Should you end a marriage with kids just because your partner wants to be explore? Or just wait it out?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 14 – To Open or Not To Open

Should you end a marriage with kids just because your partner wants to be explore? Or just wait it out?  That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon.

Thank you to Chris Albery-Jones at albery-jones.com for the theme music and a big thanks for the podcast art to Dom Duong at domduong.com.

Podcast transcript

Letter:

I was basically googling all night long with anxiety and insomnia with my son and partner in bed soundly sleeping next to me.

My partner basically told me (not for the first time) that he desires to have sexual relations with other women. Actually, he said that he wants to get to know other people and he sees sex as a way to do this. He basically wants to explore.

Here is some background on our story.

We met on online dating site about 4 years ago, he approached me (I had set an age “interest” in a range that he was not in). So he did not come up on my feed of potential candidates but I came up on his. I was looking for someone between 35-45; he was 26 at the time and I was 39.

I had set my age range this way because my previous relationship was with a younger man and it didn’t really end well, so I was not looking to repeat this experience.

However, when he contacted me, he was intelligent and peaked my curiosity. We agreed to meet a week or so later and on the first date, I honestly wasn’t really interested in pursuing the relationship, but in the end he convinced me otherwise because we did continue to see each other.

We ended up having a great sexual connection and continued to see each other over the course of 6 months until I got pregnant.

I always wanted to have a child but it was never the right moment or the right person. I had never gotten pregnant before, and honestly wasn’t sure I was fertile. We had spoken about this over the course of the 6 months together and perhaps you could even go so far as to say we unconsciously tempted fate on purpose.

Early on he expressed his desire to explore his sexuality coming from a conservative, religious and sexually repressive background and it triggered me then but I kept telling myself that what we were living was momentary and would not last (because of age difference). However, I got pregnant and this ended up changing everything.

Except as was confirmed last night, his desire to explore his sexuality is still very much alive in him.

He has mentioned it to me a few times over the past 4 years but usually when we are having a disagreement or difficulty communicating. He is a man of few words and generally does not appear comfortable talking about his feelings. (Either because he is not in contact with them and he has trouble identifying them or because it is too difficult but I suspect it is more the first point.)

I must say he is a great father and his son loves him very much. He is also a great provider for us as a family. As a partner it is not easy to communicate with him though and I believe this is our main challenge although it is getting better. He is also a major introvert and I am on the other end of the spectrum. I am a highly social person, with high sensitivity, and desire to connect and communicate.

As I am sure you have already deduced, I am not comfortable with his need to explore. However, I am trying to be as respectful and honest at the same time as digesting the difficult feelings it is bringing up in me.

Another important detail to mention is that when I announced I was pregnant initially neither of us really knew what we were going to do as a couple or if we would even remain one. But we both knew we wanted to be a parent to our baby.

He had already planned to leave the city and had a set date; I did not want to stand in his way. I think we both agreed that we needed time to figure things out as well. So technically we were still together. However, I suspected that he would be perhaps meeting other woman while away but never asked.

He came back as planned 2 months later and we were happy to find each other. He moved into my place and we focused on the arrival of our baby.

It was only several months later after giving birth that we spoke about what happened while he was away for those 2 months, and I discovered that he had in fact been involved in 3 separate one night stands. He told me that they didn’t fulfil him and he was happy to find me again.

The news didn’t surprise me but it saddened me (especially thinking back to the fact that I was carrying his baby at the time) even if I rationalized that he was young, lacked experiences and that we didn’t really know what we wanted when he left in the first place.

However, last night’s honesty session has visibly rattled me. I am not a sufferer of insomnia and the fact that I wasn’t able to sleep at all reveals just how much I am shaken.

It has brought up all kinds of feelings some I can identify some I am still struggling to identify.

Fear of our life together being destroyed. Fear of losing him. Frustration that he needs this. Anger. Sadness. Fear that if he chooses to stay he will resent me, fear that if he leaves the life we have built will no longer exist.

