Relationship at a Crossroads Over Monogamy
November 27, 2012 1:57 PM   Subscribe

I love my long term partner, but have the urge to be more "open"—do I need to leave if they are 100% against a different arrangement?

My husband and I have been together for going on 13 years. We met in college and have been together ever since. He is wonderful—funny, cute, smart and affectionate. He is my favorite person to spend time with, and I feel lucky all the time. He is a thoughtful introvert with a few very close friends, and I am a bubbly extrovert with a large circle of friends.

We have a very satisfying sexual connection, and in the course of our relationship, we have had some enjoyable threesomes, and gone to a handful of orgies. I have been very supportive of him having his fun with other gals in those contexts, while acknowledging that he feels incapable of sharing me with any other men. All the while, though, I've known that I feel that urge strongly, and that internally have felt that the inequity in this has been an enormous compromise on my part.

I confess that I've not always been so "good"—I've had a few minor flirtations during the course of our relationship, one of which he discovered by reading my chat logs and emails. (I have since become above board with my conduct, but have also gotten in the habit of logging out of these accounts vigilantly.)This happened four years ago, and it honestly never went further than a bit of locker room talk about three ways, and "who's cute." We never spent any time together—but my husband was deeply wounded by what he read and I was incredibly sorry for it. I absolutely do not want to hurt him.

We're now inching up toward the idea of starting our family, and I've become pre-occupied to an extent with the idea of being "monogamish." I worry I can't be "good" for the rest of our lives, and I'd prefer if we were on the level about my desire to flirt, and maybe go further from time to time, but the issue is closed. Last night when we were talking, I casually mentioned "monogamishness," and after a long period of deep, wounded silence, he eventually offered that to have that arrangement, we'd have to not be together.

I'm distraught—this is the person I love above all others, and the person I am dying to have a family with, and to spend my life with. I have absolutely no other complaints or requests. I feel very hurt a lot of the time knowing that weighing a little more personal freedom against all the other qualities and affection I offer my husband, he would choose to spurn me in favor of keeping things tightly closed. I feel pathetic for being so drawn to the idea, and for feeling so helpless in wanting what I want. I feel like an idiot for even putting this in a compelling basket against all the other things my partner offers me—like a sex-crazed feedback maniac. I'm at a loss.

What should I do.
posted by anonanonanon to Human Relations (50 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think this must be very hard. Being a very monogamous woman, I don't have much to offer in terms of advice. But...

I have been very supportive of him having his fun with other gals in those contexts, while acknowledging that he feels incapable of sharing me with any other men. All the while, though, I've known that I feel that urge strongly, and that internally have felt that the inequity in this has been an enormous compromise on my part.

At the minimum, don't do this. If you feel this is unfair, tell him, and ask him to stop or let you have equal rights. Sounds like he will do the former, but at least you will hurt a little less.
posted by ethidda at 2:03 PM on November 27, 2012 [20 favorites]

I'm a big fan of monogamy - not because I have anything against polyamory in theory, but because in practice a lot of the poly relationships I've seen eventually deteriorate into something horrible like what you have described, where one partner is having all the outside sex and the other isn't getting any. What you have here is a fundamentally imbalanced and unequitable arrangement that nobody with any self-respect should submit to.

You deserve better. DTMFA.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:05 PM on November 27, 2012 [14 favorites]

Sexual incompatibility is pretty common. You want a open marriage, your husband doesn't want you to have one. For him, it's a deal breaker.

You need to ask yourself, is it a deal breaker for you?

Right now you're on the ragged edge, you're doing chats that you know he'd object to. You log out and erase to cover your tracks.

When you got married, did you discuss this at all? Was it on your radar? Is this a relatively new thing for you?

I agree that if he doesn't want you to be monogamish, than the same goes for him. Given that context, what does he think.

It may be time to see a counselor to help you both sort out your feelings, and to negotiate a solution that works for both of you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:06 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're not crazy or pathetic or wrong for wanting what you want. And you're not any of those things, either, for wanting two things that you can't have at the same time. But it seems like you can't have these things at the same time.

Does it seem unfair that your experiments with openness in the past have been a bit one-sided? Sure. But I think that is probably more noise than signal here. You are totally within your rights to set a boundary around this so that it is more fair in the future, but the past doesn't really have anything to do with your question.

