Regret after opening

My wife and I have been together for 17 years and very happily married for 13 years.
For the majority of our marriage she has been unhappy in her own skin triggered by being over weight.  This lead to not wanting to engage in sexual activity.

In the past 12 months she has lost an incredible amount of weigh with bariatric surgery.  She now feels much happier in her skin and is loving life and looking to explore her new found sexuality.

Over the last 2 years my health has started to decline, I am on testosterone and thyroid replacements along with, at times, severe tiredness and my sex drive has also taken a nose dive.
This has put strain on our marriage and she floated the idea opening our marriage.

I am unsure of the idea with us going to couples therapy to explore our marriage strength and the path forward, we agreed to wait until after therapy to make a decision; however an opportunity had arisen with a group of people, I do not know them or included into any messages.  During the discussions on if she would go she said “can we agree that fo us to determine if this right for us an event should happen”.
I disagreed and said that is not a good idea however eventually relented and she went.

She went to the event alone, and had sex with 3 other people, the next day she briefly recounted the event with me.

I am suffering from regret and remorse on the decision, she does not and said it was one of the best decisions she had ever made just felt right.

Later on I requested we close the marriage, she got upset and angry.

There are a variety of reasons people choose to open their relationships. In some cases, it can be due to sexual incompatibility which can be caused by things like illness or age — or just be part of the way people are. I think that sometimes this can work but it has to be done with caution. Even when there isn’t an incompatibility that causes someone to open their relationship, they can already feel like they are “not enough”. It takes a lot to try and reframe your perspective from that concept but if literally the reason your partner is opening the relationship is because others can provide something you can’t… it’s going to be much harder to cope with that.

What worries me about this situation is that you have a partner who has spent over 13 years with a difficult relationship with her own body. While I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of her feelings or the level of fatphobia she faced from others, you can absolutely be “overweight” or be fat and enjoy life, have an active sex life, and be happy in your skin. I worry that her approach has reinforced her thinking that she has to be thinner to enjoy life and society probably is also reinforcing that. People who would have rejected her body before are likely not rejecting her now and I don’t blame her for enjoying the attention and the experience.

Perhaps that is the reason why she didn’t want to wait until after therapy and put more pressure on you to be okay with her going to what sounds like a group sex or swinging event. However difficult it might have been for you to consider opening the marriage while also dealing with your own health issues, it’s that much more difficult if you don’t feel like you’re going to have a choice or you’re relenting in places where you should stay strong and committed to your principles. When people do open their relationships due to an incompatibility, there needs to be reassurance and emotional support in the relationship. Trust has to essentially be rebuilt and re-learned.

While I want to be sympathetic with her in her desire to explore parts of romance and sex which may have felt previously off limits to her, I can’t help but notice that you never completely rejected the concept of an open marriage, you just felt a reasonable and understandable discomfort with it. You suggested couples therapy and asked for patience and understanding and at every point she instead pressured you. I do just have your words to go on, but it doesn’t seem like she’s offering you any kindness or understanding. Even if she was happy to have gone to that event, she could have been more understanding of your feelings.

You’ve done your best to try and be accommodating and it doesn’t seem like she’s putting in the same effort. It would be one thing if you were neglecting her, but you’re dealing with your own health issues that she doesn’t seem to have much sympathy for. Before you even agreed to open your marriage, she essentially made plans with others that you weren’t a part of and made it seem like you had to go along with it to really prove if you could do non-monogamy. While I absolutely do think that there is a point where you have to see if it actually works for you, it’s not too much to ask to want to go to couples therapy to talk it out first.

It is understandable she would be upset when you requested to close the marriage, but I felt like you probably wouldn’t have asked for that if you had actually discussed more about what opening your relationship would mean before it happened. She might be overcome with the opportunities that seem to be in front of her that weren’t there before, but she has to, if she wants to continue being married to you, be willing to understand your feelings and work with you.

Reapproach her and ask for you, before anyone does anything sexual with anyone else, to actually be able to sit down with a polyamory friendly couples therapist and talk about what opening your relationship could look like and how you can stay together while dealing with this incompatibility. It would be also helpful for you and your wife to see therapists individually to address some of the issues you’re going through with your health and she with her self-esteem.

While she may have experienced a shift in treatment by others after having surgery, the only thing constant is change. All of our bodies change and shift in different ways and no body type is an obstacle for having a healthy, fulfilling life where you love your skin. Sexuality and exploration is not reserved for people who meet societal ideals.

If she refuses to go to couples therapy and does not honour your request to wait to have any outside activity until you’ve been able to talk with a therapist (which you can find online if there isn’t one near to you you can see) then I would seriously consider whether or not this is worth preserving. If she cannot respect that this is difficult and give you the emotional support you need, then it might be better to find someone who is more willing to give you that support.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

HSV 2 and polyamory

I’ve been in a wonderful V-triad for 3 years and I love my partner & metamour!

Recently, I tested positive for genital herpes and they’ve both been beyond supportive but they seem *too supportive* which I didn’t think could be possible. I suggested closing our triad indefinitely and even permanently to minimize risk and my metamour was okay with it but knew it would never work for our partner. I love my partner but I’m between a rock and hard place; I’m tired and terrified of being a risk and being at risk to a point I’m contemplating monogamy and/or abstinence while they wish for me to overlook the stigma and be a level of sex positive that one would normally dream of but I’m drifting away from. I’ve talked to my therapist but another source wouldn’t hurt at this point.

What might help you before you make any rash decisions is to fully immerse yourself in learning as much as you can about HSV 2, or genital herpes, and HSV in general especially it’s commonality. While I’ve not gone through this myself, I would expect that it is incredibly common to have to work through all of the shame and stigma attached to HSV in our culture and figure out what your risk level is.

There isn’t necessarily wrong with you having a period of abstinence while you reorient yourself and work on your feelings and your partners seem like they would understand that. From my perspective, it sounds like you’re taking responsibility for things that you have no control of and that’s likely not going to help. Rather than closing your triad, you could simply do only activities which don’t involve skin to skin contact for a period while you ground yourself again.

Being an immunocompromised person with lifelong disability and health issues, I’ve always been panicked by the prospect of having *another* health issue to manage. I can’t pretend the stigma itself wasn’t an issue for me, but because of the nature of my health condition, it affects my immune system for anything else, which causes me to be ultra cautious and also ultra paranoid. Combined with anxiety, I’m driven to want to try and control every aspect of everything to control my anxiety.

However, when I’ve had the prospect of partners who have HSV2 or metamours, I dug myself into research about HSV. When I realised how common it was, how it could be managed, how even wearing condoms can’t prevent you from catching it, and all of the other aspects about it I had to realise how little I could control things. Especially since, as far as I’m aware, you can’t really even test for HSV of either type until you have a symptom so it’s possible your partner and metamour already have HSV, they just haven’t had symptoms about it.

In the same way that I tell people that the cultural script of monogamy gives them reassurance and makes them feel like their relationship is “safer” than non-monogamy is, equally I think people also assume that STIs won’t happen to them when it’s really down to random chance in a lot of situations. Another good analogy that helped me was driving. We can wear seatbelts, drive safely and do everything we can, but that won’t prevent an accident and an accident can happen the first time you ever drive or the 500,000th time you drive. If you had an accident, it would make sense to be afraid of your partners driving, especially in a car you had an accident in but there is only so much you can control.

We accept culturally that the benefits of driving outweigh the risks — even though driving can kill you and HSV is not deadly. But we’ve historically put so much shame around STIs and around HSV in general that it’s hard for us to see that it’s just another risk and be as casual about it as we are about the potential of any other accident.

