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Friday, October 30, 2015

Which direction should this relationship swing?

My wife and I have enjoyed swinging as a couple for years, and we decided to look into opening our marriage for solo hookups. We agreed that we'd try some encounters, she told me that she would be OK with finding a partner for a one-off hookup, where she and the guy would have their fun but he'd never need to contact her again.

Once she tried it, however, I realized I wasn’t OK with it - but not the sex part! My wife has always felt a sense of sexual freedom since she lost her virginity to her first husband at 18 years old in a conservative marriage, and sexual openness has never been a problem for us. She finally had the opportunity to sleep with a guy she always was hot for, it was no secret to me, and when the situation presented itself - with my consent - she did it.

Afterwards, I felt a sense of jealousy and insecurity that I wasn’t expecting. When they slept that night she didn’t disclose to him that I was aware and the arrangements that we had. I felt that because she liked him for so long, that she might like him more than me. Also because he is a friend of friend of a friend, I thought about all the macho pride insecurities, about his hypocrisy of telling her to say hi to me with the full intention of sleeping with her that same day behind my back. I knew that he was going to want more, and later it turned out to be true.

A couple of weeks later he contacted her to ask her for a second night together. She told him no and to please not to contact her again, and in the process she told him everything. Ironically, it bothered him that I knew and that he wasn’t consulted, but had no problem sleeping with her and wanted to continue it behind my back.

I honestly don’t think that her having sex and maybe even having another relationship besides ours, is wrong. My rational brain agrees with it, moreso I know she always had this desire for having sex in private with other partners without me. I know she believes in that freedom and I know that she considers me first and foremost as the focal point of her love and affection. I truly want to get to the level where I get rid of all my jealousy and insecurities to be able to take the next step. I asked her and have no reason not to believe her when she said that if we pull the plug on swinging and opening our relationship she will be happy just with me. I must say our relationship is solid and sex without all this is through the roof and in all honesty the hurdle is me the husband. She claims that she is not looking for or buys into the whole having another relationship, that it is strictly sexual for her, yet I believe that in order to know someone and explain to them what we have in order for sex to take place, it involves a level of intimacy I’m not quite sure I can handle yet; swinging is easy - it’s sex and that’s it.

Finally, my question: Is it wrong if after honestly trying it and working at it, I decide opening our marriage is not for me? I honestly want her to enjoy her sexual freedom - I’m the one encouraging it, since she was in a repressive marriage before.
But I feel it’s hypocritical if I take a step backwards concerning open marriage, I’m fine with and enjoy swinging and one of my biggest turn-ons is seeing her have sex with other men! I’m not looking for validation, but I guess your best opinion based on your experience.  What do you think?

Swinger Worried About Poly

Dear SWAP:

You're learning an important lesson - that despite the media lumping them together in one taboo "naughty" basket, swinging is VERY unlike polyamory. Sure, they're both nontraditional forms of consensual nonmonogamy, but there's a huge mental difference between having multiple sex partners without risking your heart, and having multiple emotionally-vulnerable relationships (regardless of sex). Sounds to me like you don't consider your wife having sex a threat, but you are very concerned about losing her heart.

It's not wrong to have second thoughts about opening your marriage, but it can be a Pandora's Box - once you explore that path, it might not be so easy to stuff the genie back into the bottle. The most telling predictor for me would be whether you BOTH agree the experiment should be put on indefinite hold, or whether one of you wants something the other doesn't.

My suggestion is, since you've gone this far, and it seems like there are a lot of potential healthy turn-ons for you both here, why not focus on communication and strengthening your underlying relationship? If you are able to identify and share the situations that trigger you, perhaps you could proceed in ways that help you both have new experiences while respecting, and possibly safely expanding, the other's boundaries. Only if you're hitting walls you're not capable of handling together, should you next need to talk about shutting it down.

