She Said, He Said: Be honest with yourself first about opening your marriage
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My wife and I have been together for four years and going into the relationship, I was aware of her bisexual past. When she committed to a life with me, she said that she was both emotionally and physically fulfilled by our connection and ready to fully commit to me. In the past few months, she has hinted at the idea of bringing a good female friend of hers into our relationship, not just for sex, but for a long-term polyamorous experience. This is uncharted territory for me and I was hoping you could guide me through the process of making a decision on whether I’m ready for something like this.
Lori and Jeff: Most research on polyamory estimates that 4%-5% of Americans are embracing ethical non-monogamy, and there is little difference in regard to age, ethnicity and even religion. But research also shows that consensual non-monogamy, like the polyfidelity structure your wife is proposing, carries emotional risk.
Lori: First and foremost I have to address the stereotypes that bisexual partners are less able to commit or are incapable of monogamy. Many bisexual adults want monogamous relationships and are as capable of choosing and being faithful to one partner as heterosexual individuals. With that said, there are some who feel that a traditionally monogamous relationship would be too great of a sacrifice because they would miss the ability to emotionally or sexually express themselves with the other gender. Perhaps your wife wasn’t completely honest with herself when she married you.
But there is another very important possibility that also has to be explored here. Many partners (straight and queer) in long-term relationships experience marriage disenchantment when they realize their partner isn’t making them whole. No one can check all of the boxes and fill all of the voids, and more importantly, that’s not the job of intimate relationships. Before bringing in a third, your wife has to get clear on exactly what is missing. If she’s trying to fill the gaps in her relationship with herself by bringing in more partners, she will never be satiated. If she’s not feeling seen or loved in the ways she wants, there’s work to be done for her as an individual and for your marriage.
Jeff: If you asked this question to a group of men, most would probably say you’d be an idiot not to at least give it a try — especially if you find your wife’s friend to be attractive and have some kind of affinity for her. While the fantasy of a long-term ménage à trois may be appealing, there are many other elements to consider. Many men we’ve worked with have discussed the challenges they face in fulfilling the emotional needs (and sometimes understanding the sexual needs) of their female partners. Having an additional player in the relationship may seem like a welcome relief from the burden of responsibility to meet those needs for your wife. On the flip side, it might also create a sense of shame or guilt if you end up feeling as though you’ve failed to meet those needs for her yourself. If you’re OK sharing that responsibility with another partner, then it might be worth giving the new arrangement a try.
Another consideration is whether or not your own emotional and sexual needs are being met. How would this additional partner impact this dynamic? Might a third person add to your sense of relational fulfillment? Or could there be a fear of losing out to a stronger connection between your wife and the new lover, leaving you feeling like the third wheel?
Lori and Jeff: It’s possible your wife wasn’t aware of her needs when she married you, but she did make that commitment. You have a right to say no. Don’t make the same mistake that she did — be honest about what you want and need. If you do choose to open your marriage, trust, communication, transparency and boundaries will be imperative to hold it all together.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
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