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An "other" wo/man: infidelity, open relationship, or separation

I am sixteen years into my monogamous relationship, and I am thirteen years into my marriage.  In these past years, I feel lucky there have been no other love interests on my end, and I am not aware of any other love interests on my partner's end.  There have been close friends who have decided to open their relationship to others.  There have been people close to us who have opted to have extramarital affairs.  In some cases, the affairs have become known to all parties.  In some of these cases, they have decided to stay together.  In other cases, they have decided to separate or divorce.

Many of these scenarios have occured in relationships that are over the decade mark, and some of these relationships are closer to the two-decade mark.  

What I wonder about recently is: is this part of our progression in a relationship?  Is want for "another" a reality for many as a relationship stretches into the decades?  I became all the more curious when we received a media pitch from a company that promotes itself as a "discreet social network for men and women seeking secret affairs."  I found myself wondering whether I am in the minority and whether we adults are increasingly looking for new partnerships and connections, especially after our relationships stretch into the decades.


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Interesting question. We are 14 years into our relationship, 11 of them married. Neither of us have had interests beyond each other. We made a conscious decision when we got married to be each other's partner for life - through good and bad, sickness and health, and all that jazz. Communication and honesty are paramount for us, and to me, having an "other" anything just doesn't fit within those values, which are so central to our marriage. As with anything in life, marriage is work. You will have times you love your partner and can't live without him/her, and times when you feel like things just aren't working. To us, marriage means a commitment to get through those bad times. It's not always easy, but it's worth it.

That said, marriage isn't a one size fits all proposition. To each their own...

I must tell the truth: We human beings are selfish. There is no other explanation. It is only selfishness that causes one to reneg on the marriage vows simply because he/she desires someone other than their partner for life. Marriage was made to stand forever. No one else is to share in the bond that a man has with his wife. As the comment above states, marriage is not for everyone nor (I add) is it to be trifled with (married today, divorced/cheating tomorrow). This is a delicate subject for all of us, married and single alike. Questions such as what is appropriate, acceptable, permitted, etc. arise all the time in the context of marriage. The answer is simple: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they two shall become one flesh" Genesis 2:24. "Husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it." "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them." Ephesians 5:25; Colossians 3:18, 19.

Eh, been alive long enough to know that there's a really wonderfully diverse world out there full of good people with complex lives...OP, I think you're on to something, but I wonder if it's not length of relationship but stage of life, or changes in people's paths.

That said, I've moved in the opposite direction: from a youth of conscious, deliberate, consensual polyamorous temporary relationships, to a conscious, deliberate, consensually monogamous marriage.

This has zippo to do with philosophy and everything to do with practicality, (current) need for stability and clarity, and our insecurity about raising children w/in a poly setting.

Well, that and, frankly, who the h(@k has the time to even THINK about "extracurricular" activities when sleep deprived for years and years on end...
(I know the answer--plenty of people. Just not us. We're time-crunched as it is...)

Ha! "who has time to even THINK about extracurricular activities..." True! My husband and I have been together for almost 7 years, married for the past two, polyamorous from the very beginning. Our opportunities to associate one-on-one with each *other*, let alone other lovers, are very limited, with daughter #2 having just arrived on the scene. :-)

My husband and I are committed, intimate life partners and coparents, through sickness, health, rich, poor, etc. etc. I've heard enough people imply that open relationships must necessarily *not* allow for that to want to just give a shout out that, hey, actually they can coexist quite nicely! (Commitment/intimacy and conscious non-monogamy, that is.) @JG, I'm glad the Bible works as an authority for you in your own life. However, to say that the answer to how to run your marriage lies in several Biblical quotes is to make the vast and erroneous assumption that everyone else is affected by your belief that the Bible should prescribe how to live their lives. (And if some are, then fine - as you are, they're still just listening to something that's true *in their own hearts* that's touched by that belief, just as I am listening to my own heart in living the life I live.) There just is no umbrella belief that is true for everyone, no matter how many people say, "This is universal truth, because it is so."

