Open/platonic marriage "for the kids"
August 24, 2018 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Anyone here have experience with romantic failure of a marriage and deciding to basically kill the expectation of romantic love in favor of both parties being able to pursue their own romance outside the marriage, so that they can continue to coparent regularly and minimize expenses? More after the cut.

I am hitting an impasse in marital communication and feeling that I am falling out of love. I have asked for trial separation which my spouse has refused to grant. I am researching other options in case he is refusing on the basis of finances or not wanting to limit time with our children.

I don't really want to get into the reasons. I am ambivalent about pursuing a divorce because I do not want to split time with the children, and it would be pretty devastating financially. My spouse is a good coparent and we get along well on matters related to the children, but the ideal of romantic love is dying thanks to long-standing power struggles, and I like the idea of no longer having to go to my husband to get those needs met.

I believe that I am ready to let us both go to pursue our own separate romantic relationships. Not really open marriage because I don't know that I want to be intimate with him anymore.

Is this a thing that people do? Is there a name for it or guidelines to agree to before pursuing it? Perhaps a timeline so that if either person falls in love with someone else they can choose to marry after the children reach a certain age. Or a postnuptial agreement clarifying financials, time sharing etc?

I recognize that the common sentiment is to just divorce already but if this alternative arrangement would heal the areas that are most problematic by simply sidestepping them, I want to consider it. If anyone here has any other ideas for how to get romantic feelings met in a transparent way while being committed to other roles within a marriage please share.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite your husband going to be okay with it if you propose having affairs? Or is he going to shut that down, too?
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:24 AM on August 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

I have asked for trial separation which my spouse has refused to grant.

I think you are kind of putting the cart before the horse in looking for options to continue a marriage in which you appear to be unable to communicate well. This is the the worst type of situation to start adding other partners with their different communication styles and needs. Unless your jurisdiction has restrictive marital laws you do not need to have permission from your partner in order to seperate. Legal advice would probably help (from a professional, don't rely on friends of what you read on the internet, please).

It is possible to effectively co-parent with someone you are not romantically involved with, but the reality is you will have to split custody time and finances. Unless you are both home 24/7 and homeschooling there is probably already time that you aren't both with the children, so it isn't a huge deviation from your current norm. An option you might want to be aware of is "nesting", where the children remain in the home and the parents rotate in and out.

While romantic love and coupling is important, it should not be used as a short-cut just for filling a hole within yourself. Have you considered therapy for yourself, strengthening your support networks, and seeking validation and platonic love from friends to fulfill your need for intimacy/emotional support while setting aside your romantic needs at the moment? I hear your pain, but the solution is sometimes not what we expect it to be.
posted by saucysault at 7:30 AM on August 24, 2018 [18 favorites]

Open relationships do not solve problems in relationships, whether the core relationship is sexual or not. They tend to magnify existing problems and uncover simmering resentments. Open relationships require immense capacity and skill for communication and compromise. Successful open relationships require all parties to be honest, caring, and generous.

It doesn't sound like you'd be starting from that foundation.

Please see a lawyer to discuss your options, your rights, and your obligations.

Definitely seek individual therapy for yourself. Whichever path you choose will be hard and having personal clarity will be beneficial to you.

I very much recommend the work of John and Julie Gottman for relationship stuff. You can practice their skills on your own and if you are NOT in an abusive relationship, you might find that it helps. This isn't to say that you're responsible for your partners behavior, but that you might be able to break some negative feedback loops that you're both in.
posted by bilabial at 7:37 AM on August 24, 2018 [23 favorites]

I think you need to find out why a trial separation is not an option before assuming this arrangement will be one. Like is it "no, I want us to be together" (which I think is perhaps unlikely to turn into "... in the same house while you pursue sex with other people") or "no, shit or get off the pot" as in you don't get to trial anything, if you go you're gone (in which case I doubt your pursuit of happiness, even if he gets to pursue his too, will be an interest/priority for him), or some other thing.

Your kids are learning from their home life. There is nothing wrong with the lifestyle you suggest if it's inhabited by people who chose it joyfully as their path in life. But is that what this is? If your kid found themself where you are in a few decades would you advise this path?

I have co-parented with a man who could not put my needs on the same page as his, let alone at the same level, for 12 years. Our relationship has morphed into something like family, completely platonic (I am married to someone else) and affectionate rather than just civil. It was very hard work for 2 years, then had difficult moments for another 2 or 3, but has been largely great since then. However the only way I could let go of the overwhelming rage that he could quite happily see me utterly miserable if it was the cost of him being not-even-slightly-inconvenienced, was to not live with him any more.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 7:44 AM on August 24, 2018 [19 favorites]

When I met my SO he was co-parenting in a live-together situation with his son's mom in order to share expenses (his son's mom had physical/mental health issues and was unable to work). They were NOT romantically involved and hadn't been for nearly a decade.

