priority list.
posted by hal_c_on at 3:35 PM on November 4, 2010

I've heard of this working out ok where the parents lived in separate apartments in the same building. I can't imagine this would work in one house or apartment.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 3:39 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

So, marriage is failing. Husband wants to stay married because we have a son and for legal and financial reasons

If he wants to stay married he needs to act married. If he wants to date he needs to let you have a divorce.

Anything else is not good for your son or for you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:02 PM on November 4, 2010 [5 favorites]

If you two already think you have poor communication skills, adding other lovers into the mix isn't gonna improve things. This does not sound like a good idea to me.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:05 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't know how many people are really saying "nobody wants to get involved with open relationships". I don't think anybody sane should want to touch this with a ten foot pole because I don't think sane people should want to get involved with open relationships where the two parties really clearly dislike each other and are miserable together. The OP is expecting gnashing of teeth. To invite third parties to get involved in something which you expect to involve gnashing of teeth? Bad.

If you really *were* just great friends who figured out you made lousy lovers for some reason, this would be odd but it could work. Almost a sitcom plot: "Dad realized he was gay, Mom realized she was a lesbian, but they're staying married for the kid. Watch the hijinx as both Dad and Mom try to have their own romantic relationships while raising a teenager!" We could call it 'Opposite Marriage' and have it star Nathan Lane and Ellen Degeneres and--yeah, real life is not a sitcom and those ends don't tie themselves up so neatly.

If you're coming into this loaded up with misery and resentment, I can't see it ending well. Divorce is rotten, separation is rotten, but they're both options that involve space, and space is way better than the alternative in the dissolution of a long-term relationship.
posted by gracedissolved at 4:39 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

This would only work with excellent communication between the four of you. If communication between two of you is difficult, doubling the number of miscommunications won't help. Plus, logistically, what a nightmare! I can easily see a dominant personality "take" more evenings out dating while the other parent is left to parent alone.
posted by saucysault at 5:08 PM on November 4, 2010

I know someone who did this: she stayed living with her husband for the sake of the child, and dated her new partner on the side, with the full knowledge of all those ivolved. She did this for about 10 years - until the child left home. I think it worked partly because the house was big enough to allow everyone their own space. She took a lot of weekend trips with her new partner. She is much happier now though.
posted by lollusc at 5:17 PM on November 4, 2010

I don't know much about polyamory but isn't it supposed to be for people who are able to hold down several good relationships at once? I don't see how this is possible if you're starting from such a negative place. It sounds rather like asking whether you should take off more credit cards to pay off your credit cards.

Speaking of which, I'd have a nose around to see what the reality of your respective circumstances are in terms of finances, assets, general legal standing. It sounds like you're being offered the rough end of the stick, the sticky end of the rope, the thin end of the wedge, etc. Because whose interests are likely to be served by your complying with your husband's wishes? And what does that imply about whose interests would be better served by a divorce? (Not recommending divorce one way or the other, just drawing attention to the aroma of deceased rodent that permeates the question.)
posted by tel3path at 5:31 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm with St. Alia. This is TOO MUCH FUCKING DRAMA and so not worth it. There are way too many ways for this to go wrong and badly.

Either stay married and stay celibate and pretending to still be a couple, or outright separate/divorce. This in the middle shit is only going to blow up on everyone.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:43 PM on November 4, 2010

Get "Opening Up".

If you can't communicate...oy.

But get "Opening Up".
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:07 PM on November 4, 2010

(Opening Up has more than just polyamory info--it specifically mentions relationships similar to yours.)


1) Talk to a lawyer to see if the divorce will be better or worse for you and your child, financially.

2) A couples' counselor is a good idea to help make this work

3) The vast majority of polyamorous people avoid "don't ask, don't tell" relationships for various reasons. If you want to date those people, you might have to ask and/or tell. If you don't want to date polyamorous people, you might luck into someone monogamous who likes you enough to go for it, but you need to be in a healthy and secure state. It doesn't sound like you're there yet, so...

4) Get as much support for yourself outside of your marriage and take time to decide what you want and need.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:23 PM on November 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I did not read other responses, but wanted to chime in because this is the situation my parents are involved in right now. (Although I think they are somewhat open with each other about who they're dating, though only in general terms and no specifics).

I'm not sure how old your son is, but I think that you may have difficulty hiding this from your kid. Even though my parents tried to hide it from me and my siblings at first, we eventually found out.

It's awkward and has hurt our relationships with them. Of course, my situation isn't exactly like yours, but just something to consider.

There are reasons people don't generally do this.
posted by too bad you're not me at 8:10 PM on November 4, 2010

This is almost too obvious to ask, but how would finances work? Do you both have jobs? Equal incomes?