Give yourself some time and take a period of personal abstinence if you need to. Throw yourself into groups and learn about HSV2 and talk to other people about it. Find a doctor who will answer all of your questions and research as much as you can about risk. Maybe when you have a little bit more knowledge you will feel more grounded and be less likely to assume responsibility for your partner and metamour’s sexual health.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Hiding partners from each other

I am monogamous, but I have been dating someone who identifies as poly for almost three years. We began our relationship while he had another girlfriend. That was a fairly traumatic time for me because I struggled with dealing with my emotions of jealousy, feeling less than and finding my place despite my desires for something more traditionally monogamous. Eventually he and his other girlfriend broke up, for reasons I did not know at the time.

We discussed that he would let me know when he became interested or sexually active with another woman again and things were smooth for a time.

It was over a year after his break up that I learned that he never stopped being sexually active but he never told me because he claims he did not want to hurt me. He said he felt like he was gut punching me every time he told me about his other partners, so he lied by omission.

I tried making this work, but I’m not sure what to do or if there are solutions. Is there a way for me to learn to be comfortable that he has other partners? Despite everything I know he loves me. I don’t question that. He just made a bad choice.

I don’t like knowing that if another partner wants more time, it would cut into my time. He also doesn’t want to live with anyone or have kids. Which are some things I want to experience. Am I trying to make something work that never will?

I’m sorry to tell you, you’re fundamentally incompatible and you’re both just delaying the inevitable.

The last bit of your letter seals the deal. You want to live with him and have kids and he does not. And you also do not like the idea that he would be spending time with other people, which inevitably will be the case if and when he finds other partners. Agreeing to non-monogamy fundamentally, even if you were to be monogamous yourself to him, means accepting a situation where your partner does not spend as much time with you as they would in most monogamous relationships. If that’s not something you want, then it’s not going to work for you.

And even if you were going to be monogamous, if you want different lives in a way that can’t be compromised — such as living together and having children — then there isn’t much either of you can do about it. You can’t really compromise on living together if he does not want that and you shouldn’t have children to make your partner happy if you do not want children.

It also doesn’t bode well that he’s basically cheated by lying by omission, probably because he knows that you do not want polyamory and he wants to try and keep things somehow and you’re being way more forgiving of him than you probably would be because you assume he made a “bad choice”. Cheating isn’t really just a bad choice. Just because you are lying to avoid hurting someone doesn’t make it better. He could have faced the music a year ago, ended it and given you a year to find a partner who can actually give you what you want and chose to lie instead — which, if he is honest with himself, knows that will and can not save you from hurt.

You’re unfortunately just not compatible — even if he were to give up polyamory. You don’t want the same lifestyles and it’s better for you to end things now and spend your time finding people who will actually meet your needs. As much as it may hurt to break up, it will hurt more down the line if you allow resentment and spite to build.

I wish I had something better to advise but unfortunately you are at an impasse. I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Fidelity and grief

I have ADHD and am dealing with the bereavement of both of my parents dying… Cancer… 2016 and 2018… My wife couldn’t handle the effect of my ADHD with my grief which caused severe anxiety and depression… I can’t really say I blame her. I was a nightmare. She has endometriosis so sex happens little and when I does to be honest it’s pretty mediocre. She moved out… Then I did. I slept with someone else and so did she and then within 3 months we were back together. I didn’t tell her who it was I slept with and she has big issues with this person…

The person in question and I used to be “friends with benefits”… So she really hates her. Actually, I slept with the person in question twice… I told her I slept with a girl once after I got home to find she had moved out and left her wedding ring and taken mine… I didn’t want to lie to her but I knew ultimately it didn’t matter who it was… but she wouldn’t see it that way. My wife also slept with someone else in our time apart… She had moved back into our old house at this point… I know it shouldn’t make me jealous but it does… I love her with all my heart and she has been honest with me… I have been partly lying… About who it was and how many times… But it STILL makes me jealous. Is it possible to recover from this? I can’t leave her as I love her too much… How do I shake the jealousy… Sometimes I think the fact I still have a partial secret should make it easier… But it doesn’t. 🙁

There’s a cliche that goes around that it’s the people who are most paranoid about their partners cheating who are most likely to cheat. I don’t know how based this is in reality, but I do think there is a kernel of truth in it in that when we know we have done something wrong ourselves and we have feelings about it and we can’t or won’t be honest with our partners about it, that will likely affect the relationship.

At its core, your relationship foundation is cracked and challenged and it has been for awhile. Even before you broke up or had any of these understandable issues with grief and losing your parents, if you had told me that you had a wife who hated someone purely because you had a “friends with benefits” relationship with them, I would say this illustrated an issue that should have been addressed.

It makes me wonder if there is more about this person that’s not being discussed and if there are other issues about her that make your wife worried and therefore more jealous of her — maybe things you’re not wanting to acknowledge? Either way, you don’t feel capable of telling her the full truth because you’re worried about the consequences and it makes sense that your brain would wonder if the same is true for her.

Not to mention, you’ve struggled with, as you described, your sex life being mediocre for whatever reasons and it stands to reason you would wonder if this other person she slept with didn’t have those problems. You blame yourself a lot here and don’t give yourself much compassion. While it may absolutely be difficult for your wife to handle, having two parents die within 2 years of each other and then also struggling with something like ADHD in a society not built on respecting, understanding or accommodating neurodiversity… well, none of these things were your fault. Give yourself a break.

It is possible for you all to recover from this, but you have to be able to trust one another. You have to be able to be fully honest with one another. I’m not sure if this is a situation where you’re avoiding being honest with your wife because you struggle to cope with her being unhappy and you want to avoid confrontation or if she discourages you from being honest because she doesn’t want to provide further emotional support — but either way, the secrets have to stop.

My suggestion is that you both consider seeing a polyamory friendly and disability aware therapist who also knows a bit about grief. You need something of an air clear and an intense discussion of what happened between the two of you that caused you to separate, what happened during your separation where you can be totally honest, and what, other than a fear of being alone, that has brought you back together and then you can decide where to go from here.

Unfortunately, the sooner you accept that there may be a situation where you both need to separate. It’s very possible for two people to love and care for each other very much but still not be compatible in what they want. It sounds to me that there are issues surrounding how you coped with your grief that can be addressed rather than an incompatibility but there will be consequences for dishonesty and trust has to be rebuilt. It’s possible but it will take some time.

Find a therapist who can provide a neutral ground and space to discuss what actually happened, work it out between you two, and see how you can rebuild your foundation together.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Cheating and polyamory

I am at my wit’s end. I was engaged to be married this summer; in the fall (we postponed for COVID), my fiancé confessed he had cheated on me extensively over years. I already had a bunch of concerns about his behavior in our relationship that I sort of stuffed and I tried many times over the years to talk about what he needed or how we could be monogamish and have me still feel safe, which he did not engage in. I would try to talk and it would go nowhere; I would send an email afterwards and get no reply. So that he was hiding these things all along is galling.

And I don’t trust him to put my needs first, to have boundaries, to prioritize the relationship or make me safe. And I worry I would spend our lives together miserable if I keep having to deal with this fallout when he’s attracted to and flirting with people. Do couples ever switch over and have it work? I’m so aggravated and he won’t even tell me what vision he has or what his needs are—and even by opening the conversation I feel like he is slapping me in the face after all the lying and refusal to be open before.

People do switch over and have it work — but it has to begin from trust.

If your partner is cheating extensively on top of outright refusing to respond to your attempts for communication, that doesn’t really sound good at all. Even if he is turning over a new leaf by telling you, if he won’t tell you what his needs are and refuses to have a conversation with you about it then…. it just doesn’t bode well. And it will continue not to bode well for you.