However they were... entwined in a way that I did not consider healthy (she dictated when I could and could not be in the house early on in our relationship) and was emotionally abusive and manipulative to him (calling frequently with "urgent" issues when my partner was with me, tearing him down in front of his kid for wrapping the cheese wrong). She would threaten that he'd no longer be able to see his son if he didn't do things her way. Her romantic partner mostly lived with them and was a pain in the ass and did not chip in for rent or bills. My SO dated around a little but had a hard time getting something long term going because his "ex" was domineering and he was passive and felt it was the simplest path.

He eventually moved out and they had what was essentially a second break-up because she was pretty unhappy to not be the one calling the shots anymore. She checked out nearly completely from his and his son's life after that and moved back in with her mom. That was maybe eight years ago and we've been together ten years total. He still has what I would consider PTSD from that relationship, being with someone constantly threatening the things he cared most about and having to provide for everyone, do all the shopping, answer all the phone calls, never have friends over. We get along great but have a long-distance thing that gives him the space he needs.

This is all to say, if you have a partner right now who won't let you separate, you do not have the underpinnings of someone who is going to work out the very complicated aspects of an open relationship with you. But there are co-parenting situations that are not live-together that I've seen mentioned here (the most interesting being that the KIDS get the house and the parents are the ones who split the time there) like living in a duplex or in two apartments in the same building. You can legally and creatively do many things here but you need to both be coming to the table willing to work towards what is best for the kids. If you're really looking to not just sleep with but actively fall in love with someone else, it sounds like you're just postponing a divorce.
posted by jessamyn at 8:07 AM on August 24, 2018 [11 favorites]

I think people have all sorts of arrangements in their marriage. But what you describe needs to come from a place of love, for lack of a better word, in order to be successful. It can't just be to make your life easier. You have to give the person you're living with the benefit of the doubt, and you also have to keep putting something into the relationship, even if you're just roommates who are co-parenting.

It is hard as hell to detach that much from a relationship. It's not only about your romantic feelings for him so you can find someone new, it is also accepting that he may find someone new. How do you feel when you think about him falling in love with someone else, and all that entails? How about if he finds someone new first? And even harder is detaching from your resentments. For example, let's say you have some unresolved issues about, oh something seemingly trivial. He doesn't compliment you enough. How will you feel when you hear him compliment someone else? If the dishes aren't done, and he's going out, what then?

tl/dr: Depending on how old your kids are, I think it's possible to come to some sort of agreement about living together till they move out. But if you don't really like or respect each other, I wouldn't suggest it.
posted by lyssabee at 9:00 AM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Open/platonic marriage "for the kids"

Your question title says "for the kids" but your question is about you. Not that there is anything wrong with that! You deserve a full, rich life. But the scenario you are describing is unlikely to model that for your kids. The cliche that kids learn what their parents show them is true, and you would be modeling settling for less than the full, rich life you and your husband both deserve. Your kids are probably already well aware of the coldness between you and your husband; if you were to pursue romantic relationships outside the marriage while still living/legally together, they would know that too. Would your husband be expected to stay home with them while you went out? Is that the kind of arrangement you would want your kids to settle for when they are grown?
posted by headnsouth at 9:35 AM on August 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

All I can tell you from here in Recently Separated/ Amicably Divorcing Land is that you can't break the pattern making you miserable without distance. And it's hard even when no one is trying to be a jerk.

I could not do this under the same roof as my ex and I especially couldn't model anything positive for my kid.
posted by emjaybee at 11:12 AM on August 24, 2018 [6 favorites]

If your husband is refusing a trial separation -- you have said you don't understand the reasons -- it seems unlikely a more unconventional approach such as ah open marriage/relationship is going to work.

There is a communication breakdown. Sad to say it, but probably best to lawyer up and either seek that separation or a divorce.

I think your kids will ultimately be happier.
posted by JamesBay at 11:13 AM on August 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

Sheesh people are judgey about things outside their own experiences.


People get divorced and remain in the same house to co-parent. People privately end their marriages and stay in the same house to co-parent. People split and convert the garage to a granny flat to co-parent.

As one example, my friend lives in a house with her boyfriend, his ex-wife and their two children. The children's mother provides full-time parenting care and my friend and her partner provide family income. It works well. The children are not freaked out, and have not been for the two years they've lived this way. (Oh, you think that's weird? These people are all in their 40s. They don't give a fuck what you think of the way they arrange their domestic life.)