I don't think it's hypocritical to take a step back and reevaluate your feelings about exploring the boundaries of your marriage. In both polyamorous and monogamous relationships there are always challenges as the relationship grows and changes and they all require work.

However, if the step you're trying to make seems too big to take, usually the best thing to do is to break it down to smaller steps and test your reactions. For example, I'm guessing part of the failed experiment had to do with the fact that she did not fully explain the arrangement with the other guy and obtain his consent for what he was getting into - that was probably a mistake. If you agree (and maybe even if you don't), then future attempts should start by making the situation clear for all parties, inside and outside the marriage.

As far as taking baby steps, you could map out a series of agreements that apply to each of you in order of increasing flexibility that would lead to a fully open marriage. I'll give you a few examples that you might adjust for your situation:

Phase 1: Sex happens with another partner only at an event where both of you are present (not necessarily in the same room)
Phase 2: Sex happens only with approved partners in specific places and there is a check-in by phone or in person within a specified time afterwards.
Phase 3: Sex happens anywhere and with anybody without prior approval and without specific timeframes for check-in.
During each phase you should try to communicate openly about how it's working or not working and make whatever small adjustments needed that will balance freedom with connectedness/intimacy. I think you'll find that small moves are the key to making big changes in a relationship work. 

Good luck!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Open relationship threatened by desperate wife

Hello. I have been looking for somewhere/someone to talk to and get advice/input on my situation.

I've been in a relationship for 3 years now; he is married and until now it has been what I consider an affair. He has been torn about leaving the 20-year marriage because of various reasons, mostly the kids. Right from the beginning our relationship was very open and I have never been jealous or bothered by his wife. We had often said it's too bad she wasn't open to a poly life. We both continued on and as time progressed, so did our relationship. He had decided that he was done with the marriage and we were going to have a life together; an open poly life. We enjoy sexual partners outside of ours but only together - our agreement that works. We planned on moving in together after he had lived his own a while, giving time for his kids to get to know me.

Last week his wife has out of nowhere offered him a deal of staying together in order to not hurt the kids separating. She has proposed they try an open relationship. I have told him I don't want this. I can't see it working as I don't think she can understand the difference between an open relationship and a poly lifestyle. She is trying to control and give terms that cater more to simple sexual partners outside of the marriage. Example: you are only allowed 2 hours with someone. There are so many more things that factor into it, being that he and I are in a full-on relationship. Am I correct to assume this?

I don't agree that considering an open relationship is a way to fix a troubled relationship. I feel it will create bigger issues. He has always been secretive with her, always had affairs because he has always desired the poly life and she hasn't. I am also afraid that she will try to control and manipulate in order to do anything to save the marriage. He and I have been very open about all of this talking and expressing fears feelings and concerns. I am so torn between losing him and risking the chance of all this trying it out blowing up into a nightmare. He is unsure of what he wants to do. He wants us both but I don't know if he wants her just to keep kids or if he is truly still in love with her. For him to decide, I know. I guess my main question is: can this work? Can a 20-year marriage that's been troubled and an affair that's been 3 years even possibly work turning into a poly life?

Ugh, so confused lol. Thank you in advance.

Dear So Confused,

There's no denying that this is a very complicated and potential volatile situation. You've done a great job in explaining the myriad factors and forces at work. 

The short answer is that you are right - opening a relationship is almost never a good way to fix a relationship so your fears are not unfounded. However, the option to avoid this route does not take into account your presence in the relationship. The ideal solution for him would be for it to work out with both his wife and you, and the children. The ideal for her is for you to go away and for him to recommit to a monogamous relationship with her. 

But the ideal for you is a little murkier. Even if they divorce and you begin an open relationship with him, there will still be the kids to consider, so it's not likely the ex-wife will be out of your life completely for a while (I don't know how old the kids are, but with a 20-year marriage they probably aren't too young). So it behooves you to create a situation where the wife is as much a happily integrated part of everyone's lives as she can be.