He just woke up to go to work and saw me standing in the kitchen and I just admitted that I hadn’t slept all night because of this. With tears running down my cheeks he hugged me hard and said he loved me, and I said I am afraid that we are going to destroy our life together. He promised me it wouldn’t but can he make this promise?

I don’t know.

I also told him that I think we need to see a couples therapist for help. I sincerely hope he agrees. In the past he has told me he doesn’t agree with the idea of therapy but I have a feeling he sees that we need help sorting through this complicated issue.

I also forgot to mention that after the birth of our baby we had a sexual dry spell which didn’t alarm either of us but that we actually still have a good and healthy sexual relationship. We are still attracted to each other. The only issue is making time with our toddler. We manage this by sending him to his grandparents on a fairly regular basis which he loves and it gives us a whole weekend  to re-connect.

He said something to me that I don’t understand. In fact, the announcement he made to me last night about wanting sexual freedom to explore came after sharing a powerful sexual and loving connection this weekend. And what puzzles me even more is that having sex with me doesn’t make him desire freedom less but actually heightens his desire for sexual freedom.

I must admit, it confuses me.

Response:

Yeah so there’s a few things here that I would address. I think first of all the things that I want to clarify and this isn’t… it’s an understandable kind of mistake and or  kind of confusion I think people have around introversion. Being introverted literally just means that, in order to recharge, you need to be away from people. It doesn’t mean that you’re shy. It doesn’t mean that you don’t talk. It doesn’t mean that you dislike being around people. There are probably a lot of introverts who don’t like being around people and who are shy and prefer quieter places. But in and of itself, being an introvert just literally means that you need to recharge away from people.

Whereas being an extrovert means that you recharge by being around people. So that’s all that means. Being an introvert shouldn’t have anything to do with his ability to communicate, which is the biggest first huge stumbling block that you’re going to have an all this.

Regardless of what happens or the feelings going on, he needs to be able to communicate and I feel like it’s hard to tell from your letter whether or not he is genuinely interested in communicating and finds it difficult, or if he is just out and out refusing to communicate. Because those are different. Like I can understand, you know, even myself… the thing I struggle with a lot is actually like telling people when I’m upset. I have a really hard time with healthy confrontation. I have a really hard time feeling that telling someone that I’m upset about something is going to elicit a supportive and happy response. So I have a really hard time with that, but I try. I do and I want to try and I have shown a willingness to change that.

I don’t know… I don’t see you saying he out and out refuses but it’s… you know, his comments about therapy are also really concerning because I do think that you need to find a non-monogamy friendly couples therapist who can kind of walk you through this, but you cannot… like there so much effort you’re putting into this. You’re psychoanalysing and “Why is he having such a hard time communicating?”. And that is not to say that’s a bad thing about you. But it’s like… you’re putting all this effort in to understand him and what’s going on inside his mind. Is he putting that same effort into understanding you?

And maybe he is and he’s just not communicating that but we can’t read minds so he’s going to have to learn how to communicate. Especially if he wants to do non-monogamy. It’s not to say that monogamous people don’t need to communicate because they do. It’s important in any kind of relationship but I think that when you’re tackling a lot of tricky feelings, it’s… There are also situations in monogamy that can be tricky such as having a child, any major life change is a huge thing and you need to be able to communicate.

So I think that that’s my biggest… that’s like the first thing that has to be tackled and has to be dealt with. Like definitely pursue the therapist option on because I do think you need to like have some space to talk to each other and… you know I’ve been in situations and relationships where I’ve been with people who are “people are few words” and didn’t communicate and then when we went to therapy they did open up a bit and that was somewhat helpful.

Another big thing that’s really important is that he needs to be willing to do therapy just as much as you. Like it’s so hard and I see so many situations were there are clear and obvious problems not just with communication but with everything else. He needs to be as willing to go to therapy and find a better way to communicate with you as he is about exploring his sexuality. The enthusiasm on those two things needs to be equal. If they’re not equal then you’re going to get frustrated. I would get frustrated. I’ve been in situations like I said where somebody was great communicating in couples therapy but didn’t have enough enthusiasm to continue the therapy and I was going to be the one who pushed them into therapy constantly and it’s really really sucky.