Ask yourself why you are stuffing down all of the concerns you’ve had over the years and why you have stayed despite the fact that he has repeatedly shown you that he refuses to communicate, that he doesn’t have the drive or the ability to have these important conversations with you? Even if he didn’t want to have a primary style relationship with you, he still needs to be able to communicate that and if he out and out refuses to do that, there is not much you can do.

I might be tempted to ask how he told you or why he told you and if he made an earnest commitment to changing his behaviour and even seeing a relationship therapist who is familiar with polyamory but… this feels like you are going to entering what seems like a relationship style that doesn’t appeal to you to appease someone who is not meeting your basic communication needs.

Are you getting what you need out of this relationship? Are there areas where he is sacrificing for your benefit? Or are you just continuously pouring into something that is draining you? There’s a lot here you’re not saying so perhaps there is a good amount of sacrifice on his part and he is promising to turn over a new leaf in a way that feels different and earnest and, if so, you could considering some couples counselling to help you with some of the feelings of betrayal from the cheating.

But really consider whether or not his behaviour will change. I wish I had better things to say, but I don’t hold out much hope for this. I hope it helps still, and good luck.

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Addressing sexual incompatibility

CW: This question contains explicit sexual discussion.

I love my husband, we met almost 20 years ago now. We met online on an Alternative Lifestyle website. He was listed as a submissive and I a switch.

We are the best of friends and I love him dearly. We were engaged after only 5 weeks but it took us 11 years to actually tie the knot.

The truth is our sex life has never been brilliant and it tapered away to nothing, we went for years with no sex for one reason or another. Now he has had cancer for the past 4 years and he is now totally impotent. Even with 200mg of Viagra there is nothing happening.

I have stayed faithful, with only 2 encounters with other people, one female one male with the full knowledge of my husband. He was in the same room.

I did not have full sex ie penetration with the guy. I am a very sexual and sensual person and I crave intimacy and ultimately a hard cock!

My husband and I have discussed me getting sexual gratification elsewhere but he does not want me to leave him and quite honestly, I cannot imagine my life without him in it.

I guess what I’m asking for is advice about how we move forward into a non monogamous relationship?

I have had sex once in the last 7 years and I feel like I’m dying inside!

There are a few things here to go through:

  • Opening to solve incompatibility
  • Reframing and defining sex
  • Trust and opening relationships

Usually when people encourage opening a relationship to solve an incompatibility within a relationship, I advise caution because, depending on what the incompatibility is, it can be a recipe for serious and intense jealousy.

In this case, it seems your husband is open to the concept of you seeing other people. It’s possible that, with the stress of coping with cancer, he has little interest in sex overall. But I am wondering, especially if he’s open to taking Viagra, if that is fully the case. If he’s willing to take that, he’s willing to try and it’s going to be hard for him to realise that he is not capable of meeting your needs and it’ll be hard for him because part of that, especially, you know, having cancer — is not his fault.

I worry that sometimes people are too quick to jump to opening a relationship to solve the problems in one relationship.Polyamory is about finding multiple fulfilling relationships, not about collecting a bunch of semi-fufilling ones until you reach a level of stasis. As much as we don’t enjoy breaking up with people, if you’re opening up because your relationship on it’s own can’t stand, then it’s likely that the stress of opening up is going to break what little foundations you have.

If you do open to address an incompatibility, then I think that it will only work if that individual is okay with reconciling that incompatibility and if you can focus on what makes your relationship work and have that work wonderfully.

What concerns me is that you’re craving intimacy and sensuality… which you don’t need, as you put it, a “hard cock” to have. So I’m wondering why those things aren’t happening in your own relationship with the partner you have and whether you’re both putting the work in to solve this instead of trying to find others to solve the problem.

Following on that point on building intimacy in your relationship, I’m wondering if you are a little focused on penetrative sex in a way that is disempowering your partner, especially if he is a submissive. While I totally get and understanding preferring or liking penetrative sex, he doesn’t always have to use his own body for that. There are loads of options available where he could satisfy that without everything relying solely on his body.

It’s possible that, if you’re heavily focused on him maintaining an erection, he’s going to really struggle to perform and that will likely take the interest away from him, especially if he’s recovering from cancer. I don’t mean to be harsh here, but you seem really caviler about that — that’s a huge deal and a massively scary and stressful thing. It’s unsurprising that your partner isn’t exactly feeling in the mood. And if you’re adding pressure to that, it’s unsurprising that it’s only the situation that’s getting harder.

I am assuming he is interested in continuing to try to provide things for you because he’s taken Viagra but if he’s completely uninterested in this type of interaction and feels more asexual now than anything, then that’s totally understandable in terms of you wanting to seek outside stimulation — but asexual people are plenty capable of providing sensual experiences and intimacy. If he’s uninterested in intimacy all together with you then there is a wider issue that should be addressed with therapy.

Another issue that’s cropping up here is a common thing a lot of people do in their first forays in open relationships — thinking their partner has to be in the room when they have sex with other people. I don’t, unless you have a partner who is a voyeur, you do this. Mostly because it’s just not necessary.

You have to work together to trust one another and he has to be able to trust that you are going to stay with him even if you are getting a penetrative sex need met somewhere else. This is why I think it’s so important to not just find another person when another relationship isn’t working because it’s rekindling what you have together and building intimacy together that will help secure what you have together and make him feel less anxious and grounded.

If you start from a foundation of distrust, then it doesn’t tend to lead to great places. Even if he does trust you not to cheat, he has to also trust that you care enough about your relationship together to build on it and work with it. And if that work is not put in on either side, you’ll both struggle to communicate in the future.

I think that you could pursue non-monogamy, but I am worried in this instance you’re only delaying an inevitable breakup if you and your partner aren’t willing to put the work in toward building intimacy and sensuality with each other. There are so many things he can do and things you can try together that could meet your needs and I’m wondering if that has actually happened.

Opening up a relationship to solve an incompatibility can work — but there has to be other aspects of that relationship that fulfill you. And you shouldn’t keep a relationship that’s unfulfilling just because you don’t want it to end. But also, you need to apply a little less pressure to your partner to perform in that specific way and open up to other ways of him being able to build a connection with you that aren’t dependent upon him having an erection — asexual people have intimate and sensual relationships without having sex at all, so it is possible.

Last but not least, if you do open your relationship, you don’t have to do things in front of him to prove you’re faithful. He needs to trust you but you also need to demonstrate that you are willing to bond with him and build intimacy together in other ways, even if you desire penetrative sex with a person with a penis rather than toys. Because there’s not really a reason that can’t happen.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Comments from the therapist

I am wondering if their difficulty with intimacy is in some ways impacted by lingering or unprocessed emotions related to going through cancer together. That illness has a HUGE impact: anticipatory grief, helplessness, powerlessness, anger, caretaking dynamics, new functional limitations, etc. If they haven’t unpacked and digested all that — separately and together, then it could really stop fulfilling intimacy from happening.

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Slutshaming and polyamory

This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

I identify as non monogamous, all my partners know that about me, and I feel very sure about this lifestyle for me.

I’m currently closely dating a man who also claims that he is non monogamous, the last month we have been living with each other and I haven’t actively been pursuing other partners or dates out of my own volition. But in a few weeks im going to Europe with one of my best friends, she and I are bother hyper sexual and can sometimes encourage each other to get rowdy sexually (with other people, not each other) so in preparation for this trip I wanted to check in with my partner and re talk about boundaries and clarity.