I wish there was a much larger uncloseted poly community that was family-oriented. To be able to raise children surrounded by an open-minded community that not only acknowledges but supports poly parents just as it might support GLBTQ parents would be an amazing thing.

I'm largely with Anotheranon on this one---not gonna judge on either end of the spectrum, but.....

1) Our family is blended faiths and largely agnostic, with periodic curiosity about other religions and philosophies, so the bible definitely won't be guiding us.

2) The poly lifestyle just isn't for us, we're entirely too conventional and, as noted above, to me it would seem to just overcomplicate everything.

But, it is also true humans aren't really hardwired for monogamy, so being and staying monogamous requires work and commitment. I'm also of the opinion that an isolated case of infidelity doesn't necessarily spell the end of a marriage, just it's a sign the marriage needs working on.

I also think that committing to one another is very important, BUT it's also okay to have crushes, so long as that's how far they go. Fun note: I had a huge crush on a co-worker for awhile, which my husband knew about. They met at a work function. My (very hetero) husband smirked, "ohhhhh, so that's your boyfriend! Can't say I blame you, he's really hot."

And as for this working, we've been together almost 23 years, celebrating our 21st wedding anniversary next month.

And I do think most people don't have open marriages---because it generally creates too much jealousy, complication and confusion

I feel similar to the OP so i am somewhere in the middle of the two extreme views from here: the bible and sleeping around. As someone said, bible is not an authority for everyone. As for having an open relationship while raising children together - I am not convinced this is healthy for the children. How will they learn how to build a committed relationship when they see parents go separately on dates with strangers?

I'm in a conventional marriage (15 years, plus another 6 of dating prior) and both of us are monogamous (at least I know I am!). And, that is the expectation for our partnership.

As the years and experiences go by, I'm struck by the beauty and depth of our relationship, but also by how mind-numbingly mundane it can all be. Beyond my family and a few close, long-time friends, my partner knows me better than anyone else. Our lives and ourselves are woven together in ways that I share with no one else. And yet, I can understand why people might choose to have an open marriage or embark upon an infidelity. To open yourself up to new love (or sex) seems pretty damn exciting. And, after all, as far as we know, we only get one ride on this journey. It would be especially great for my partner, as he is still very interested in sex and, honestly, I'm really not all that into it anymore. Sometimes I think I should free him up a bit to participate with someone who would be equally into it.

But, I'm pretty sure that neither one of us could handle the other being so intimate with someone else. I know that we are being "possessive", but there it is. And so, we stay committed and we stay monogamous. I try to make a little more time in bed for my hubby, and he tries to lower his expectations. It's not perfect, but it's working.

Re: the OP's question: I think that after you are together for awhile, especially if you've had kids and said kids are now starting to take a bit less energy than they did when they were 5 and under, you can suddenly have some extra time and energy on your hands. And, if you've grown apart during early childrearing (which is easy to do), it might be pretty easy to allow yourself to seek greener pastures. That's why I think you see a trend of couples in decade-plus relationships exploring these options.

I guess I wouldn't have thought to answer this post, but the last comment was a great introduction. An "almost there" for our situation.

anon said "I think that after you are together for awhile, especially if you've had kids and said kids are now starting to take a bit less energy than they did when they were 5 and under, you can suddenly have some extra time and energy on your hands. And, if you've grown apart during..." The strange truth for us is slightly the opposite. After 3 kids, we couldn't be closer. Monogamy forever almost feels... lazy?

And so we brought others into our lives. We found a person who was willing to join us in our private life, and it was very (very) exciting for a little while.

But good lord, did it then become difficult. It's nice to think of ourselves as not the jealous type... as not the possessive type. Its nice to believe we have the confidence in our partner not to leave us for someone else. But New Relationship Energy is real (that stuff that makes you giddy and makes pop music make sense) and when your partner has it with someone else it is TERRIFYING. And we are all human.

Its said that none of us have a finite cup of love on our bedside table -- that we don't run out after giving it to one spouse and three kids -- but we do have a finite cup of time. And time is attention, and that new relationship energy sucks up all the attention.