You cannot fix everything and you also like… any situation where you are shoving someone into therapy is just not going to help because therapy only works if somebody really wants… is willing to work at it. You know like any job, it works better when people want to do it. I guess I shouldn’t compare it to a job but you know. It’s not gonna work if you’re dragging him along basically so he needs to step up. And you need to pay attention to that and not excuse his behaviour. You’re excusing his behaviour a tiny bit like,  “Oh he’s young and…” And yeah there are certain situations in our lives like growing up in a repressive family, not getting a lot of experience and then being younger than you that can make you have different feelings about things and that’s fine.

But him being younger should not stop or curb his enthusiasm for fixing the problems in your relationship. If he doesn’t have any enthusiasm to fix those problems and has more enthusiasm to just do whatever sexual thing he wants to do, that’s where you’re going to run into an issue.

The second thing that I really want you to think about is… and this is kind of like… so much polyamory advice out there will tell you like… all these fears you’re talking about: “I’m afraid of our life being destroyed. I’m afraid of losing him. I’m frustrated. I’m afraid that if he stays and he doesn’t do this that he’ll resent me and I’m afraid…” So much polyamory advice responses to that by saying, “Get assurance. Get assurance from your partner” and I do think assurance helps in some instances but I also think embracing your worst fears helps.

Faces those fears. What would happen if you broke up? What would happen if you did lose him? I know it sucks and it’s really sad to think about but there might be a situation where that could happen and I think that thinking about it… not panicky and emotion-y as a sort of, “Well, I’m just going to put myself…” because I do this to myself as well. Okay, let me emotionally feel like what it would be like to lose my partner. Let me experience those emotions because somehow that’s gonna harden me for when it really happens. Don’t do that. Just think about the physical realities of that.

I think it’s always good in situations where you feel like your relationship status is precarious, especially if you have children, to think it out. Just to have a thought exercise of, “Okay, if this did happen what would I do? What would I do physically? What would my life look like?” I mean, you say he is a good parent and you both are interested in parenting your child and you’re both good parents. So I wouldn’t necessarily think that everything is going to be catastrophic and as long as you both show up and continue to show up as parents, in my experience… I’m not a parent but I am a child of people who did show up and didn’t show up…  many more didn’t than did, but I can tell you what it’s like to have an adult say “I’m going to be part of your life” and then fuck off. It sucks.

So as long as you both are willing to show up, that part is kind of secure. Other stuff might change and things change… like the only thing constant is change. So I’ve kind of found that a good way to counteract my anxiety sometimes is to be really like thought about, “Okay what if this does happen and what am I going to do? What are the plans?” Because they they might happen. You don’t know and it doesn’t help to go, “Oh it won’t happen, it won’t happen, it won’t happen”. Even just having that thought exercise helps.

I think two things are kind of sticking out in terms of— other than his willingness to communicate. If he is willing to communicate, if he has been enthusiastic about it then there kind of two things I think that you need to think about after that.

First thing is time management and you’ve already kind of mentioned this. Planning time around your child is really, really important. He needs to think about and you need to think about, if you do go ahead with this and you do open up your relationship and he does have this freedom, what does that mean in a real-time physical sense? Because I do think like some of your fears and your anxieties are coming from a really understandable place. Because you don’t know what this means. Opening up your relationship— what does that look like? If you’ve never thought about it and you’ve never thought, “Okay, that means that every Friday he’s allowed… the evening is his. He can do whatever he’d like. That’s a free day.”