It turned into a disaster, he got very insecure and started questioning why I have the desire to sleep with randos, why I’m even non monogamous, and giving me shit about past experiences of random frivolous sex I’ve had…( I consensually had sex with an Uber driver, and in confidence I told my partner, who later threw it back at me with such lines as “I don’t get why you wanna just fuck every taxi driver you see…”) I don’t know if that’s necessary information, it just got elevated and unnecessary.

Anyhow, I feel confused by this, he also has had other partners and I support him in that, though currently none of them are pursuing him because I’m in the picture, not my choice , theirs. And he knew that random hookups were of interest to me before we started dating.

I feel like his aggressive behavior is unnecessary, and it’s putting a strain on our relationship. This is where I stand, I do not want monogamy, I want autonomy to participate in safe random hook ups if I so desire, and I don’t know how to explain to him why that is a desire of mine.

How do I add clarity for him? How do I Help him with his insecurities so I can keep on as a non monogamous autonomous person? And am I valid in being upset that he’s upset?

The bigger issue underlying all of this is that you have a partner who has absolutely no problem with shaming and guilting you for your choices. The intent of this is to make you feel ashamed and it is, fundamentally, emotional abuse.

We all have different ways of expressing our sexuality. I’m not the type of person who does random hookups, generally speaking. That in and of itself isn’t a judgement towards anyone who does. It’s just not something I’m interested in. When I had a nesting partner who did do random hookups, it was a difficult thing for me to work out and I can’t say I had the best reaction to it.

This wasn’t because I felt like they were being irresponsible or because I had any feelings about it but more because sex represented something different to me, it was hard for me to put myself in the mindset of someone who wanted to do hookups. I still don’t know if I can put myself into that mindset. And sometimes I still get scared I’m not “enough” when new hookups happen. But I cope with these feelings by talking it out with my partner and, even though I have said things that have made them feel judged about their choices, I have apologised for that and have never meant to make them feel like there’s something wrong with them for wanting to have hookups.

And I’ve certainly not taken one hookup and threw back at my partner not only that they hookup with *everyone*, but also encouraged further shame. I’ve never questioned why they are non-monogamous to begin with either. I have definitely expressed genuine confusion by their choice and it did take me awhile to understand that I didn’t *need* to understand this for us to work things out, but to go as far as what your partner has done throws up some serious red flags.

He’s allowed to feel insecure and scared, but he’s not allowed to encourage you to feel shameful for your own choices in the way you describe, especially aggressively. You’re never going to make him understand your want for random hookups if he doesn’t get it but he also doesn’t have to inherently understand it to be respectful of you. I don’t know why my partner likes pineapple on pizza but I certainly don’t go on about how disgusting it is in a way that’s supposed to stop them from doing it or make them feel bad about it.

Personally, I would find it hard to stay in a relationship with someone who did this kind of gaslighting (extrapolating that because you had sex with ne Uber driver that you have sex with every single one) and emotionally abusive behaviour towards me. Still, I can empathise with the fact that it’s possible he’s lashing out because he’s insecure and doesn’t know how to handle it. We’re all capable of acting in an abusive way when under duress, especially if we have experienced that from caregivers.

But, if this is going to work, then some things need to happen. First, he needs to acknowledge these instances where he has encouraged you to feel shame, apologise for them and commit to stopping that. Second, he needs to commit to, if it’s accessible, seeing a therapist to work out how to better regulate his emotions so that he doesn’t lash out at people when he is feeling insecure. Third, you need to explain, unequivocally that, regardless of the current state of partners, your relationship is and always has been non-monogamous and you can and will be having random hookups if you want. If he does not like that or does not want that to happen, he needs to break up with you instead of trying to shame you out of having them.

And last, while I am more than willing to understand that people say things they don’t mean in times of stress and trauma, you need to exercise your ability to walk away or immediately stop any conversation with him that leads back to these ways of basically abusing you over things you have done in the past. Do not entertain that type of discussion ever again. He’s absolutely allowed to be scared and insecure — that’s pretty much a given. But he needs to be able to discuss it without shaming you about your choices.

Finally, you’re valid in what you’re feeling. You like random hookups and that’s legit. Even if someone else doesn’t understand it, there is no good reason why, so long as you are doing it for fun and not as a form of self-harm, anyone needs to question your reasoning for doing it. Your partner could have valid concerns about why you’re interested in random hookups and maybe there is or could be some larger issue (or not) — but that’s for you to handle and explore on your own and it’s certainly not going to be solved through shame and abuse.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Episode 46: STI Risk

This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

How worried should you be about STI risk if you are immunocompromised?

That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help.

Discussion Topic: Why do you think your parents are the way they are? What were the pressures and difficulties they were under?

Listen below or on Libsyn. You can also find the podcast on Spotify, Apple, and other providers. Or, conversely, use our RSS feed.

Episode 45 – Sex Work and Polyamory

What resources are available for someone who asks about dating a sex worker? That’s what’s on this week’s episode of Non-Monogamy Help. Find the full audio transcription of this episode on Patreon. Discussion Topic – What do you blame your parents for?

This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp. Use our affiliate link for 10% off your first month.

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:

My partner and I have been together and have been mostly monogamous  for over a year – and fluid bonded for the majority of that.  Our deal is that we give a heads up before sleeping with someone else and that we use condoms.  After my partner had a slip up, I realized that despite talking about safer sex practices in the beginning of our relationship… he didn’t really retain much of that information, and we definitely needed to have a deeper conversation about STI risks, safe sex practices, condoms for toys/oral, etc.  I’m also immunocompromised so it’s a little bit of a bigger deal to me than it may be to others.

After bringing up some of my concerns, he told me that he doesn’t think he can do condoms for oral, but he can definitely ask about recent STI panels and condoms on toys. Welll… glad he’s being honest about it.  But… if he has partners who frequently have “oopsie, got drunk and had sex without a condom!” experiences, an STI panel from 3 months ago doesn’t really provide me with a whole lot of reassurance.

So… I feel like my options here are to go back to condoms all the time until he comes back with a clean(sic) STI test (and doesn’t have any other partners at the time) and not do oral… and I guess no kissing either?!?  Orrrr, just deal with the risk and if I end up with something because of his less-than-safe practices, hope that it is something that a quick course of antibiotics will take care of.

Both of us were already seeing other people when we first got together, but we became the only person the other was seeing within a couple of months.  There have only been two occasions when he has hooked up with someone else – the first time was a one-time thing, but this last one (where I didn’t get a heads up and he didn’t use a condom… but he did tell me about it the morning after) he plans to continue to keep seeing. So… that’s another issue I have.

I’m super hurt because I basically feel cheated on.  Our whole agreement was totally “forgotten” in the heat of the moment and now I have to figure out how to deal with him continuing to see a person that, from my emotional perspective, he cheated with.

I don’t feel like I have the right to tell him he can’t continue to see her.  It’s his choice.  I’ve told him how I feel about it.  He doesn’t see things the same way I do.  He just sees it as “got drunk, didn’t plan on having sex, so didn’t give heads up.  Whoops. As long as I give heads up in the future it’s all good.”

I’m really trying not to be too emotional and I’m trying to apply logic and rationality to the whole situation.  What’s your take?

Response:

So I can totally relate to your situation in so many ways. First of all, I’m more or less immunocompromised. I’m not really sure how immunocompromised I am, but I need to be careful about getting sick, and sometimes when I’m sick I can be sick for weeks on end for things that it would take normal people— or people who are not immunocompromised rather. Shouldn’t say “normal”. It takes them less time to get over some things. So I have always always always been very very paranoid about STIs.

