I’ve been in a relationship with my current boyfriend — or I should say husband — for a little over three years now. We got married a year ago just before our now one-year-old daughter was born. (Marriage doesn’t have so much meaning to us. It was more for practical reasons that we did. But we did very much love each other. It also all happened very fast, if compared to “traditional relationships”: meeting, falling in love, moving together, having a kid.) I’d been in an open relationship before.
And I have had a very active sex life with constantly changing affairs and many one-night stands but no real long-lasting relationships. He had been more the type to go from one long-lasting relationship to the next. Non-monogamy had never been an option in his previous relationships.
When our daughter was about seven months old, he came to me with his wish to open up our relationship. He wasn’t feeling sexually fulfilled and was unhappy with our relationship (lack of communication, not seeing each other). But the primary impulse for him to open the relationship, was, I think, sexual. At the time my response was “yes”, even though I felt hurt. I had just weaned our daughter, or was even still in the process of weaning.
But, motherhood, not being economically active — I had been at home for 7 months with our daughter — I just wasn’t in a very good place. Didn’t feel like myself, didn’t feel strong or self-confident. So, I guess, I said yes in the hope to save the relationship, hoping that this was only a temporary situation where he finds sexual fulfilment until I could be more myself again. But I also said yes because I myself had a positive experience with an open relationship and thought “yeah, sure let’s give it a try in ours”.
And so it happened that he met another woman and fell in love. I, for my part didn’t have the capacity nor the time to go out and meet other people. Until now. But I feel that there is and has been an imbalance in our relationship since we opened up. He openly said that he loves this woman and wants to delve in to what ever they are having to find out what that might become.
At the same time he reassures me that he still loves me, however in a different way. And also that he wants us to be loving parents for our daughter, to whom he is a great father. We are also having more sex again, and I also feel that the sex has gotten better.
But I have such mixed feelings about the whole thing. I really still believe in the power of our relationship, and I have told him this. However, he is doubting this, he strongly doubts whether our relationship can ever give him what he needs. I feel hurt that he would decide to go out of our relationship at a point where I felt most vulnerable. And I feel betrayed for this.
So I’m turn between giving into my hurt feelings and reacting strongly by ending the relationship or at least putting a break on it and accepting his decision to leave and find fulfilment in the affair. Even though I am hurt and I feel that trust has been broken, I can understand why he did this. And I know I should rely on myself and do what feels right to me. But it is so hard to feel or know what that is, Then there is also a daughter and I just don’t want to let go of the idea of being a family together (and that in my eyes can work with a non monogamous relationship as well).
But I am so afraid of betrayal, afraid that he will leave me for the other woman. I know that I should maybe just accept this fear and be open about it. But I don’t know how to do that. Until now I have been very understanding and accepting. Being clear and decided about what I want and my feelings has never been easy for me.
There are few things here that I want to address:
- The reasons people choose polyamory
- Instability and polyamory
- Polyamory and children
The reasons people choose polyamory
People choose polyamory for all sorts of reasons. Some people feel naturally inclined towards it. Others, like myself, see the massive benefits that it can offer them even as there are negative aspects of it. While I don’t feel like there isn’t really an ideal reason for choosing polyamory, I do think that there are times when your reasons make sense and times when your reasons don’t make sense.
When you have a child, as I’m sure you know, it can and will change your relationship completely. Children take time, energy, and effort as they should because they’re human beings that require constant care. A child is a huge shift and change in the lives of the people who take care of them and it’s especially a huge shift for the individual who gives birth to that child. I’ve read so many stories from people who have had children who feel they have to pretend like pregnancy and birth were joyful, emotionally beautiful things but in many ways, they felt like they were intense, difficult, traumatic and it took them a long time to recover.
You don’t mention the impact your child’s birth on you, but I’m thinking… seven months after giving birth to a child, I would not expect you to be back to the way you were before the child was born in terms of your body. And in fact, if I were to have a child, I would expect the reality that my relationships would all change because my child would become my new primary focus in life. It’s one of the reasons I don’t want to have children.