I mean basically, yes it is a thing, but it doesn't matter if it's a thing because you can run your marriage however you like. What the two of you can agree on is what will work best. Do not use or allow to be used pejorative language like "affairs" or "cheating" to describe negotiated cohabitation and co-parenting.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:33 AM on August 24, 2018 [16 favorites]

Not really open marriage because I don't know that I want to be intimate with him anymore.

I'm gonna be pedantic for a minute and point out that co-parenting is pretty damn intimate.

But sure, a platonic/co-parenting relationship between people who agree to accept outside romantic relationships is a type of open marriage. In polyamory circles, it is acknowledged that a relationship may fulfill emotional needs but not be sexual or romantic, either because it never really was (in the case of having an asexual/aromantic partner) or because needs/interests have shifted. This isn't new with the rise of people openly identifying as polyamorous, of course. Married people have had paramours with the tacit acceptance of their spouses for a very long time, sometimes quietly and sometimes openly. I mean, hello, France?

HOWEVER, based on what you have told us, attempting an open marriage is a utterly disastrous idea, I'm sorry. It requires honest communication and the willingness for both to graciously prioritize the other partner's needs. By contrast, you feel that you have hit an impasse in marital communication, you have asked for trial separation that he has refused to grant, and you feel that neither of you would be willing to change the way you spend time with your children.

You run a real risk of making a future divorce and custody battle considerably messier. Even in states where adultery not still an actual crime or is not prosecuted, it most certainly is used for morality-shaming. Especially against women.
posted by desuetude at 11:37 AM on August 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

You're calling this "for the kids" in your title but you don't mention anywhere how this would actually affect the kids. My personal bias is that I grew up with my parents modelling a specific type of married relationship that at the time I accepted as normal, now realize made one of them deeply unhappy for decades on end, and it has in some ways left me feeling very unequipped for having my own partnership as an adult because I never saw how that shit is supposed to work. I saw what I DON'T want, and not what I do. I desperately wish for their sakes and for my own that they had divorced in my childhood. My sibling feels the same way.

It's worth spending some time thinking about the benefits of having both parents living in the house vs. potential pluses and minuses of what you are modelling for them about what they should expect and demand in a partner when they grow up. I can't do that calculus for you, it'll be different for every family. It didn't work in my family, but certainly could work in others where the parents are better able to navigate the challenges of coparenting while not being good as romantic partners.

Assuming you decide this could work for your particular family, it sounds like before you go down the rabbithole of researching the precise details of postnups and exactly how old the kids have to be before you can remarry, you need to have the much more basic discussion with your husband about what his actual basis is for refusing a trial separation. When you know what the reason is, you can look for creative solutions to it. I'd suggest you might find those in any forum about divorces, or hell, probably you could get some hot tips in books or forums about polyamorous parenting. Not quite what you're after, but some of the principles might well apply.
posted by Stacey at 11:39 AM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

One thing I notice is that you say your current relationship is failing due to power struggles. It seems that the terms / agreements about having extramarital relationships could easily become part of those power struggles.
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:39 PM on August 24, 2018

I did this for a while!

if you have a partner right now who won't let you separate, you do not have the underpinnings of someone who is going to work out the very complicated aspects of an open relationship with you

But I think Jessamyn has the correct read on this. Coparenting is intimate work. If you think there will be anger, resentment, or bitterness between you, as your relationship makes this transition...well, you're probably right. And it's going to be an extremely hard relationship to parent in.

For my part, I had romantically divested from my ex, and we lived and coparented (and remained legally married) together for a while, and dated other people. My new partner fell in love with me, my ex was appalled, everyone was hurt. That's not necessarily what would happen to you, but do recognize the kind of relationship you'd be expecting a new partner to walk into.

Fast forward 5 years and I'm very happily divorced, coparenting companionably with the ex, in a committed long-distance relationship with the new partner from 5 years earlier.

Be kind to your kid. Make sure your partner is, too. Everything else will settle as it needs to.
posted by libraritarian at 2:28 PM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a monogam-ish marriage, with someone who is truly a partner to me. Even so, navigating the -ish parts of things has required amazing communication and a real respect for each other. There’s also the fact that dating people willing to work within complex situations also requires a lot of emotional and relational work. And of course unless you are truly okay with it, living with someone you don’t feel close to due to power struggles might take a continued toll.