And part of that comes from stigma, and I think that that’s something that you kind of have to realise. We are— unless you grew up in a different culture and apologies if you did— but I know that the culture I grew up in has basically terrified me with the idea that STIs are these horrible cursed things. And they do terrible things and they can cause— you know we’re very hyped on all of the horrible things that can happen if we get STIs.

And yes, there are permanent STIs like HPV and like HSV that can be permanent. But even those— and HIV as well— But even those are… First of all it’s different now than it was 20 to 30 years ago, when it comes to HIV, and even in the case of those like such in the case of herpes like a lot of people have it and most people will agree like yes there are drawbacks to it but much of the problem is stigma. So, what helped me kind of cope with this because I also had a partner that was very casual, and we tried to be fluid bonded and we tried to come up with agreements that made me feel better.

I still felt incredibly terrified every time they had a new partner because I was just afraid there was going to be some STI risk, but when you actually learn about— more about STIs and also about the different risks of different acts, and also that there’s some STIs that you won’t know if you have it unless you have a physical visible symptom. Like HPV, for example, a lot of— it’s very very common, but you can have it and it won’t show up on an STI panel unless you have a physical symptom like a wart or you, or HPV, you have a pap smear and it comes back with HPV on it like an abnormal pap, you could otherwise have it.

And it’s really hard not to learn about that kind of stuff and it not freak you out, because I have lifelong disabilities. I am really scared of having another condition to manage. It is a thought, which really stresses me the hell out. I mean even just today. I haven’t had my medication filled that I need to take. I put in my prescription order to the pharmacy 10 days ago. My GP still hasn’t approved it and I’m playing medium between, even in a country where I get free health care, I’m having to call my GP, “Why haven’t you sent me a prescription?”. It’s stressful the life admin of having chronic conditions is exhausting.

If you’re immunocompromised because you have a chronic condition, it’s okay to be like I just don’t want another thing that I have to manage. That is stressful and I get that, but all sex comes with risk. And the thing of it is, even with the rules that you have in place where he always use condoms even for oral. If he’s using condoms and having penis in vagina sex, then you’re still at risk for herpes. You’re still at risk for HPV. You’re still at risk for things that have a skin to skin contact, and sometimes dormant periods, like you say three months but actually some things can be dormant for six months.

Everything just comes with a risk and the thing of it is is, we’d like to think that it’s simple math that the more people you have sex with the higher risk that you have, and even the example that you give of him getting involved with someone who kind of gets drunk and have sex without a condom. The thing is, is— you could have tons of one night stands with someone and never get something you could also have sex for the first time, with someone else, and get something. It just isn’t that simple. STIs don’t care if you’ve had an STI panel or not.

They don’t care if someone’s drunk or not. And some STI that are transferred to skin to skin contact don’t care if you’re using a condom or not. I get that you want to have these barriers to protect yourself. But in my situation, being fluid bonded and having all this like we— We tried to come up with some rules about asking people if they had recent STI test, getting an idea of whether or not they were responsible about their own sexual health, but I still had to come to the conclusion— because originally, what I wanted to do is for my partner, not to sleep with someone the first time they met them or not to have casual sex. I only wanted them to have sex with people that they had known for a few months.

And my partner brought up the the sort of very valid point that whether they’ve known someone or not for a month doesn’t change their STI risk level. Knowing someone doesn’t necessarily change the STI risk level and that was really hard for me to contend with. But it’s really kind of the truth. Either someone takes charge of their sexual health and gets STI checks. And even if they do that doesn’t mean they’re never going to get an STI, or they don’t. People can lie about it. There’s nothing you can do about it/ There’s so much stuff you can’t control.

And in the end, like— you know, my partner didn’t necessarily want to have these overdrawn conversations with every single person. Their level of sexual health risk was different than my level of sexual health risk. And what I ended up doing instead, because fluid bonding doesn’t mean anything emotionally to me and I don’t need to be fluid bonded with anyone. That was just kind of a thing that we wanted to try. I decided, “Okay, how about this? Instead of you using super amount of barriers and protection with everyone else, you just use all the barriers, you can with me”.

And even though maybe that’s less fun, it actually makes me feel loads better. I know that I’m still— like even with all the barriers that I use, I know that I’m still not completely eliminating my risk because there’s just no way. You know, if I don’t want to ever ever get an STI than I just shouldn’t ever have sex, and even then there… I’m not going to go into those situations but there are— there’s still a risk. Like I… you know through sexual violence, I was put at risk of STIs before I had sex willingly so there’s just no way for me to, you know— it’s a risk. Especially if I actually want to engage in with in sexual relationships with people, it’s just a risk that I have to accept.

So I do think that what you might want to consider is thinking about the barriers that you can use on your end that make you feel better, because you’re never going to be able to completely control all the circumstances. People can lie about getting an STI panel. If you want to make sure that you’re as protected as you want to be, then have— use those barriers with your partner, and let them decide what their risk is what other people.

The other thing that’s happened here I can also relate to I’ve been in situations where I assumed that our discussion about sexual health was understood and actually this exact— almost this exact kind of thing happened, except the partner that I was with had oral sex with someone without a condom, and I was like “Uh, I said use condoms” and they were like, “Oh, but I thought that was just for penetrative sex”.

So people do— that’s the problem is that “safe sex” is— Well “safe sex”— completely “safe sex” doesn’t exist, and safer sex is you know— what is safer? It really depends on the person, and what they want to risk. So, you know, your partner doesn’t see condomless oral as a huge risk for that they feel is risky for them. And that’s valid and legit, but you kind of have to you know, you said it yourself. There needs to be a deeper discussion about what specific barriers should be used in specific situations.

So, I don’t— I think it’s hard not to feel as though you were— that you were cheated on because you did have these rules when they were broken. But I think that in this situation, you know his reasoning does kind of make sense. Like, he didn’t know he was going to sleep with someone, so he didn’t give you a heads up about it because he didn’t know it was going to happen. He did tell you the next morning, and he misunderstood the safer sex rules. So, as hard as it might be to like not feel betrayed— like you can feel betrayed but his reasoning kind of does check out, and I think that it’s worth…

You know, I think that the the previous suggestion about you know you deciding what barriers you want to use with your husband or, sorry boyfriend, and then you know that helping you address the level of your risk rather than you know kind of trying to control his behaviour as well and then trying to control the behaviour of everyone he sleeps with, which is going to be really really hard for you might actually solve this problem.

Another thing that I want to kind of point out, which isn’t part of your original question, but one of your rules is, is the heads up rule.  And I think that this is a good reason why that doesn’t that rule doesn’t always work out very well and I think what that rule is trying to do and the reason that you’ve put it in place is because what you want to have this discussion maybe about… maybe you want to know that you have more of an STI risk or maybe, I don’t know why is it that you think having a heads up before he sleeps with someone else changes something for you?

Because, I mean, what if it’s like three o’clock in the morning and he wants to sleep with someone  do you want him to text you? Do you want him to call you and wake you up? Like I feel like this heads up thing is… it’s designed to try and help you emotionally deal with a situation. I could be wrong, but when I had a kind of similar rule it was like, “Okay, I have a heads up so I know. So I can like batten down the hatches and prepare”. But actually, I don’t think that that helps always.

I think that, you know— what you want is you want a partner who talks to you about the new situations developing their life, who doesn’t hide things from you. And he didn’t hide things from you. He did tell you the next morning, but the rule is trying to prevent someone from being dishonest to you but a person who is dishonest to you, isn’t going to care about a rule. So I think you should kind of rethink this heads up rule, and think about okay what am I actually trying to prevent?