It comes down to this: do you want to be with this man enough to be with him on terms that work for the both of you, or not? He's being clear about the terms that won't work for him. Like I said, those terms seem a little unfair to me, but that's kind of neither here nor there. They are his terms. You accept them, you find mutually respectful ways to negotiate them, or you leave.

And none of those options is wrong, as long as you are choosing it.
posted by gauche at 2:06 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

If your only other option is cheating on him, then yes, you should no longer stay together.

I have been very supportive of him having his fun with other gals in those contexts, while acknowledging that he feels incapable of sharing me with any other men. All the while, though, I've known that I feel that urge strongly, and that internally have felt that the inequity in this has been an enormous compromise on my part.

Right, but this is presumably a compromise you chose to make, correct? Unless you feel that you were coerced into doing things you would not have chosen to do otherwise, then (while I agree that this is unfair, and I personally would not have chosen this kind of imbalance in a relationship) it's probably not too healthy to use this "against" him retroactively, so to speak. (as in, saying "you got to do this in the past so you OWE it to me in the future". don't do that.)

It's a good place to start to reassess the parameters of your relationship as it involves other people, though. I would definitely not allow or participate in any further multiple partner sexytimes unless my needs were being met as fully as his, if I were you.
posted by elizardbits at 2:08 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Seems incredibly unfair and unreasonable for your husband to expect himself to be able to explore sex with other people while at the same time denying you of that same option. I think this is the crux of the problem. Either you both do it or neither one of you does it.
posted by Dansaman at 2:10 PM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I should clarify that my feelings about him with other women are pretty much of the compersive-variety—it doesn't trouble me, and it makes me happy to see him happy. And my involvement sexually in those situations has been fun, so no hard feelings about all that, really.
posted by anonanonanon at 2:10 PM on November 27, 2012

What do you want more, kids or an open marriage? If you've been with your husband for 13 years you are probably at least 30. If you decide you need to leave him in ord to have more varied sexual experiences, there is no guarantee that you will find someone else who is interested in having children with you before your fertility declines.
posted by bq at 2:17 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

Women do not actually need to be married, or be in a heterosexual relationship with a man in order to have biological children.
posted by elizardbits at 2:20 PM on November 27, 2012 [58 favorites]

I should clarify that my feelings about him with other women are pretty much of the compersive-variety—it doesn't trouble me, and it makes me happy to see him happy. And my involvement sexually in those situations has been fun, so no hard feelings about all that, really.

But it's still grossly unfair and a breeding ground for resentment.

I'm with Dansaman. You've "tried" this arrangement out for thirteen years and it's no longer working for you. It's okay to say "this isn't working for me anymore. Time to renegotiate."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:21 PM on November 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

I don't understand: Does he want both of you to be monogamous or just you?
posted by purpleclover at 2:22 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I casually mentioned "monogamishness," and after a long period of deep, wounded silence, he eventually offered that to have that arrangement, we'd have to not be together.

I think he's got a deal-breaker there. Neither of you may impose your needs or wants on the other. I think it would be fair to tell him no orgies or other women, but he does not feel the same way about you and other men.

This is hard to say, but this is his choice and your choice. If you wish to indulge these needs further, I suggest an amicable divorce.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:32 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

First: is it a deal breaker for you?
Second: is it a deal breaker for him?

I think you already know the answers.

It is OK to leave an otherwise great relationship if you are not getting what you truly need.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:37 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have seen this pattern pretty often -- ine partner wanting openness while blocking the other, overtly or covertly -- and it's a breeding ground for resentment. I'd recommend a sex-positive marriage councilor who can help the two of you look at these issues objectively before you decide what to do. Kids, I think, should be off the agenda until you are really really sure how to proceed.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:39 PM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do you want more sex? Do you want sex with other people with your partner? Do you want sex with other people without your partner? Do you want to feel wanted? Do you want to have sex with other men?

I would say, depending on what it is you want, it may or may not be fixable with a marriage counselor.

Also, if you don't need other men, just other people, maybe your husband would be more okay with you sleeping with women (without him, as he's demonstrated that with him is definitely okay).
posted by ethidda at 2:39 PM on November 27, 2012

His first response is to go nuclear? Uh uh. Not cool.