If your partner loves you, it shouldn't matter if he also loves her (unless he decides he wants to be monogamous). So the reasons for him staying with her are irrelevant. I think the real issue is you need to insist that you have equal say in the rules that are being discussed in the relationship that now includes all three of you. Making rules that affect you without your consent or participation is disrespectful. Just because she has children with him doesn't automatically make her more important than you - or at least it shouldn't. 

The best solution would be for the three of you to sit down and discuss your wants for agreements and come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. I know - easier said than done. Part of the process is to educate the wife on what being poly and having a poly relationship actually means, since she seems to associate it with swinging. But if this isn't workable, you may have to insist on rules of your own, ones that respect you as a person and give you at least the minimum of what you want out of the relationship while maintaining your ability to pursue others that satisfy the difference.

Leon, whatcha got for her?

Well, there's quite a bit to unpack. You've got a 20+ year marriage with kids to deal with, a relationship with the oft-cheating husband to maintain, and a potential consensual non-monogamous (CNM) relationship to negotiate with the wife. Sounds like a pretty challenging time for everyone.

The first thing I'm going to say is when I've seen this scenario play out, it's USUALLY the person in the middle being dishonest with both partners. Our society trains people in relationships to always tell our partners what we think they want to hear, skewing reality as needed to present a good story to each. When someone maintains multiple relationships - especially in secret - there's a huge incentive to tell one partner one thing, and the other something completely different. I mean, this looks exactly like the so-common-it's-a-cliche scenario of the husband who swears his marriage is over and he's going to leave his wife - but ultimately he never does and the "other woman" is left in the cold. The two wrinkles here are 1) it's happening to YOU (which means, of course, that YOUR situation is somehow different), and 2) that CNM is an option going forward.

Regarding #1: while you're in a relationship you're subjective, and logical observations usually lose out to emotional convictions. Ever been in this situation? Your friends will tell you someone's not good for you, and you'll respond, "Oh, but you don't know him; our situation might look that way but is really another. He/We/This isn't at all like you're saying." And then down the line you break up, and you realize your friends were right all along! "How could I have been so blind?" Well, that's subjectivity vs objectivity. And right now, you're subjective. I imagine if a friend of yours described this scenario to you, you'd likely be less charitable to the husband.

But thanks to #2, all is not lost! Even if I'm right and there's been a lot of double-dealing going on here, CNM might offer a way out - but only if all parties have a meeting of the minds. You're correct in suggesting that entering a consensual non-monogamous relationship to save a troubled mono relationship is often a recipe for disaster. This certainly looks like it could be! Especially since his wife is presumably offering an open relationship as a last-ditch effort to keep the marriage intact (whether or not she's using the kids as an excuse is ultimately irrelevant), and would presumably agree to anything as long as she gets to maintain whatever it is she feels is crucial enough to save. To her, it's likely a case of using as much leverage as she can, to maintain as much control and relationship as she can. 

If this is going to work at all, all three of you will need to get on the same page. If either of you on the ends of the V-shape see the other as a threat (hard not to) then any negotiated agreement would be under duress, and neither fair nor morally enforceable. Perhaps an experienced mediator could help - either a professional or someone you all know and trust as a friend? It's a longshot idea, but if this is going to work it would likely benefit from someone external to explain how CNM works and help coordinate agreements, to avoid the appearance of you and him ganging up on his wife.

Ultimately, you might be more experienced with and open to CNM, but you've also been engaging in a secret affair with a married guy. You're going to need to take responsibility for that - which takes away any moral advantage you might want to claim for your "full-on relationship." It sounds to me like you want what you want - which is a happy CNM relationship with him, with his wife gratefully accepting any crumbs you and he feel like leaving her. I have a very strong feeling that's NOT going to fly with her, which means you're going to have to make some compromises, even if they're seemingly unfair to you - like no overnights or shorter time periods or whatever, at least to start, with the expressed plan of expanding them as the wife gets more comfortable with having you around. At least on paper, she's the only blameless one here.