Because you could have a bad reaction, regardless of whether or not he gives you a heads up, like… And the thing about this is, as well as that the heads up thing kind of. It’s not an overt rule that says, “I have to give you permission to sleep with someone”, but it does kind of imply that. Because, basically, if he calls you and say “Oh I’m going to sleep with someone”, you can only kind of say yes or no to that situation or you can kind of have a reaction, which he would then interpret as a no.

So, in a way, it is kind of you giving him permission. And the thing about permission is that when you’re forced— when you’re in a position to give someone permission or not in a polyamorous type of setup, you’re going to want to say yes, even when you don’t feel that great about it because you don’t want to tell your part— I mean you don’t even feel like you have the right to tell him not to see a person who you don’t feel great about now. So, you’re always going to be— if you’re going to be given permission, you’re always going to feel pressured to say yes.

And then if you say no, it’s like, okay, then maybe he’ll have resentment? Like it just puts you in a weird situation. It puts him in a weird situation. It’s also, if it is an actual permission situation it’s not really fair for that other person as well. So like, yeah, kind of think about this rule, because if you want a partner who communicates to you and keeps you up to date with what’s going on with them and cares about your feelings, that’s legit and I understand that, but this rule in and of itself isn’t going to create that.  And actually what this rule has done is create more problems for you than it’s actually helped.

Because now you’re in a situation where like well he didn’t give me a heads up but for him it’s like well I didn’t plan on having sex with someone. So now is he supposed to like text you in the middle of the night, if he wants to have sex with someone new? Do you really want to be woken up at three o’clock in the morning? I don’t know I’m saying three o’clock, but it could not be three— but you know what I mean like do you want to be woken up? Or maybe you’re having a really terrible night. Like, one time my partner, wanted to tell me about something, but it was just after the Orlando thing had happened.

And I was so upset and I was so not in a good place. And even though we have a rule of not hiding things from one another, my partner waited until, at least a day after that to tell me something, not because they wanted to hide something from me, but because I wasn’t in the right state at the time, and that would have just been more shit on top of the already shit sandwich, and I was already really upset. So stuff like this, like…

He absolutely should tell you about new developments especially where your STI risk is now more, but now that you’ve created this kind of immediate thing of “you have to tell me before”, it does create this kind of problem, and it doesn’t have to be kind of a problem. And because you’ve kind of set this expectation up, it’s now made you feel like shit because that expectation hasn’t been met when you don’t have to do that. One time my partner made a rule about something that I didn’t ask for. It was just like “I’m not going to do this” and then my partner ended up doing it.

And then I was actually upset, even though I didn’t care about it, and didn’t ask for the rule, but because they set that rule up and because they set up this expectation with me when they didn’t meet that expectation it freaked me out and I was like, “Well, if you’re not going to keep a promise that you set, are you’re not going to keep any promise?” Like, it made me freak out a lot so sometimes when you make these kind of really specific things, they can hurt you more than they help.

It’s not really helping the situation, because you know he didn’t hide it from you and that’s kind of what’s the important thing here you don’t want someone who hides things from you. So really kind of look at that. And then the last bit is in terms of this metamour, or person, I think that it’s understandable to have the feelings you have. Like, obviously this person was introduced to you in a not so great situation.

So obviously you’re going to still have some feelings about that and you may need to have a little bit of time and space away from this person for a little bit until you kind of rebuild that bond of trust with your partner and that’s totally legit and that’s fine, but also remember like you don’t necessarily know how much this person knew, and you don’t necessarily know if— I mean, I hope that he at least told this person that he was polyamorous.

But like, unless he specifically said to this new person like, “Hey, my partner says that I can’t use condoms for— or that I’m supposed to use condoms for oral but fuck it,” like… Unless that specifically happened I don’t think that it’s necessarily this other person’s fault and I think you know that, but it is okay for you feel a little bit of a way about it and you probably will until you kind of rebuild that trust with your partner, but, you know, try to remember that she can’t necessarily— she only goes by the information she knows.

Unfortunately, and, you know, she’s not going to know that that was a violation of your boundary. You know, and that’s not really her fault, in a way. I think sometimes when people that we care about and that we love do things that violate our boundaries or hurt us, and that involves another person that’s sometimes easier for our brain to say “okay we don’t want to be mad at the person that we love, so we’re going to redirect all of our anger at this person because it’s easier because we don’t know them”.

So you might want to be aware that like some of your feelings are kind of bleeding out of it, because you feel understandably frustrated, but you’re also kind of sympathetic to what your partner is saying to you and you don’t want to be mad at him but you’re still upset. So it’s a bit of a redirection in this case, but I do think you’ll feel better later on.

And it’s okay to be emotional is last thing that I want to say to you. Emotions are logical. I really hate— I can’t remember… there’s some philosopher, some terrible person who came up with the idea that emotions are one thing and logic is another and that they are two separate oil and water concepts and ne’er the twain shall meet. It’s not true. Emotions can be a very very logical and rational response to a situation. You had an expectation that something would happen. It didn’t happen the way you expected it to happen.

And now you’re feeling confused and upset and that is rational. That is logical. It is logical and rational to feel things. So give yourself a little bit of a break here. Allow yourself to be emotional, maybe see a therapist. If you have access to therapy, you can get all that emotion out in a safer place. And not kind of use your partner to vent the situation. Talk about it with your friends if you have friends you can talk to us about, But don’t stop yourself from feeling emotional. It’s okay to feel emotional, it doesn’t make you a bad person doesn’t make you unable to do polyamory.

It doesn’t make you… you know. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s not a character flaw. It’s just you being a human being. You have emotions. You’re not a Vulcan. It’s okay. Sorry for the siren in the background. So to sum up, first and foremost, learn a bit more about a STIs because it’s really really really hard to reduce your risk, completely. It just is. Like it’s just a hazard of the trade. There are lots, there’s— if you’re in America, there’s something called. I think it’s. Jesus. No, it’s not Jesus.

It’s San Francisco Sex Information. That’s what it is. And there’s a lot of information there. There’s Planned Parenthood. There’s a website for teenagers which is called Scarleteen, but it’s still quite good. And they’ll actually tell you kind of like what risks of what STIs you have with different sexual acts depending on what the genitalia configuration is. So you can learn more about like which acts are inherently more risky for which STIs, and there’s skin to skin contact sex with you, even with a condom doing penetrative sex, you’re still somewhat at risk for.

So understanding that might help you— I mean— it’s gonna freak you out. And it freaked me out, but it will help you realise just like that it’s just part of the risk. It’s just part of it. But we have overhype STI so just kind of remember that you’re working in an environment where you were likely terrified about this kind of stuff.  And that doesn’t really help you especially when you’re immunocompromised.

Also, maybe work on itself trying to control everything that your partner does with other people, control what you do with your partner in terms of boundaries. Maybe don’t be fluid bonded. That’s okay. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Like, I think actually being fluid bonded stressed me out more because I put too much emphasis on it. It had this meaning and then once the meaning was removed it honestly felt made me feel so much better.

So like use barriers with your partners. Have oral sex with condoms with your partners. You can have like penis in vagina sex, you can have through like boxer shorts, to lower your risk of skin to skin contact, like there’s other stuff. You can use, you know condoms with toys. Use as much barriers as possible with your partner. And then they can— he can do kind of whatever he wants to, assume his own risk with other people. And that way, you’re protected a little bit more than you know and he’s a little bit more freer to do what he wants in those situations and then you don’t have to worry as much. I think that— that’s honestly helped me loads and I’m in your position, and I feel so much better now.