I know you love him but he is treating you shabbily. Doesn't matter if you vaguely flirted with someone once. Refusing to discuss it with you and the double standard one penis policy are both serious, serious missteps on his part.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:41 PM on November 27, 2012 [26 favorites]

It is perfectly reasonable of you to want symmetry in your relationship agreements.

You are not a "sex-crazed maniac" for wanting symmetrical relationship agreements.

Lots of people are in open relationships and poly relationships and are excellent parents, and anyone suggesting otherwise is full of bigoted nonsense based on something other than actual observation of those people and their parenting.

It is absolutely okay for you to want whatever you want. Maybe you'll both decide to move on because your wants and needs in terms of relationship orientation aren't compatible. Maybe you'll decide together to choose monogamy because that's the best symmetrical choice for you both. Maybe your husband will work through his objections to you having other partners. Maybe you'll decide the asymmetry is okay with you.

Talking abou it with a poly-friendly relationship therapist is a really good idea. Also, let me recommend Tristan Taormino's Opening Up as one of the smartest books about non-monogamous relationships out there.

(Here's the list of poly-friendly counseling professionals.)

I have never seen a "one penis policy" open relationship work well, ever. Guys who want to sleep with other women but don't want their women partners to sleep with other guys are, in my experience and observation, guys with issues.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:43 PM on November 27, 2012 [11 favorites]

[Folks, cool it. This is Ask Metafilter, not a bar fight.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:44 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you're perfectly in the "right," but, late to the party.

He wants to be monogamous going forward, and you do not, because you never got your chance. You had every opportunity to negotiate that in the years past, but now it comes at a different price. Since you went along willingly these past years, it would be wrong to hold that against him in your current negotiations.

What you really have to decide ...

is a monogamous relationship with the man you love, future children with him, and a future life with him less valuable than the chance to have other men in your life?

If I misunderstood his request, then I stand corrected.
posted by Kruger5 at 3:02 PM on November 27, 2012 [13 favorites]

You've got three issues. You're wanting to renegotiate sexual boundaries. You're wanting to take the big step of having children. You two seem to be having a hard time communicating about your relationship. That last one is the most important. And after 13 years, it's understandable that you might be in a relationship rut and have some bad patterns. But having children requires lots of communication to work well. Having an open relationship also seems like something that needs more communication, not less. I'm concerned that he froze you out. And there's a part of me that doesn't think opening up a marriage is totally compatible with having your first baby. Because, if the sex part of your relationship feels one-sided, wait till you have an infant. Things sound off-kilter between you two and I think you're right, it needs to get sorted.

Is it a deal breaker? Only if you two make it so. Think about couples therapy.
posted by amanda at 3:04 PM on November 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Leaving aside the issue of whether he wants to break up with you or not...

Just the fact that he has had this one-sided arrangement all these years, where he gets to have sex with other women but you do not get to have sex with other men, and now when you just bring up the possibility that you would like to have sex with other men too, he gets all wounded and hurt -- the hypocrisy just kills me! I understand that you've invested a lot in your relationship with this man, but this is definitely in dealbreaker territory for me.
posted by peacheater at 3:05 PM on November 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

What's confusing to me is that it's unclear whether he's had sex (and flirtations) with other women without you in the picture.... I would assume from what you said that every situation that involved sex with other people had you in it. Therefore, unlike many of the other posters, it seems that you weren't technically un-monogamous, just swinging. Please, correct me if I'm wrong here. It says you weren't involved with other men, so I would assume that these threesomes/orgies were women only? Seems pretty unfair that he was up for doing whatever with women, but you're not allowed to do the same with men... Question is... have you talked about this specifically?
posted by camylanded at 3:40 PM on November 27, 2012

I strongly suspect that if you want to have sex with other men, you're not going to be married to or have children with this man. Unless you do it secretly, which I find morally wrong, ethically dubious, and from a practical perspective, highly unlikely to succeed.

So: would you rather have sex with other men, or be married to/have children with this man?
posted by SMPA at 3:42 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

do I need to leave if they are 100% against a different arrangement?

Well, you have a pretty limited set of options:

A) Convince him to change his mind and allow you to have sex with other men;

B) Have sex with other men on the down low and keep it secret from him;

C) Make your peace with the limitations of monogamy in order to stay with him;

D) Break up with him, get your sexy on with whomever, and figure things out for having a kid when you get to that point.