If you’ve never really thought and planned around it than literally you know your brain has nothing to go on so of course it’s freaking out because you’re basically saying everything is going to change but I have no idea how it’s going to change. So of course you’re scared. I would sort of liken this to someone— you’re going to adopt a pet at a pet store but you have no idea what kind of pet it is. So h do you prepare? You would be understandably kinda rattled and this is a little bit worse because it deals with some of your deep seated fears and all the things that society has told you about like… you know “If someone loves you they should love only you” and all this stuff so it’s even more complicated. So I think that if you both sit down maybe separately, maybe together, maybe with a therapist or just have a think about what does this actually mean in real terms? What does he want in real terms?

Think about your sexual health boundaries. Think about his… you know your child comes first and should always come first. Like I always think that regardless of what style of relationship anyone’s in, in a relationship or out of a relationship, if they have a child, that child is depending on them. That child has to come first. And I’m not saying he doesn’t think that, but I’m just saying like… in the whole mishmash of this fear and anxiety and “Oh, I want to go and pursue things”. There is no hard discussion about what that actually means in real actual life terms. Apologies for the background noise.

So yeah, I think that that’s a good way to start and that kind of grounding will help calm some of your anxiety. I think also it’s something interesting to explore with the therapist and something to explore— and I think you should with a therapist because I do think this is going to bring up some stuff that might be a little bit difficult for you. What about his— you know, he said that he had his one night stands. So what about his previous experiences didn’t “satisfy him” and why is he convinced that it will be different now? And I think that’s really interesting.

What you said about being confused that having sex with you or having good sexual experiences with you didn’t automatically make him not want to do it with anybody else. It makes sense to me on a logical level. Like I don’t really operate that way because I’m kind of on the asexual spectrum but I understand that because you sort of have been maybe romantically in that situation where it’s sort of like “I’m really happy in this. I kind of want this really awesome connection with other people. I want to know what it’s like with other people when it’s this deep.” And that’s an understandable thing. I get that but… maybe that’s why those other experiences didn’t really do it for him because of— and I mean I’m assuming. I don’t know anything about like the nature of these one night stands or what went on.

Maybe he what he wants is polyamory rather than kind of swinging or hooking up with people. He wants another deep relationship with somebody else, which is okay. But I think— not only for you to decide if this is really for you, but I think in order to calm your anxiety, deciding what that really means physically. What is your life going to look like? What is his ideal situation? And what is your ideal situation? I mean you know your ideal situation maybe is monogamy and it’s kind of like… where you may have to, if you want to stay with him and be in a romantic relationship with him, that you may have to think about compromising in some way if you want to.

But if he presents you with this idea of like, “Okay, I want to spend every other weekend with someone else” or— you know, what does it look like? Because there are so many different ways to do polyamory. There’s hierarchical, non-hierarchical… I mean I’m going to like input my own little opinion here and that is If you have a child, I think things should be hierarchical in that the child always comes first.

But there are different ways that people do things and I think it’s really really important to understand what that looks like for him— to make sure as well that you’re not stuck with the vast majority of the childcare, is another big thing. That would not be fair. And that should not be fucking happening. Bit passionate about that. Really going to have to reiterate that because it’s not going to be cool if you’re like stuck with the kid all the time. Like even if you don’t have another partner, you can have time to yourself. Maybe he can watch the kid and you can go out. And you can have— you know, meet up with your friends. Not everything has to be replaced with a partner type of bond. If you’re not really interested in other romantic relationships, do some stuff with your friends. Spend some time to yourself but make sure you get that equalness too. Like don’t… “equalness”. Look at me talking.

Don’t sacrifice that because that’s not… that’s going to create some serious resentment. I think if you’re… I mean it creates resentment in people’s lives who don’t— who aren’t dating other people when they’re stuck with the vast majority of the child care. There are certain times when you may not be able to prevent that if you’re breastfeeding and all that kind of stuff but make sure to get that in.