Now that I— instead of trying to control what my partner does, I control what my risk with my partner is, and that is, it’s so much better, at least from my experience. Another thing to think about is this inform informing rule, and whether or not this actually suiting you or it’s creating more problems in your relationship than it needs to be. If your partner didn’t hide anything from you. And you know his explanation checks out, then maybe you need to think about changing that role up, because it seems like he’s willing to have conversations with you about stuff. It seems like he’s willing to keep you involved. It seems like he’s willing to— he’s not hiding anything from you.

So, just think about whether or not that rules, actually helping you and and what it actually means is a text at 3am “Hey, I’m going to shag this person”… A phone call at 2am, like… is that something you really want to want to do? Is that really going to help you? I think having a better understanding of, yes, you need to disclose find a good time to disclose this to me, you know, and especially like now that I have that rule in terms of, you know, I decide what protection I use with my partner and then that they don’t have to worry so much about what they do with other people, they can assume their own risk.

Now I’m not that worried about disclosure because it used to be that our rule was that if my STI risk changes because you slept with someone new, then you need to tell me right away. But now that we’re using like a lot of barriers between us I’m like okay, it’d be nice to know if there’s a change in STI risk in general but I’m good. I’m as protected as I can be and I still want them to get regular STI checkups and they do anyway.

But if they were the kind of person that didn’t care about their sexual health, me forcing them to do it isn’t going to change anything so like if your partner didn’t care about talking to you about stuff, then this rule isn’t gonna force them to. So, yeah, think about that rule. And then last but not least thing, again, like, oh yeah, there was two things. One thing. It’s not the metamour’s fault that that she didn’t know that that was your barrier and you’re kind of misdirecting the anger. It’s okay to be uncomfortable for a while.

Give yourself permission to be a little bit uncomfortable with her but again kind of realise that maybe you’re misdirecting some of that anger. And then last but not least allow yourself to be emotional. It’s not bad to be emotional, just know… try to understand how your emotions affect your actions, and sometimes when you feel really really anxious and really really scared, just like you know I’ve had obsessive compulsive disorder in the past. When I felt anxious I felt the desire to compiles, a desire to control the anxiety by acting in some way that I think will control it, but actually just feeds into the anxiety.

And I think a lot of times when people are in these kind of relationships, they get a compulsion when they feel all this anxiety to do something, to create a rule, create a boundary, to change things, to close things up or do whatever in order to try and stop all that emotion because they don’t give themselves permission to feel it. They blame themselves where they think that they’re bad or they’re irrational or controlling… Let yourself feel things just realise when you’re when your motivations for something or to stop those feelings or to get rid of them because that’s not helpful and find a healthier way to express your emotions.

Like don’t make your partner your therapist. Find a therapist, if it’s affordable to you. And, yeah allow yourself to have it  because you’re not going to be able to get rid of anxiety. The biggest obstacle in my personal experience with anxiety was punishing myself for having it. And so the thing that I try hard in my relationships to do is to just give myself permission to have the feelings. Don’t beat myself up for it, and experience it. Because sometimes you just have to go through it, come out the other end and “Okay, that was bad, but here I am, I survived 100% of my worst days, and I’m okay”.

Sometimes you just have to go through that, unfortunately. It sucks but it’s kind of a thing that sometimes has to happen. So yeah, I hope that helps and good luck.

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Consent and cuckolding

This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

I am a widower of 2 years, I was married for 31 years and the last 10 years I was a cuckold to my wife. In the last two years I have been listening to podcasts and reading blogs on the subject of cuckolding (sometime called “Hotwifing”) and one question I always ask when given the opportunity is, “If your partner asked, would you quit?”. Keeping in mind these are not swingers and these are “one sided” relationships where the wife is playing and the husband is not.

The question is posed to both husband and wife. In every case (20 or 30 I have asked) the husband always says yes. In many cases the wife says no. I have had wives interviewed in separate venues and they sometimes gave contradictory answers. The most recent being a wife who on “Keys and Anklets” said she would honor her husbands wish to quit if he asked then on another blog (I think it was called Cuckold Consultant) said that if she didn’t have her husband’s consent she would cheat.

My question to you is, if consent is not needed can this be called in any way, shape or form “ethical non-monogamy”? If consent is not needed is this just a form of psychological abuse akin to the old tradition of men “sleeping around” on their wives where the wife knows, but due to family and financial considerations is forced to tolerate it?

Are some men trapped in a bind where considerations of financial well being, staying in their homes, having access to their children or even having any form of companionship outweigh the involuntary tolerance of their wife’s sexual activities and as a result they put on a brave face and “play the game”?

Consent is always needed. For everything.

There are always nuances to 24/7 style relationships. People who expand concepts of domination and submission outside of the bedroom may want someone who will basically be able to tell them what to do or “force” them to do some things. I have heard of 24/7 relationships where a Dom/me/x has control over the life of a submissive to the point of being able to encourage them to take care of themselves better.

And, not gonna lie, I’ve seen the appeal in having an authority figure who you have to be accountable to. Some people even incorporate aspects of punishment into this where punishment isn’t something that the person wants. So you can, in effect, have someone punishing you without you wanting that to happen at all.

However, I still believe there is a basic level of consent here that still applies. No one actually owns anyone and any Dom/me/x who believes they do and any relationship where a submissive (or a cuckold in this case) cannot say “Nope. I’m done with this. This ends now.” does not have a relationship. It’s effectively abuse.

And this applies for any kind of relationship which doesn’t include kink elements. Obviously, breaking up with a partner is never an easy thing for anyone to do and it is easier said than done in many, many types of relationships. But if you truly, truly do not have a choice or feel like you could not leave without being physically or psychologically attacked — that is a problem.

In my opinion, there is nothing ethical about cheating. It’s not for me to tell someone in a cuckold relationship whether or not they should continue to stay with someone who has effectively admitted they would cheat on you. I know I wouldn’t. But I feel quite confident in saying that consent is always needed.

And anyone, regardless of the type of relationship they’re in, who cheats or who does something against the consent of their partner — that is cheating. I don’t know if I would stretch so far to call every incident of cheating “psychological abuse”. People who may be psychologically abusive may also cheat, but they aren’t necessarily one in the same.

Additionally, I would say that one does not necessarily have to be a cuckold to feel like you must tolerate behaviour from your partner that you object to because you either do not have the financial means to go out on your own or you worry about the effect a split might have on children and whether or not you’d be able to see them as well as a fear of losing a companionship. That’s a very common concern for a lot of people.

And in all cases, kink based or not, I would always advise any adults to not put their eggs in one basket so to speak, to always have some level of their own independence or a way out and to not tolerate someone’s behaviour, if they find it truly objectionable or against their consent, merely because a current relationship is more comfortable or at times preferable to being alone.

Lastly, I’d like to address the fact that I feel like there’s a comparison here that, on a macro-level social scale, doesn’t really match up. Historically, women have been overwhelmingly subject to not only being sold as property to men, but also being treated like property. In the US, marital rape wasn’t even considered a crime until 1987. There is a very, very long history of women being forced to marry men (outside of considerations of married love) and not because they actively chose to enter into that kind of a relationship.

They had no agency. They had no options other than being cast out of their communities or potentially killed. The history of the way women have been used as essentially breeding stock and the way women are still used that way today is extensive. And I feel like it’s not really adequate to make that comparison because in the situations you have proposed, these men have willingly and with the full rights and privileges as men, agreed to be in cuckold relationships from the start whereas many, many women throughout history did not have the same privileges.

But, to summarise, cheating is not ethical. Consent is needed in all relationships. You can only willingly give your power to someone if you have it in the first place.

And, on a personal level, I think any individual who is interested in a relationship where they do not have to care about the consent, wishes and needs of their partner is an asshole and not worth anyone’s time.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.