That's pretty much the entire range of options, I think, and they all have some downsides. You know him and you know yourself, so you can make a much more educated guess than we can about which option is most likely to work out. Could over time he get to the point of being ok with you have sexual contact with other men, perhaps with some negotiated boundaries? Could you keep your affairs secret over the long-haul? Or is it the idea of sex with others that is attractive, more than the reality?
posted by Forktine at 4:32 PM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

If you cannot have both this marriage and sex with other partners, then which one do you select? It looks like that's the real question here.

I'm taking you at your word that it doesn't bug you to have other women in the mix. You could certainly nix the other women, but that doesn't address the real issue which is your desire for other men. Your husband greatly values your monogamy; you don't greatly value his.

This is one of those times when you're going to need to make a choice.
posted by 26.2 at 5:32 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Other comments have brought up some really good points, and have laid out your options pretty thoroughly. I just really want to emphasize the point that his inability to even have a conversation with you about the idea of being "monogamish" is a big red flag. Don't let your guilt about wanting to have your needs met downplay the importance of open communication in a relationship.
posted by krakenattack at 6:31 PM on November 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

You've kind of come to the wrong place to ask this, because the party line on AskMefi is that Communication Trumps All and that Cheating is Always Wrong.

Cheating is common. It happens all the time. Sometimes it's the vent that lets an otherwise stable marriage survive the decades.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:10 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

What should I do.

Get him into therapy, you're not the problem here.

He's being manipulative though probably not consciously. Note the long, wounded silence when you bring up the idea, a silence you're sensitive to. Note also that he went snooping through your email and chat logs. Your chat logs.

When you asked for the same experience you've happily given him, his response is to say the relationship will be over. There's zero compromise from him, which isn't fair to you. Now it's an issue, because it's the one thing you want and the one thing he flatly refuses to give it.

Get him into therapy and continue talking about the situation. If you haven't already, put it all on the table, you're feelings, thoughts, desires and any resentments. This is a potential deal breaker so lots of talking is in order.

As the male and very introverted half of a not-swinging-at-all married couple of 15 years, I think your husband is being amazingly petty and selfish. If one of you gets to do something, whatever it is, the other should get to do the same, no ifs, ands or buts.

Think of it this way: If you had agreed to work full time while he quit working to go back to school and then later you wanted the same deal once he was pulling in the big bucks and yet he balked at the idea, you'd be furious and hurt. This is similar. If you supported his decisions, he should support yours.

Seriously, it sounds like you were actively helping him have several threesomes and enjoying doing so. Hell, the least he could do is say "Ok babe, not comfortable with you having sex with other guys. But you were there with pompoms and inspiring cheers when I was nailing Suzy from accounting, Jill from sales and Megan in IT. So ok if you want to meet a guy in a hotel room and lick whipped cream off some gym rats body, fine. Just call it a late night with the girls and don't put the hotel room on the joint card. And be safe. "
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:12 PM on November 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

after a long period of deep, wounded silence, he eventually offered that to have that arrangement, we'd have to not be together.

I have to say that if my husband came home and said that he was interested in opening up our marriage, that would probably be my reaction as well.  I am totally opposed to non-monagamy for me, and therefore for him as well.  But this is something we discussed in detail when we first got together, so it would not be a surprise for him.  In your situation, given your previous swinging history, I feel like your husband is being really hypocritical, not because he isn't interested in you seeing other people but because he seems fine with him having sex with other people.  I do not share your desires to be "monogamish" and so for me the choice is a no brainer, however I would also put an end to the threesomes to be equitable.  But you're the only one that can decide if monogamy is a dealbreaker for you at this point in your life.
posted by crankylex at 8:22 PM on November 27, 2012

he feels incapable of sharing me with any other men

Have you discussed this feeling in more detail with him? How, exactly, does he feel incapable? I've talked with some monogamous people who think that "I'd be too jealous" is a complete and sufficient explanation for not pursuing open relationships, rather than recognizing that jealousy is just a negative feeling that, like other negative feelings, can be explored, unpacked, discussed, soothed, and eventually overcome. He might benefit from reading The Ethical Slut, especially the jealousy chapter. And nthing the therapy suggestion. If insecurity and fear are what underlie his sense of being incapable of sharing you, what kinds of reassurance does he need to allay those feelings? If he's unwilling to even consider that question, that doesn't bode well.
posted by southern_sky at 8:35 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Massive difference 'tween "feels incapable" and "is incapable."