I'm just trying to imagine one of you taking $100 out of the joint account in order to go pay for a fancy meal in a restaurant, movie, cabfare etc.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:36 PM on November 4, 2010

Mod note: I guess the legal and financial issues make a big difference; if there are complications such as immigration concerns, or one spouse covered by the other's insurance and a condition that means that acquiring separate insurance is going to be prohibitively expensive, these are certainly legitimate considerations that perhaps a specializing lawyer could help untangle so that you can see what realistic options you have. I would strongly suggest making sure you know everything there is to know about the legal and financial issues, with professional guidance, before agreeing to the proposed arrangement. (You would be teasing all these issues out in the case of a divorce, anyway; it doesn't make sense to neglect them for what is a far more complicated and risky arrangement.)

If you guys decide that indeed the financial/legal consequences of divorce are compelling reasons to remain married, it seems to me that you should then see about creating some sort of (post-nup?) legally binding contract (IA *so* NAL!) to attempt to lock in the critical terms of the agreement, because regardless of the current best intentions of all involved, once the complications of married-yet-dating begin asserting themselves, someone may decide that the verbal contract isn't something they want to abide by any longer, and someone else may be legally/financially screwed.

These are just some of the pragmatic issues it would be wise to address. In terms of the living situation: if it were me, I think I'd be much more comfortable with a separated-living-spaces arrangement if you definitely need to share the same house, preferably with separate entrances and sufficiently outfitted that it doesn't work out that one party essentially has a private space, yet is also free to come and go in the other person's space because they need to use the kitchen, etc. On the other hand, if the idea is to try to maintain a fictive "normal" marriage... well, wow, that just seems miserable and unhealthy for everybody involved (and, I'm guessing, unsustainable).

Finally, (because everyone loves completely gratuitous advice!) I'd say that concerning the explanations you make to your child, keep them solely in terms of adult decisions based on reasons unrelated to him. Kids deal with that kind of thing every day... "we will/won't/can/can't do/have X thing because of OBSCURE ADULT CRITERIA." If you say something like "we arranged things this way because neither of us could bear not living in the same house as you, yet it's better for us not to live totally together," then that puts the kid in the middle and establishes him as a the reason you guys are together or not together, happy or unhappy — even if it's meant to be reassuring! Plus, what if you do later decide to live in separate houses, oye!
posted by taz (staff) at 1:31 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, you deserve happiness and I think marriage counseling asap is critical.

It seems like you're looking about some options that are going to be a massive change in the lives of you, your husband, and your kid.

But I'd ask you to very much consider how all of these options will affect your child first and foremost.

My concern about the living-together-and-dating scenario (which may work for some people) is that no matter how you two play it, your kid is going to know or at the very least, get suspicious (which is a pretty crappy way for a kid to feel about his parents). It's just not good for your son once he starts figuring out you're both lying in response to his questions about who's on the phone and where's dad tonight, etc.

So if you do this, you'll need to explain that you're both dating other people. And no matter how lovingly you spin it, that's going to be weird for him. To a large extent, kids don't want to be different and in this situation, your son is going to know that his family does things in a manner not often portrayed in the media. He may not want to bring friends over, when he has to write school essays about his family he may feel completely awkward and embarrassed. Every kid thinks their family is nuts and weird, but your kid will really have a very atypical family life.

As others have mentioned, he will also be getting the much larger message that it's okay to live with someone he has roommate-type feelings for while pursuing sex and more emotionally fulfilling relationships with others. I'm not sure how that will play out but it's something to consider.

Lastly, something for you to consider: your husband suggested this idea and you think he already has someone in mind. To me, this is the oldest story in the book. Is it possible that he's just being incredibly selfish and wants the comfort of a wife and family at home but also sex on the side with someone new and exciting and he's trying to get you to buy in?
posted by dzaz at 2:52 AM on November 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Every kid thinks their family is nuts and weird, but your kid will really have a very atypical family life.

Sorry, I lost this part: your kid will have this unusual lifestyle because it worked out to be easier for you and your husband, not necessarily because as parents you recognized that this was best for your son.
posted by dzaz at 2:55 AM on November 5, 2010

Nthing Opening Up, for an idea of the possibilities. But - an open marriage is a hard row to hoe even if its something you want very much. Counseling and legal advice (since there's a kid involved) is a great idea. You have to trust each other, and you have to work on your communication. Go slowly. Work out your boundaries slowly, and adjust as needed. Consider how you will handle folks you know seeing you out on your dates / on dating sites, etc. There are huge logistical issues to work out. There are people who want to date you, but you need to be very careful about which of them you let into your life, because of the kid / general potential for drama.

I'm in a don't-ask-don't-tell open relationship, although I'm long distance from my partner. MeMail me if you want to chat.
posted by momus_window at 9:01 AM on November 5, 2010

« Older Surgery without friends   |   acupuncture for infertility? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.