The best thing you can do is be 100% open and honest with both of them, and do your damndest to make sure both he and his wife are open and honest with each of you. If you and she can get to know each other, then you can understand each other. Once that happens you can try to work together to help identify and protect the others' most important needs via the relationship with this guy - and only THEN would this situation work well for everyone. There's a long, long way between here and there, but it's possible. Good luck.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Couple wants to call the "Poly Police" on friend's cheating behavior

Dear PWA:

I have an important question and would like to ask it anonymously. 

I am in an open marriage, she and I have full disclosure. I am actually the one who brought her into this lifestyle. She asked me a question and I gave what I think is the right answer. So now I want to take it to others.

My wife has a friend in an open relationship who has been flirting with someone else without telling her partners, including receiving gifts, sexting, and telling this other person she is not and has not been with anyone, and that she is in love with them. But in fact she has been with some of her partners almost as long as she has been talking to this other person. There has been no physical activity with the new partner, but they have said they would be intimate on a visit to see each other. 

She has lied repeatedly to the other person about her poly relationships. She received gifts from the other person and intercepted them from one of her live-in partners. If she was lying to one of them could she have been lying to the others? Is that cheating or not?  Why have openness with your poly partners but hide it from another you say you love? 

We suspect her long-standing partners do not know about this new person. We also suspect that she has lied to them saying this person is just a friend, when in fact there is proof otherwise. Is this cheating and should the record be set straight? Should her other partners be told the truth of her deceitfulness?

Looking For Answers

Dear LFA:

Like Lucy Ball, your wife's friend likely has got some 'splainin' to do. But I'm not sure it's as cut-and-dried as you're presenting it.

To address your question, what is cheating? Relationship rules may differ, but whatever they might be, cheating means breaking them.  It's possible she's technically not breaking any, but my instinct is there might be more to the story. The tone of your question seems to suggest you want to feel vindicated rather than educated; it reminds me of my sister trying to get me in trouble with our mom twenty years ago for hitting her, but leaving out the fact that she totally started it!  In other words, I'm curious how your wife or her friend might present other sides of the story had you not written us first.

Regardless whether she and her partners have covered this scenario via clearly established rules, dishonesty is never the best policy. The things you're describing certainly sound like flagrant red flags, but without understanding the full situation it's difficult for me to say you are right and she is wrong. If this bothers you and your wife as much as it appears, I suggest the two of you pull her aside privately, express your concerns for her well-being, and ask her whether this behavior you're describing is accurately perceived or whether you're off base? I'd give her the chance to explain her behavior before deciding whether or not to "out her" to anyone else with whom she's in a relationship. That might not be your place to do.

Personally, I don't think it's anyone's place to "out" someone, unless it's as a murderer or some actual threat to society. One thing we say at every meeting of Open Love NY is that everyone has the right to live how they want to live, and what works for some may not work for all. Even if you think you have all the facts (which I doubt) unless you are actually one of these affected (potential) partners, I would advise you to keep your comments to yourself. 

Of course, I agree with Leon that dishonesty will likely lead to trouble, but openness as it relates to relationships does not equate to total honesty. Many people distort facts to achieve their goals, even if there is a reckoning in the future. Perhaps your wife's friend is willing to take that risk, but that is her own business.

Unless you are friends with any of the other parties, the only thing I'd advise you to do is for your wife to talk to her friend (you can join if you are also friends with her, but this may be more of a one-on-one kind of talk) and express concerns that her behavior may lead to trouble. Anything more than that comes under the heading of sticking noses where they don't belong. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

New girlfriend rattles nervous wife


My husband and I just started our open marriage. We've been discussing an open relationship for awhile now. Well, husband met a girl in a show they were in together, and he fell for her. He was hiding it from me for a bit, but finally opened up to me. They scheduled a date after he and I decided to open our relationship, but she didn't know that then. He told her last night, and they are meeting tonight.