I may feel incapable of being in an open relationship.

I am incapable of being in New York City in 10 minutes.
posted by ambient2 at 9:38 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was never a swinger because I never had the guts, but I was once a Dominatrix and heavy into the kink scene, where my lovely husband I married 4 years ago - not at ALL.

We now have an equally lovely son who is 19 months old today.

I tell you honestly that once you have a child/ren, you will still get turned on by the same fantasies, but you won't want to dabble in them in all likelihood. It's occurred to me over the past few months that as my son is getting older, it's pretty much time for me to scrub my library and storage of all fetish-related materials. Luckily, I'm very happy in the bedroom department with my husband. I would absolutely be a calmer more centered person if I had been sessioning a masochist or two over the last 4 years, BUT, meditation, hiking, yoga - these all take the place of that outlet.

I am happy as a mom and a wife.

I guess what I am saying is that if you have more experiences to have before settling down, then that is a REAL issue. Certainly, these two things are not compatible. Not for weirdo moral reasons, but because, I totally swear to you that children change your life and priorities! You just don't have bandwith for more than keeping your child, spouse, career, and generally loving household going.

I get you here.

I waited until the very last second (38 years old) to truly settle down. I don't regret waiting. I did what I wanted. I do not feel like I missed out on much, and now as a mom, I am not missing out on a second and putting in as much effort and heart into being a parent as I did into my past endeavors.

Do what you need to do. When you need to.

I'm not sure how to factor your husband into this. I hope he goes along with your needs.

posted by jbenben at 11:30 PM on November 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

There is another option besides breaking up, cheating, or giving up on non-monogamy...which is to keep talking about it.

I imagine that it seems unsportsmanlike to periodically introduce a topic of conversation that previously made him unhappy...but a big part of being in it for the long haul is trust between partners to discuss difficult things, even disagreeable things. Don't judge yet, even though his initial reaction was basically the long cold stare and a "no." Also don't talk about it with the intention of "we need to solve this." In fact, I'd say that it would be a good idea to take Making A Decision right off the table for now.

Instead, discuss it with the goal of understanding each other better. Maybe this won't work out, maybe you'll find a compromise, who knows...but take a shot at finding out whether you're truly incompatible or just reacting to fears.
posted by desuetude at 11:51 PM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, I don't think it's unreasonable at all to have the conversation with him where you say either we both get to have sex with other people or neither of us do if you come to the conclusion that you can be happy being just with him. If he responds to that with anything besides, "OK, we can both see other people" or "OK, we'll be strictly monogamous" then I think he's being a jerk.
posted by crankylex at 6:33 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sorry for the delayed response—I've been offline.

As to shutting down other activities, and the scope of them—we were running hot doing those extracurriculars for a period a little while back, but have since cooled. So it's not a day to day concession. We do talk about more...extracurriculars. I get a lot of enjoyment from the shared experiences so I don't know that I would want to firmly put my hand down to it going forward just to balance the scales.

I do think I may have made a mistake in thinking that by opening that door, and letting our sexual relationships evolve, that I could model my compersion and pleasure in his pleasure in a way that might have been persuasive. Obviously that's not be the case, though.

I feel like every 3-4 months for the past 3 years, the desire to have the conversation wells up in me, until I'm secretly fixated and nervous, and then if I do finally bring it up, we inevitably get to where we got this last time—and his feeling is basically that it's been discussed, case is closed, and that I feel like I'm just picking a scab.

I'm of two minds—that I need to draw a line in the sand and come home some day and say "you seem to feel this very strongly, and I feel the opposite way, so I guess that means I need to pack if we can't reach a compromise." But I know that part of me thinks I'll never forgive myself for throwing something away over getting a little male feedback. So that even if that amount of resolve on my part shakes loose in him some compromise or conversation, that my chart will be forever marked "traitor."

jbenben's response seems closest to what could be functional for me, or what I'm hoping would be, but of course I'm really scared I will hurt any potential children I have down the line because i get busted holding hands. I guess my fear is "what if I am not bigger and better than this urge? And could I like that person, if that's who I am?

