I’m currently married to a wonderful man and in a relationship with a lovely boyfriend for the last eighteen months. This is my first foray into a serious relationship outside of my primary relationship, although I’ve been open with my husband since the start. I’m struggling a lot lately with not being on the ‘relationship escalator’ with my boyfriend-there’s no joint household, marriage, or family on the horizon for us for many reasons.

My feelings for him continue to grow stronger and sweeter, but I feel like I’m cheating him (and myself) out of the opportunity for our relationship to ‘grow’ in the traditional sense. I’ve communicated this with him and he feels the same. Is there any outlet for these feelings? How can I stay happy in a relationship that feels like it’s stagnating and not allowed to follow the ‘normal’ course of a loving relationship?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, the ‘relationship escalator’ refers to the predefined script society establishes for cisgender heterosexual relationships and the process by which one relationship ‘grows’ in commitment. One big struggle of non-monogamous relationships and a huge cause of anxiety is how to perceive a level of commitment with someone without this pre-defined script.

Which brings me to your question! You haven’t specified whether your boyfriend has a ‘primary’ relationship or not, and that’s one of the biggest things I’d say impacting how you go about this. If your boyfriend doesn’t have a primary relationship, it would make sense that you might feel like you’re cheating him out of an opportunity. Does your boyfriend have an interest in having a ‘primary’ partner? Because that may be the easiest solution for this.

However, the only other option I might see is one where your primary relationship and the assumptions you have made with your primary shift, which can happen. Can your live-in partner foresee a situation where you both have other partners that live with you? Is it something that your live-in partner is willing to try? Or are the boundaries and expectations there very fixed? If you’re interested in escalating your second relationship into something that sees more commitment, then that may be a solution. But I think, in fairness, you have to also be open and willing for your husband to have a partner live with him. If you go about this, I would highly recommend a rental situation before going in on a joint purchase for obvious reasons. Liking someone and living with them are different things.

If your boyfriend moving in isn’t an option, then might you consider living some days with him? In many of my relationships which became primaries, ‘moving in’ wasn’t really instant. We sort of started with the person having clothes or a toothbrush where I lived and it grew from there. You may already be doing this, but maybe you should make being in your boyfriend’s house a more regular thing.

Another thing you might do is consider having a ceremony between you two. While you may only be able to legally marry one person at a time, a legal marriage is purely a contract of the state. The marriage ceremony itself has nothing to do with the law. I found that very few people understood that ‘marriage’ in terms of the law is purely a contract having nothing to do with the actual ceremony in many cases when I was young and had same sex parents who were ‘married’ in their eyes but not the eyes of the law. There’s no reason you can’t have a ceremony that means something to both of you and emphasises your commitment.

If housing isn’t a thing you can have in common for whatever reason, it may be possible for you all to get something jointly. I’m not sure what country you’re in or what the state of your finances are, but in some cases in London where I live, you can get allotments of land for gardening and I also share a studio with several friends. It’s possible that you two could find a shared space that you both own separate from your primary, something that could bring the two of you together.

Another option is making relationships with family members. Although I currently don’t have much contact with my own family, my primary partner has a good relationship with his family. He’s told them he’s in an open relationship but I am a partner he’s brought home to meet his family. If your boyfriend has a family that he gets along with and he’s not interested in a ‘primary’ relationship, that is another option for travelling up some sort of ‘escalator’.

If none of these are options, I’m always a fan of making your own traditions between you two. I love traditions myself, and enjoy feeling like X is something I do every year with someone. Because I’m not in contact with my family, I spend every Christmas with a few of my friends and in a way that makes them like chosen family. Maybe you should pick a day that’s special to you that’s not an outright anniversary (maybe the day you first met?) and do something special that you can do every year.

And on the whole, I think what you both should remember is that inherently, your relationships are going to differ from what society decides is the ‘norm’. If both of you are happy in your relationship, then it might be wise to try and remember that you don’t have to mimic the script of what this society says a committed relationship should look like. Try to remember that ‘marriage’ itself only has a short history of being about romantic love.

It wasn’t that long ago that romantic love was often considered a sickness, not a valid feeling. Marriage was about an exchange of property. I mean ‘husband’ comes from animal husbandry. It never used to be about love. There are a lot of things in our society that we assume have been ‘traditional’ and timeless that aren’t. Bathrooms separated by sex for example? That became a way of trying to encourage women to get back into their homes which was their ‘true’ sphere. Monogamous heterosexual marriage for the purposes of love and commitment isn’t as traditional as people assume.

Anyone choosing non-monogamy is inherently choosing a situation where any partner you have doesn’t spend all of their time and romantic energy on you, so regardless of who your partner is outside of your marriage, you’re always going to come to this impasse. The solution is either creating your own ways of bonding and merging your lives together or trying to re-examine what ‘normal’ relationships mean and how they apply to you.

I hope this helped and best of luck.

Note: This article was written in 2016, which may have meant my views on the subject could have changed. If you have a similar question, feel free to re-ask it.

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