And I think that… you know you really need to think about is this really what you want? And you may not be able to answer that question but I think what’s helpful to think about is what are the benefits for you? Are you interested in another romantic relationships with a person? Are you interested in more sexual experiences? Are you interested in spending more time doing your own thing? I like I…. I don’t actually like dating. I really hate it. So when my domestic partner is out with other people, I do stuff on my own. I do my own thing and I like it. I like being on on my own. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a nice time for myself. Is that something you like? Can you go to a hobby group? Like there’s all kinds of stuff you can do with that free time. So think about that? Can you see this as an option for you? Is there something you can get out of the situation?

Cause what you don’t want to end up with is agreeing to this because you’re kind of in love with this person so you just go along with it because you don’t want the relationship to end but you’re getting nothing out of it. He is going out and having all these new experiences. It’s really difficult for you to deal with and because it’s difficult, because it’s new and because it’s different and it deals with all those emotions of not feeling good enough and all those kinds of stuff, you don’t really have anything to balance it with if you don’t have a benefit to you. Like I’ve experienced tons of shit where I felt like “Oh my god. You know my partner is interested in another person. I feel inadequate”. And then I kind of get to remind myself, “Okay, yes. But you chose this for this reason and that’s why. That’s the benefit it brings to your life.” I think if you have no benefit, you’re really, really gonna struggle because you’re just going to be like, “Why am I doing this?” and why *are* you doing this if you don’t see any benefit of it?

And another thing too is… the biggest kind of self-perpetuating… what is the word I’m thinking? Sabotage. The biggest sabotage I think that people do to themselves when they are trying non-monogamy is thinking that anxiety and fear is a sign that they can’t do it. You’re going to experience anxiety and fear. Especially the first night— if you decide to go with this and you’re like “I’m going to try it”— The first night he spends with someone else is gonna suck. It just… Expect that. Don’t think, “Oh I’m gonna run a bubblebath and I’m gonna…”.  And it might not but I would just expect it to suck. Because I do think that sometimes people think, “I’m experiencing so much fear and worry. Does is it mean I’m not fit for it? I’m not up to the task?” As if polyamory is a kind of weird emotional obstacle course.

And it’s not. It’s just that you’re doing something new, which your brain like… it all your life you’ve been told— probably, I’m guessing. I could be wrong— that you’ve been told that the way that people show that they love someone is by only being with them. And that’s the only way. And that’s a sign of love. And being with other people is a sign that they are not interested in you.

So you’ve got all of this stuff in your head that is telling you this is bad. And it’s not just going to go away just because you decided to do something different. When you try something new you’re scared. You’re going to be scared. Sometimes, I think you have to go through… the only way out is through and the only way to deal with it is to experience the anxiety and come out of the other end and see that you survived.

It’s so much better now. When my domestic partner spends night out, I’m fine. I don’t even… as long as I know. As long as it’s not like a big shock or surprise and that has more to do with me being on the autistic spectrum than anything but you know I’m pretty fine. But in the first couple of nights, I was just like impossible for me to sleep. I did the same thing you did. I wasn’t Googling anything. I was just sitting up all night going, “Uhhhh”. And that’s where having that therapist is really going to help you because that’s a person you can talk through all this with— but that’s if you want to do this. I’m just saying that as a preemptive thing. Because I do think when people start off, especially if they read a lot of what is in the mainstream now with non-monogamy and polyamory advice, they’re going to think “Oh you know just… you’re just a special star and that’s why that your partner is with you because no one else is like you and and they love you for you”.

And I think that’s very nice. It’s very very nice. It’s nice on a plaque with some flowers and you know maybe with some mood music in the background. It’s not very applicable to people in real life who will have another voice in your head that goes, “You suck and you’re the worst and your the evilest horrible person ever and you’re going to die alone in a ditch”. That counteracts all of that like nice stuff and makes it really really hard and that’s kind of the thing that people don’t really talk about because… I’ve mentioned this before in articles. There is bit of a like crab bucket mentality and because every time a polyamorous relationship doesn’t work out, all the society around will be like “Well it was a polyamorous open relationship and those relationships don’t work.”