I'm so sad.
posted by anonanonanon at 7:21 AM on November 28, 2012

Deepest sympathies. Many of us have been through similar struggles. It can involve a lot of pain just to get through the conversations you want to get through. A few disjointed bits of advice, for whatever they're worth:
  1. You're not pathetic, helpless, an idiot, maniac or traitor. Treat yourself with some respect here. You're trying to address your own needs.
  2. In my experience such needs do not go away on their own; waiting-and-staring is a way to build your resolve to act, but it won't get rid of the desire.
  3. Your partner's behaviour is more worrying. Hypocritical, dismissive, stonewalling. I'd be hurt and sad in your shoes too.
  4. Try to remain trusting, civil, honest. Personally I am (in retrospect) much happier about the times I could have violated trust, and chose not to, than vice-versa.
  5. The only opening I can see here is the possibility that he doesn't really dislike the idea of you having other partners, and is just insecure. I only say this because his existing behaviour shows that he is not a man with a strong philosophical, religious, or moral investment in monogamy; it sounds more like a deep insecurity than an absent-desire. Some insecurities can be overcome with a patient partner and a relaxed pace.
  6. Your own difficulty in bringing this up suggests you are too conflict-averse in your relationship. It's hugely important to you, yet you take months to revisit it. This pattern should change.
  7. If possible, I suggest trying to redirect your sadness to a resolve to act. Pick a date a few weeks or months out by which you will promise yourself to have set aside time -- time when you're both alert, not-rushed, rested, calm, alone, safe -- to have conversations that don't just result in him shutting you down and stonewalling. These will be hard, draining conversations you might have to take short (hour, day) time-outs from to regain composure. Nature-of-relationship and what-do-we-each-want-and-fear sorts of conversations.
  8. Like desuetude, I suggest you do not approach such conversations with an eye to "let's solve this", but rather "let's understand one another". Accept (or believe) that action and decision will come in due course once you reach sufficient understanding, whenever that is. Your partner does not presently understand you (and it's not clear from your statements how well you understand him, i.e. how much of his behaviour is insecurity vs. actual dislike of the thought). Promise yourself you'll get your partner to a point of understanding one another, both your needs and insecurities, without just bolting from the conversation or making ultimatums. Promise yourself not to shy away from conversations that deepen that understanding. It's much easier to figure out how to act after you understand one another well.
Good luck. It will all work out somehow, and a lot of the highest high-drama feeling will eventually subside, your life will go on.
posted by ead at 8:11 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Based on your last update, I suggest a new tactic for discussing it with him: start sooner in your thought cycle.

Don't wait a couple months for it to be pressing and making you anxious. Approach him while it's still a casual thought so you're not as aggressive in the discussion, it feels less like an attack, and feelings can cool down more quickly.

I learned this last weekend that stewing over something that bothered me, having conversations in my head, even for just an hour, made me too tactical and intense when the real conversation started.

Talk to him in smaller pieces more frequently. Use these conversations to work on the "why"s of your feelings, too, and they may lead to unexpected break-throughs.
posted by itesser at 8:28 AM on November 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

All of this is very good advice. I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who took the time to read and respond so thoughtfully.

Two other bits...

I myself have seen a therapist, and as much as I explained any of this to him, he really seemed unfamiliar with the practice of non-monogamy within long term relationships. His two bits of advice were always "hunker down and do it right" (re: monogamy/marriage) or that it seemed incompatible with a married life to him. Not overtly judgmental, but definitely lacking an imagination about what I was describing. I frequently felt like I was hitting my head up against a wall with our sessions, waiting for him to diagnose something in me ("By George—I've got it! You're not MEANT to be monogamous! Tell him!") or to tell me to quit it and that I was being immature.

I've done "The Reading"—(Opening Up, Sex at Dawn, Ethical Slut). I even let my husband know what reading materials I was delving into, thinking it would be a good stub for a conversation. It never spurred that, though.
posted by anonanonanon at 9:07 AM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you said to him, "I think you should read these books because they'll help us navigate these issues better?" It seems like your approach to conflict is generally very passive and some directness might help.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:13 AM on November 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

I feel like every 3-4 months for the past 3 years, the desire to have the conversation wells up in me, until I'm secretly fixated and nervous, and then if I do finally bring it up, we inevitably get to where we got this last time—and his feeling is basically that it's been discussed, case is closed, and that I feel like I'm just picking a scab.