And so then there are conflicts, and misunderstandings, and make-ups, and miscommunications, and unmet expectations. Where there was one relationship there are now three, and the lowest relationship state drags everything down. Relationships become work, and each person now has two or three times the work they had before. You may feel like you are drowning in regret. You ask yourself, "who did I think I was that I could do this?"

But you make it. Together. And you learn things about each other that you never knew. You learn to love your partner for giving you trust and freedom you had never believed possible. Trust and freedom you would never even give yourself. You learn to gain happiness from your partner's glee and happy, even if it's not with you. And in the end you have found new ways to love each other. You have a stronger, better love for each other than you had in the beginning.

"Poly" folks face a little of discrimination too. Consenting adults, right? But the "sister wives" or "an affair for hippies" comments aren't hard to miss. You don't "come out", but others figure it out, and then they gossip. What we do is perceived as a threat to traditional modern values, which would have us divorce, try and turn our children against each other, and watch TV.

"And, after all, as far as we know, we only get one ride on this journey." I don't know if I agree with that... who knows? But lets make the most of what we've got just in case. To be truly happy, I think you have to know that you struggled for what you have. That you earned it, built it yourself. This marriage could have been easy... but then would it be as good?

I expect our kids will not easily understand what they see, and how to live their lives. But they do see two parents who are still together, who have never lied to each other, and who live in each others happiness. Someday perhaps they might understand the struggles we have put ourselves through. What else would anyone have us show them as a realistic lesson for life? I sure wouldn't show them a fairytale lifetime monogamy. That would be lying to them.

Carol, that was a powerful post, thanks for sharing.

Thanks for sharing, Carol! I wrote the post that triggered your response. I have no judgments about people who choose a poly lifestyle, I just know that it probably wouldn't work for me. But, who knows, that could change! As I think I alluded to it, I've seriously thought about at least giving my husband the green light for extramarital exploration. I hesitate because I'm not sure I can take it, and I don't want to facilitate the end of our mostly happy partnership.

I also think that there are many ways to teach our children about love and life, and we all do the best we can and we all make mistakes. And, none of us know what will be meaningful to them in the end. Being real and honest with our kids is what's important; articulating our values and what's worked for us. They will all have to find their own ways anyway.

My parents got divorced when I was 15, so for me, it's been a priority to not have my chiid be put in that situation, if at all possible. That said, I wouldn't live in a chronically unhappy partnership just for the sake of my kid.

In all honesty, I"m not open enough with sex/intimacy to balance multiple partners. Even 20 years ago when I was in college, my friends were all experiencing multiple partners, while I chose serial monogamy. I love(d) sex and felt freely passionate with my partners, but could never be very casual about them or casual enough to sleep with multiples (or people who were sleeping with multiples). I'm keenly attuned to issues of male/female power (and trust), which has both tripped me up from an intimacy perspective as well as has kept me strong and whole. If that makes any sense.

These are 4 kind of disjointed paragraphs, but I don't have time to make them cohesive. Just some thoughts and reflections about where I am. Not a plug for any kind of fairytale, which I don't believe in!

I have been in a 16 year relationship (13 married) and feel very content with monogamy. That said, differences in sex drives and interests have been a very real stumbling block in our relationship. We are in a good place with that right now, but I doubt we are done with that particular challenge.

I've been reading and listening to Dan Savage a lot lately. He has pretty interesting things to say on this topic. I've started to realize that while our cultural norm is sexual monogamy, what might be more important to individual couples is their love, companionship, co-parenting etc. For some couples, having some outside extracurricular activities may sustain a partner who has a higher sex drive, unsatisfied kinks etc so that they can continue to be the loving companion, co-parent etc they want to be.

We haven't gotten to that point in our relationship (yet)...but we have a lot of years left. I feel like I'd actually be open to at least exploring the idea of an open relationship if we encounter further difficulties in the sexual arena if it would maintain my otherwise wonderful relationship. I think that my marriage works because we both work hard to find a way to meet each others needs, this really is just another way of doing that in my mind.