I don’t know what your husband’s expectations were for after he had children, but his reasons for wanting an open relationship and the time he wants them really indicate to me that he had no idea how much having a child would change his relationship and, while I’m not saying he doesn’t want a child, he was unprepared with how a child would impact his relationships. It is actually quite normal for couples to struggle to find time together after having a new child. In fact, many people who have children don’t even physically recover from birth until a year after the birth.
He indicates multiple times that he wants polyamory because your relationship is not giving him what he needs — but what is it that he needs? What is it that he’s expecting? This leads me to my second point.
Instability and polyamory
Some people have a misunderstanding that all relationships should be ‘equal’ in many ways but the reality of life is that so many of our relationships involve some inequity due to instability. If your partner gets ill, your relationship will be balanced differently to allow you to take care of them. In some cases where partners are disabled, there might what would be seen as an imbalance in other relationships, but it works within their relationship.
A child is going to cause instability and an imbalance. Your body is the one that gave the birth and I’m assuming you may have breastfed. Either way, it’s going to be imbalanced and others have to be able to be willing to step up and respond to that. It’s not a surprise that you have mixed feelings. At a time where things are unstable already due to the new life you are taking on, he’s essentially introduced another level of instability which, in a way, has been blamed on your relationship’s inability to meet his needs. Rather than re-assuring you and giving you support during a very difficult time, he’s demonstrated that he is going to look out for his needs first and foremost, regardless of the time or place.
Maybe I’m feeling a bit irritated on your behalf but I kind of feel like if you commit to having a child and commit to being a parent, that means that you sacrifice the ‘fun’ in your life to provide for that child. That doesn’t mean you aren’t deserving of any happiness, but the solution to relationship problems is not to add more people or complexity to it. Why was his first instinct not to get a therapist for you both? To try and schedule some time together to work out your communication issues?
Of course, you feel nervous about it. He doesn’t seem willing to actually work on the problems you’re having or at least accept that there will be a temporary state of discomfort involved in a major life-changing event like having a child and is concerned primarily with fulfilling his needs. What about yours?
You say that you did this more to save the relationship and if I were you, I’d be so incredibly angry about that. You just gave birth to a child and he puts you in a position where basically you have to agree to this or potentially be a single mother? While you say he is a good father and is committed to that, I have to wonder, if this is how he responds to challenges, how he is going to respond to the challenges of parenthood? You can break up with a person, but you can’t break up with a child.
Or at least you can, but that’s… kind of a dick move.
Polyamory and children
The good thing about polyamory and about alternative families in general is that people can get together to provide support for a child without having to be in a romantic or sexual relationship with each other and I think, if what you say about him being committed to being a parent is true, it’s worth you considering this as an option for your life.
What needs to happen is that you both get a relationships therapist and work on the problems in your relationship. Your mixed feelings are a combination of love you feel mixed with the red flags that he’s exhibiting what is essentially very selfish behaviour. I want to believe he can definitely change this if it’s pointed out to him or, at the very least, if he doesn’t want to be in this type of relationship anymore, he can still be a decent father to his child.
I can tell you honestly in my experience that it didn’t so much matter who the adults were involved in my life, just that they kept their word. Not every child needs a mother, father, whatever. The titles of the person aren’t important. What a child does need is stability and people who will provide that for them and they need someone who isn’t going to abandon them. As long as he’s willing to be a good father and not abandon his child, then you can have a friendship with him at least.
But overall, I feel if you can work on your issues together. Re-build that and then see where you are in terms of pursuing other people, wanting to put your relationship with him on hold, etc. Your feelings are valid here and I do think you need to see if he’s willing to put the work into your relationship. Who knows? Maybe he is and he just doesn’t know how to fix things by himself. Give that a try before you decide to shift the nature of your relationship.
I hope this helps and good luck!
Note: I wrote this column in 2017, so it’s possible my perspective on this may have shifted or expanded. Please feel free to resubmit a similar question.
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