I honestly think it might be easier for you to tackle this from the economic end, unless your kids are really small, than from the romantic end. Staying married means your assets remain joint, sure, so there’s a stability there but if you’re the lessor earner, investing in your career so you can separate without a drastic fall in standard of living might be a better return than adding more people.
posted by warriorqueen at 3:48 PM on August 24, 2018

My friends who did this found it very difficult to have good relationships outside of their marriage because new partners were uncomfortable with their situation and because failing to leave the marriage made it difficult for them to devote adequate emotional energy to new partners. They also were stuck living with someone they didn't really want to be, without the romantic partnership that makes sharing a home and co-parenting less unpleasant.

It's not impossible, no, but it's usually a hard road.
posted by metasarah at 4:13 PM on August 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

This must be my favourite story for such a modern disposition. Both spouses share a house (English country house, but still) with their respective lovers.
posted by Kwadeng at 4:29 PM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

I feel the need to point out that this is not non-monogamy. If you and your partner split up but cohabitate in order to co-parent, you are both free to have perfectly monogamous relationships with other people because your sexual relationship with one another is over.

The rules you and your partner agree for this would be, one imagines, based on respect for your shared space and the comfort of and appropriateness for your children.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:01 AM on August 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I was divorcing, I was required to take a class for parents who are divorcing. The guy leading the class pointed out that people in failing marriages tend to experience the classic patterns of loss: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. I looked back across the experience of my marriage and, sure enough, I could see those things very clearly. In the midst of it, I don't think I could have really made the connection, though.

I bring this up because, good grief, this question is bargaining if I've ever seen it.

It might be better just to dive in, move through the sadness, and know that acceptance is on the other side.

I'm sorry.
posted by Sublimity at 8:19 PM on August 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

I think you're looking for something like this.

Or this.

Also Google parenting marriage.
posted by foxjacket at 6:42 AM on August 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of my friends had parents who divorced, but one of them lived in a trailer in the yard. Like the two adjacent apartment idea, it allowed them both to really see their kids all the time, have meals together if they chose, and have a common space of the yard, while giving each other private space to live in. A duplex would be another way to have a shared yard and allow kids to really visit on their own whenever they choose.(The closer together you can live when small, the better. Try for a distance that the kids can walk, escorted if necessary. So a block apart at age two can work, but a mile at age ten is fine.)

I don't think living in the same house with someone you have power struggles with is a good idea, no matter how young the children. My parents broke up when I was a baby and for the most part I grew up with that as normal.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:48 PM on August 29, 2018

A baby is one thing; a 10-year-old is different.

Thanks for all of the positive co-parenting-while-divorced stories. I need them badly right now.

I am in a similar but perhaps more loving and equal relationship with my partner, who is in the process of leaving me. We've been together 18 years, with two kids (10 and 7). We love each other but it's not working for her. She's never been very attracted to me, to be honest, and she just downplayed it over and over until, well, until now. We just bought our first house last year.

I'm moving into the guest room this weekend. We're not sure what to do. I'm a homemaker who gave up his job 5+ years ago to stay home with the kids--our oldest daughter has selective mutism and at the time it was severe and very scary to me. She has a lot of anxiety--separation, social. We haven't told the kids yet. I just found out on Labor Day and then more definitely last night. I'm scared of how she'll take it and terrified at how it all will change my life and my relationship with my kids.

I'm still too raw and in denial to post any sort of question to the front page, but please, send any positive co-parenting-while-divorced stories to this thread or to me. I can't even think of a fucking question to ask.

I'm going to be heartbroken for a long time, and I'm having a very hard time imagining a positive future.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:44 PM on September 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am just now seeing this question. My ex-husband and I decided to end our marriage about a year and a half ago. We co-habitated (lived in separate bedrooms) for several months. At first we did that because he needed to find a place to live, but then we decided to give it a try in the slightly longer term. It was difficult because he was very conflicted about the end of the marriage. It did keep things a bit more stable for our kids in the short term. For several more months, after he moved out, he mostly spent time with the kids at the house, making dinner a few times a week. That seemed more stable for them, too.

But it was so much less stressful when he moved out, and less stressful when he got a place where the kids could go stay with him. Having more space from each other was a really good thing. I think it was especially helpful for his emotional recovery, since he was conflicted about the end of the marriage. It was helpful for me to not have him in the house anymore. It finally felt like my house was my house.

In retrospect, it would have been healthier to move ahead with a more traditional separation, living in different households, much sooner. I think we are co-parenting better having more space from each other.

To address the question here: he and I had decided we would date while still living in the same house. It was a bit awkward for me because I never had my own house to myself, so I couldn't really have people over, and because, even though he and I decided not to discuss dating with each other, it was sometimes clear to both of us when someone was going out on a date. That was a bit complicated for him.

My advice is that, if the marriage is over, go ahead and end the actual marriage and live separately. It's so much healthier. And it's a much better model for your kids of healthy adults.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:58 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

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