I'm very nervous. We have had a threesome before with another woman, and I was fine. This is a little different. Maybe it's just because it's new.

She also wanted to add a rule, but I don't know how I feel about it. She didn't want sex to happen every night because she doesn't want to feel cheap. I don't know how I feel about limiting my sex-life with my husband, but I also want her to feel respected in our relationship. What do I do?

And how do I get through the nerves??

Nervous Newbie

Dear Newbie,
First of all, let me start by apologizing that we couldn't respond the day you wrote in time to 
address your nerves. I hope you managed to get through your husband's date without any undue fuss.

It's not unusual to be nervous about a new situation in your relationship. I think the best way to deal with nerves is to acknowledge to your partner that you are feeling apprehensive or concerned, and share the source of your concerns to give them a chance to assuage them. Probably the worst thing you can do is to keep it all bottled up inside and let that fester into resentment or worse. I find that the more you talk out an issue, the less threatening it becomes. 

Successful poly relationships require communication. You and your partner are in this together, and you both have to be equally committed to the idea of an open relationship in order for it to work. So when feelings are at risk, someone needs to speak up, check in, and talk it out. It might feel very uncomfortable at first, but given time and experience, it gets easier and better, and you'll find out a lot about who your partner really is. And isn't that why you're in the relationship in the first place?

Second, about that rule. There's a general consensus in the poly community that rules should not be enforced on people who didn't have a say in them. So it sounds like the three of you need to discuss the proposed rule before it goes into effect. It's important to approach this discussion with an open mind and be willing to talk about different options. 

Try to get to the heart of everyone's wants and needs. What is the relationship between sex and her self-esteem? What other ways could she feel valued, legitimized and safe in the relationship that doesn't involve limitations on sex? If you and your husband skip sex one night a week, how would that affect everybody? Who decides what nights?

These kind of conversations seem strange because we live in a monogamy-dominated society, but they should really be pretty straightforward if everyone can be comfortable talking about their relationship wants and needs in an egalitarian spirit. Since your husband is the point of the "V" (he's the person with the relationship with both you and his other partner, your "metamour") he should be taking the lead on facilitating this discussion. It sounds like you just need to get him to start that ball rolling.

Over to you, Leon!

Hi Newbie! Glad you and your partner trust each other enough to open up your relationship responsibly!  

I'm a little concerned that some of it was apparently started without your knowledge and consent, but that's a common faux pas among newly opened partners. It can take a while to learn how to find the most mutually satisfying balance between completely open honesty, and the instinct to protect our partners from hearing what we think they'll take as bad news. As long as you and your partner's underlying relationship satisfaction stays a mutual priority (with your needs being met as well as his), I think new metamour relationships can create a lot of fun and compersion for all three of you. 

Nerves are usually due to suspense: not knowing how things will work out and being worried about the outcome. You'll probably notice that nervous feeling fading, or transitioning positively into excitement or comfort, as you gain more experience with the scenario. Make sure you stay in touch with your own needs during this time, and make sure you're communicating them in ways they'll each understand.

Generally, when someone wants to impose a rule that NOT everyone agrees with, I suggest finding out the underlying need or desire it's designed to protect. You suggest that the new partner doesn't want sex to happen every date night because she doesn't want to feel cheap - did she mean she wouldn't want to have sex with your partner on each of their dates (my interpretation), or that she didn't want you and your partner to? If the former, that sounds like a reasonable safety rule for herself and her own comfort levels, but I'm not quite sure how the other interpretation makes sense, and agree with Mischa that agreements should be negotiated by all parties to whom it will apply, rather than imposed as a rule. 

Regardless, my instinct is to focus less on her actual rule and more on the motivation behind it. Why would any of those scenarios trigger her to feel cheap? Very often people fight hard for "their rule" without realizing there are other ways to get what they actually want, perhaps less restrictively and/or in ways that incorporate others' needs as well.

Good luck to all, and let us know how it turns out.