Polyamory as a last chance

This content is 1 year old which means my opinions or advice on this issue may have changed. Please, read this page keeping its age in your mind and feel free to re-ask a similar question.

My marriage of 13 years is about to end due to my wife’s infidelity. She cheated in 2010 and this past summer in the wake of my brother’s suicide she dove into an emotional affair with a long-time friend of both of us. This experience has fractured numerous friendships and relationships. It was almost like she detonated a well-placed bomb right in the middle of everything in my life that I cared about.

Now I am watching every relationship shift. From my relationship with my 3 children, to the security in my marriage, to family and friends. My wife’s first affair was with a person who lives a life of polyamory. She has definitely been interested in this sort of thing and it is something that I have known about. I have not had any interest in this sort of thing.

My parents have been together forever and that is the history that has generated my perspective of these sorts of things.

Her parents went through a 7-year divorce when she was young. She watched her dad have multiple affairs and experienced things like receiving gifts that were given by her father’s affair partners. This has constructed her perspective on some of these things.

My question is this, is opening up my marriage going to be a good thing regarding some of our deep-rooted differences. My biggest problem right now is her blatant betrayal and inability to give me the respect that a partner deserves. After reading your article I certainly have my doubts.

We got married very young and have been together since we were 15. I definitely love her and I believe that she loves me. My biggest concerns about opening our marriage are:

A) I am not sure how I will react to it. Having been betrayed by her multiple times (and honestly, there are probably things I don’t even know about), I don’t know how I will be able to do something that I am not strictly comfortable with while at the same time dealing with some of the emotions such as jealousy when it comes to an open marriage.

B) Her history of betrayal. It concerns me that I would be doing this in order to let her really express herself in the hope that she could really be honest with me about herself. I want the intimacy that I signed up for and just have not been able to achieve with her.

A big part of me wants to just end the marriage but at the same time, why wouldn’t I try this as a last ditch effort at finally achieving the level of intimacy that I have always wanted. Ending the marriage would be life-changing in a lot of really big ways for everyone. I just want to know if exhausting this option is even worth the time and emotional effort that I would have to put forth given her track record of being unable to treat me with open honesty and respect.

Sometimes when infidelity happens, people can try polyamory or non-monogamy as a last ditch effort because they want to save their relationship — and sometimes that can work. Even if one of the people doesn’t have any interest in dating or sleeping with anyone else. But I think that, regardless of interests or the history involved, the biggest key to success in this working is that there has to be some interest or some benefit you get — other than keeping someone in your life — from non-monogamy or polyamory.

Fundamentally, agreeing to a polyamorous or non-monogamous relationship at it’s core means that your partner will not be spending the vast majority of their available time solely with you. As I’ve said in other columns, this can also be true for monogamous relationships where you marry someone who has a time intensive career, hobby or is someone who needs a lot of alone time. It’s not unique to non-monogamy.

That has to be something you’re fundamentally okay with and for a lot of people, that’s not something they want. They want to have a sole partner who they spend most of their time with and it doesn’t have to be that they feel jealous of any other partners, just that they want more time with their partner.

Secondly, you have to see some type of benefit in non-monogamy for yourself. This could be getting to date others, getting to sleep with others or just getting more time for yourself. Even people who are monogamous to partners who are polyamorous see some type of benefit out of it. I think for a lot of people they assume the benefit is keeping their partner around — and this may be a good benefit — but if the first issue means that your partner isn’t *actually* around in the amount you want, you may find that this isn’t actually a benefit you get. If you become non-monogamous, your relationship will fundamentally differ from the way it is currently set up. So you can’t go into a non-monogamous agreement based on the benefit to you that your partner will stay with you if that hope is based on the idea your relationship will somehow remain the same — it just won’t.

Thirdly, contrary to what you might have read about polyamory, people do have reactions to their partner sleeping with other people regardless of how seasoned they are. A lot of the literature around polyamory makes it seem like the ideal is to have a positive emotional reaction to your partner sleeping with someone else — and some people do experience it. But some people can and do have negative reactions every single time or only have negative reactions to start out when they are rebuilding trust with their partner or starting a new relationship and find these negative reactions cool as time goes on and trust gets built up. But then, something really bad could happen in your life that makes it harder to cope with this.

It’s during times like this that I recommend people go back to the benefit they get out of polyamory as a sort of anchor that reminds them of why it is they’re coping with temporary negative feelings. Similar to having children — it’s not always a joy all of the time but the benefits for some can outweigh some of the negatives. And this is where, if your only benefit is just keeping this relationship, is going to fall through.

Because the relationship you want to keep and the structure you held onto is fundamentally different. I would be worried less about whether or not you will experience negative feelings because it’s incredibly likely that you will, especially given the betrayal you’ve been through, and more worried about if you have the anchor you need to get you through the negative feelings that will inevitably come.

Lastly, as I’ve said in my other columns, non-monogamy can and sometimes often does come through infidelity and betrayal. It’s very possible your wife is naturally non-monogamous but never knew these were options. What makes the difference in survival of the relationship after has a lot to do with the core reason why the person cheated and their behaviour afterwards. Is your wife apologetic about the infidelities she’s committed? Has she committed them because they were “forbidden” and that was the draw for her? Or is it because she feels like she wants more experiences in her life? Does she actually want polyamory or has her experiences growing up made her feel fearful you will eventually cheat on her so she is feeling driven to do it before it happens to her?

It’s hard for me to answer these questions for you because these are things she needs to explore and talk to you about these reasons and fundamentally you need to come to an understanding together of what it is you both want, how far you’re both willing to compromise on this, and what solutions are available to you both before she either cheats again or you decide to call it quits.

In summary

Fundamentally in this instance, there’s a lot for you both to explore. For you, you need to really think about your wants and that might be hard for you if you’ve only ever been in this relationship and don’t have any other relationships to compare this to. But try and dig deep and ask yourself if you have any curiosities about pursuing relationships or sex with others or if you like to have more alone time and can find another reason, other than trying to save this ship, for having an interest in non-monogamy that can ground you.

For her, she needs to explore more of why she’s cheated. If she’s only done it because it’s a thrill because it’s a secret, even non-monogamy isn’t going to help out in that instance. Can she figure out what kind of relationships she wants? Does she want multiple romantic relationships or is she looking for just other sexual experiences. Once she has a better idea of her motivations and why she’s done things, you’ll know exactly what kind of non-monogamy you’re looking at, how that might differ from the current life you have together and whether or not you want to make that compromise.

I don’t think you should immediately call it quits but there’s a lot to work out here before you really know if it’s worth it to try non-monogamy. Equally, don’t be sucked into a sunk cost fallacy. Just because you’ve spent a long time together doesn’t mean you should always be together. But it’s hard for me to tell you whether or not it’s going to be worth it if you haven’t worked through some of these core issues together. I’d definitely suggest seeking the help of a non-monogamy friendly relationship therapist who would be able to help you both explore these issues and work out whether there is an inherent incompatibility or if there are compromises you both can make that will help.

Lastly, I’d definitely suggest checking out the index of my articles as I’ve got a whole section on infidelity and you might find some other scenarios which are more similar to yours, some options such as sex work and swinging that could address sexual incompatibility that don’t go as a far as polyamory, and some other ways to address this.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Do you have a question?

If you have a non-monogamous relationships question to ask, please email it to nonmonogamyhelp@gmail.com. Your question will be posted anonymously.

To read new columns, subscribe to the newsletter or follow us on Twitter.

If you would like to support me and get these columns early, please become a Patron or make a PayPal donation. Patrons get access to podcasts and columns 5 days before they are posted.