The case is closed for him. Yet it keeps getting put on the docket, so no the case isn't closed on this issue for this relationship. Both you really need to talk about this and talk deeply about it. Why do you want this (I pose that question non-judgmentally of you)? Why is he so against it, especially after he's experienced, with your help, sex with others? Sure, he may put out the wounded silence, which makes you feel awful, but he needs to figure why exactly this bothers him and articulate it to you. Based on what you've written, he keeps shutting down and nothing is resolved for both of you, so it keeps coming up. If that's not the case and y'all have talked this and specific reasons why he's against it, then please clarify.

I myself have seen a therapist, and as much as I explained any of this to him, he really seemed unfamiliar with the practice of non-monogamy within long term relationships

Get a new therapist. Seriously, your therapist should be able to see things from your point of view, even if they don't agree, and help you work through issues and situations in a manner that works best for you.

PhoBWanKenobi makes a good point.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:47 AM on November 28, 2012

Don't have a kid thinking that it will solve this. The communication issues here will be a huge problem with a new kid. His unilateral approach to decision-making and his willingness to take advantage of your generous nature is what will hurt your kids. Not your desire to flirt with other men.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:26 AM on November 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

"The jealousy you feel when I bring up the subject of having sex with other men seems to be the result of fear that I might leave you if I find someone I want to spend my life with more than you based on occasional sexy fun times, which is ironic because to my mind the only thing that will cause me to leave you would be you trying to stop me from having occasional sexy fun times with other men."

In other words: "your attempt to control me due to your fear of losing me is liable to backfire and drive me away." Yeah, it's the nuclear option, but it's getting right into the whole psychology of control and fear that drives the engine of jealousy.

...there never seems to be much acknowledgement that if one actually does find a better partner, isn't that a good thing? And if it isn't considered a good thing by someone, perhaps that person doesn't have a solid handle on the selfless, agape aspect of a mature loving relationship.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:32 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it's the nuclear option, but it's getting right into the whole psychology of control and fear that drives the engine of jealousy.

Just to be clear OP--Jealousy is a feature not a bug. Although some are less jealous than others, its foundation is in our animal urge to control the reproductive destiny of those we are sexually attracted to. In other words, your husband's amygdala is basically highly concerned that you will have another man's child. This is not to say that these emotions are not manageable, but that they are generally pretty basal and not so easy for many to handle.

My point is to reinforce what I said above, this could be a powerful dealbreaker and being aware of that is going to be critical for you in deciding what to do. It may be that your husband is powerfully affected by these feelings and is seeking a mate that will not inflame them. You may not be that person.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:47 PM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's just as natural for women to seek high-quality sperm from multiple men. Luckily, we are beyond nature.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:58 PM on November 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Personally, I tend to be a monogamous person, but I know that I could be agreeable to an open or monogamish relationship with the right coaxing. If you attempt to persuade your husband into ones, I have the following suggestions for you to use as your selling-points.

1) Boundaries - Make him aware that there are certain sexual things that you would never do with other men. This gives him empirical proof that he is getting something out of the relationship that your other lovers wouldn't be getting (beyond "love", which is completely intangible and therefore cannot be objectively proven).

2) Equality - Let him know that you wouldn't be having more sex than him. Generally in a monogamish/open relationship it is much easier for the woman to find lovers than the man. This is doubly true if the couple is publically married or in a relationship - women tend to be suspicious of a man who says "No, I'm in an open relationship", thinking that he is cheating on his S/O, whereas men have more of a tendency not to care. So from an equality perspective, open relationships are horribly disadvantageous to men and he would need to be assured that if he was having a dry spell at some point, you would be willing to hold off on sleeping with other people until his sex life recovered. (After all, he is your number one concern, right?)

3) Accessibility - If you were using up your sexual energy sleeping with other men, would that mean less sex for him? That's something that he might need reassurance of also. Nobody wants to get in a frisky mood with their S/O only to hear "Sorry, not tonight - I'm exhausted from my sexytimes with John." You would need to explain that no, you won't short him on sex due to the other people you're sleeping with.