So there’s all this pressure on people are in non-monogamous relationships to put up this good front and to say, “No, no. It does last and it is valid”. Especially people who really want to fit that kind of assimilatory “norm”. People who really want to assimilate into the mainstream. They’re going to want to put up this PR front. Like, “No, no. Yes we have jealousy but we dealt with it. It’s done. It’s fine. We put it away. We’ve packed it away. It’s dealt with. Nobody has it any more. We’re all fine. All smiles. No one has any problems here”.

I get why people do that but on the other hand I do think that people have struggles and it’s ok to talk about. I don’t want you to dive headfirst especially with the Googling and read all the stuff and then try it out and experience this torrent of seriously scary emotions and think there’s something wrong with you because there really isn’t. You’re trying something new. You’re gonna be scared.

So yeah that’s my advice. To sum up. One, introversion doesn’t mean that you’re not communicating. It just means that you like to be alone to recharge. You need to establish… and I don’t know from your letter. Maybe you know. But you didn’t mention it… whether he is refusing to communicate or he is struggling to communicate. And that can be measured by his enthusiasm. He needs to be as enthusiastic about going out and trying all new things sexually as he has about fixing and addressing the issues.

It sounds like he’s quite good. Like he’s hugged you, he seems supportive but I want to stress that there needs to be some equal enthusiasm there. He needs to be super enthused about that. Think about— not panic about (it’s easier said than done)— think about some of those contingency plans. Your plan Bs. Just think about them rationally. I say this as if it’s simple. But think about what are you going to physically do if this doesn’t work out? Because I do think that does help ground you a tiny bit.

If you do decide to do this, having talks with him about time management and what’s going to go on equally can ground you. Because once you put things in a more physical real sense, it can help you just be a little bit more calmer. Because right now everything is just sort of like “I want to try sleeping with other women.” What does that mean for you? What does it mean? Right now you have no idea.

So once you sort out the communication thing, is he going to do therapy? If he doesn’t… ummm. I don’t predict good things if he doesn’t want to go to therapy and he doesn’t want to communicate and I think that you might need to think about that plan B a little bit more if that’s the case. If he does, you need to think about time management. How is it going to physically work? What is his ideal non-monogamous situation and how does that mix with you having a child who needs to be the primary focus and the most important thing in both of your lives which I think that your child is but I’m just sort of reiterating that.

And again I think it’s worth– explore these with a therapist because I think that right now exploring them on your own might get a little bit difficult with feelings. But I think… What about his previous experiences didn’t satisfy him? How is he… what different things is he looking for now? I think that would just be interesting to know because that as well I think will fit into… if you he hasn’t thought about his ideal situation then it will kind of spur on what that ideal situation is. Is he going for one night stands or is he looking for more of a relationship? Does he know? But working that through with a therapist is really really helpful.

And last but not least, think about yourself! Not least it all. What do you want out of this? What are the benefits? So sorry about the siren noise. Even if you don’t have any desire to pursue another romantic relationship, what is the benefit that you get out of the situation? Because there might be a bit of it. Even if you’re not that interested dating other people. There might still be benefits so it’s worth thinking about that. Last but not least as well, don’t think that there’s something wrong with you if you do try this and you get all sorts of huge scary feels.

It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you. It doesn’t mean you’re not ready. It doesn’t mean… you know, you’re not this weird emotional gladiator that articles make you think that you have to be in order to do polyamory. People get scared. Another thing to add about that is that, even if I think even if you’re “seasoned” sometimes when you’re having a bad time are things are really really stressful you can still kind of have a big anxiety reaction because everything else is of putting pressure on you. All life’s major stressors like moving or having a new kid— you already know what it’s like having one kid so imagine you know you’re in that situation. Sometimes you’ll be in a good situation and so that news will be okay. Sometimes, not so great— the news will be different. So don’t think that there’s anything wrong with you if you’re afraid or you feel fear. It’s very very normal to have these fears and it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you or that you can’t do it. Yeah so that’s basically my advice and I really really hope it helps and best of luck.

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