To be fair, sex ranks consistently in the top 5 things couples fight about, so unequal sex drives is hardly an unusual relationship problem. I personally feel that opening up your marriage to sex with other people is opening up your marriage to a lot of hurt, confusion, jealousy, anger and conflict. That didn't need to be there.

If you look, very few successful long term marriages are ones that swing. And ones that do, frequently have deeper issues and wind up ending.

I think theoretically one should love one's spouse so much that one sees it as "just sex" and would want one's spouse to be happy. However, the flip side of that is that one (and one's spouse) should love the other person so much that they don't want anyone else OR to risk making the other person unhappy.

And the truth is, most of us just aren't that unselfish on either level----so I can honestly say, while I don't judge other couples, I certainly have no plans to ever open MY marriage. And if my husband does, he'll need to hire a divorce attorney.

In the first few years after I met my husband, 23 years ago, we had several meet ups with other couples for just sex, and it was a whole lot of fun. Generally we swapped partners, and since we were both involved, it seemed to short circuit any jealousy we might have felt. There were no expectations of any sort of relationship beyond those nights. I hadn't thought about that in years before reading this port. After all the years of ups and downs, health crises and unemployment, we are now in a pretty good place and our kids are older. I might just bring that up again, and see if he has any interest...

Zumpie-It does seem to be the accepted narrative that people who have outside sexual partners ultimately break-up. The break-up is presumed to be either because of the open relationship or because of some underlying issues that the open relationship signifies. I guess I don't actually know if this is true or simply that the open relationships that we all know about are the ones that ended in divorce. This is pretty private stuff and I'm guessing most people don't discuss is widely if they're making this choice. Alaska's post certainly demonstrates that some people open their relationship at one point or another and it doesn't necessarily mean the end. I agree that it does seem a complicated and potentially difficult way to run a marriage.

Zumpie - "However, the flip side of that is that one (and one's spouse) should love the other person so much that they don't want anyone else OR to risk making the other person unhappy."
This is exctly how I feel! I can't even imagine telling my husband I am not as happy as I think I could be therefore he should let me have outside partners. Life is not all about me.

Eh, maybe I'm lazy on this one or too conventional but I want my kids to see two grown-ups struggling and loving through life together. Not a pair of butterflies that flit about with others and get possibly distracted about their priorities.

As a worrier by nature, and child of the 80s/90s, D.A.R.E. and many of the other scare tactics used to teach kids to avoid drugs/sex totally worked on me. All through high school and college, I was terrified of STDs and considered it a possibility that friends of mine in our small town high school might end up HIV positive due to their 'reckless' ways. (Highly unlikely, I now realize, but the hype worked on me!)
Like the OP, my spouse of 12+ years and I have recently learned of some friends who are in open relationships. All those old fears popped up for me when hearing that. And there are studies that show (though I have not delved deeply into them to see how valid they are...) that show that STDs rates are quite high in swinging relationships.
For me, it is challenging enough to navigate our lives with just one sexual relationship--I, personally, couldn't handle the rest.

@anon#3---while I always thought DARE was pretty silly, you're completely on to something. Along those lines, even in retirement communities, there are a lot of STDs (no risk of pregnancy, so fewer precautions, but meanwhile because women outnumber men so greatly, the dudes get around).

I had actually come across a similar piece pointing this out, so I'm glad you mentioned it. Additionally, what about pregnancy? Even if it isn't you (for whatever reasons), what if your spouse fathers a baby with the couple down the street.

All very real and, quite frankly, kinda creepy scenarios. Somehow, it seems like it would need to be some serious "great fun" to risk any of what you note OR the complicated feelings it might well create in your marriage or even for your children

It's true. If you've gotten to your 30s, 40s, or even 50s without knowing how to completely avoid STDs and pregnancy, you probably shouldn't consider consider sex as "great fun", let alone several partners. I consider the risk of the situations above extremely small. Essentially completely mitigated.

Dating when I was younger wasn't always "great fun", but we all did it and sometimes took bigger or more naive risks than we should have. It was worth it... I found some love and was loved in return. I have a feeling many of you did too.

No "creepy scenarios" then, and I'm a lot more careful now. No vilification necessary.

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