I'm not sure if this will help (since I think that overall your husband is being irrational and probably can't be reasoned with logically) but if you're determined to stick it out with him, those could be some useful points to bring up, rather than just saying "I want to open this up" - a statement which, on its own, suggests no boundaries or restrictions (which therefore anybody susceptible to jealousy would naturally feel very uncomfortable about).
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:04 PM on November 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel like every 3-4 months for the past 3 years, the desire to have the conversation wells up in me, until I'm secretly fixated and nervous, and then if I do finally bring it up, we inevitably get to where we got this last time

Does anything make you believe this will change?

This situation is just so deeply inequitable. If this was any topic but sex this wouldn't even be a discussion.

"I love chicken noodle soup but my husband says I can't have any, only he gets chicken noodle soup. Sometimes he wants me to make chicken noodle soup for him or asks me to watch him eat it. This has been going on for 13 years"

"I love fast cars and would love to drive them, but my husband drives me everywhere. Sometimes he will let me ride in the car with him, sometimes he drives around with other people. Sometimes I can clean the car or watch him drive it. This has been going on for 13 years"

Those scenarios, like your situation, are madness. You are letting the fact that this argument is about sex completely cloud your otherwise good judgement.
posted by French Fry at 9:35 AM on November 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

French Fry is SO right on this one...of course, the primitive monkey-bits part of our minds are to blame, but it is highly bizarre that we as a (ostensibly advanced) society continue to hold this one aspect of an interpersonal relationship within some sort of rarefied glass bubble. PLEASE do not have kids with this person until this is so beyond straightened out that you can't even remember the disagreement. Having kids would pour gas on this fire in ways you can't begin to imagine, and I suspect it would make this aspect of his personality exhibit itself in other ways as well. Don't set little people up for that kind of tumult.
posted by SinAesthetic at 11:32 AM on November 29, 2012

This situation is just so deeply inequitable.

This is purely subjective, and not supported by the OP's narrative. It sounds like inequality, but it isn't.

In matters of sex, there is no "equality" since it's choice and preference. One never has to agree to exactly the same. A sexual act between 2 lovers is out of freedom to do so, or not to do so.

The OP made a choice without duress, and enjoyed the experience her husband requested. He didn't renege on any promise of "equal right" to her. She decided on her own volition to accept and continue.

Her dilemma today arises not out of inequality, but out of her new desire that is in conflict with the direction of her partner. She has to make a choice on current circumstances, not on undoing a previous "wrong."
posted by Kruger5 at 12:49 PM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

It might not be inequitable, but I do think he's being allowed to persist in a very immature, hypocritical, and unthoughtful state by not allowing his wife to explore other men. Clearly he understands what it's like to sleep with other women, and hasn't left the OP for any of them-- why is he so jealous? What does he believe about himself that he doesn't believe about her? What does he believe about his own desires that he doesn't believe about hers? The inequality is not in "he enjoys this but you don't" because the OP does enjoy it, and it's not in doing exactly the same thing (from my understanding, the situation would actually still be slightly asymmetrical if he agreed to her requests), it's in him really shutting her down in a way which sounds (maybe unconsciously) manipulative, and clearly not giving the kind of mature thought to the issue that the OP has for him. He might eventually decide maturely that he's still not interested, but as is, he's not treating the issue in a mature fashion.

People like to get very contract-y and "she agreed to this therefore" when it comes to sex and I see the necessity of it, but in a loving relationship that's not sufficient. Just because the contract was made doesn't mean that it was negotiated fairly. She has agreed to introduce other women into their sex life because she is okay with it and also enjoys it, but in her heart she clearly has not agreed that this is an acceptable state of affairs. I also think it's okay to propose that her husband is being unfair due to the extreme nature of his refusal to talk about this with her. He hasn't seemed to ACTUALLY ask how deep this need is, or what it's like for her, or anything else that would throw light on the situation and help him understand-- seemingly as of now he does not really care. That part is unfair, imo. Even if not unfair, I would say unhealthy. The fact that you feel like a sex-crazed maniac is another sign to me that the lack of equality in communication is really hurting you here, OP.

OP, if this is really what you want, I would recommend that you consider weighing very heavily against your current situation. Several of my relationships have fallen apart because I felt I wasn't done exploring yet. I feel that I am now, and I'm very content. I think I had to get out there and do what it took.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:29 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, the OP did say: "All the while, though, I've known that I feel that urge strongly, and that internally have felt that the inequity in this has been an enormous compromise on my part." So yes, there is a compromise element to her, apparently.
posted by stoneandstar at 2:36 AM on December 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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