How Polyamory Saved My Marriage
“Tell me, what bothers you more: the sex or the lies?”
He had cheated, again. We had been together for six years, married for three and I had spent more than half of that time questioning his faithfulness or picking up the broken pieces when I’d discovered another bout of infidelity. Our marriage was falling apart. Everyone close to me said I needed to leave him, to take the kids and go.
But I couldn’t give up, not just yet.
Counselling was a last-ditch attempt to salvage our relationship, something one of my closest friends had suggested after he went through a similar issue in his marriage. I assumed it would be like pulling teeth to get my husband to agree, since his pride was usually a major roadblock in addressing his infidelity. But to my surprise, he jumped on board and even found the courage to finally tell me how deeply ashamed of himself he was for hurting me. For a man who routinely communicated in grunts and one-word sentences, that confession was a big deal.
But after just a few sessions with our marriage counsellor, where I would dig up every time he had hurt me and he would repeatedly apologize, explaining that his discretions had been the result of loneliness and insecurity, we had come to an impasse. I was still hurt and resentful, he was scared of losing me. For the first time, I honestly considered the damage to our marriage might be beyond repair. Then, our counsellor posed a question: What bothered me more—the sex? Or the lies?
I didn’t even have to think about it. The moment the question left her lips, I knew: It was the lies.
Maybe the problem was monogamy
I also knew that he hadn’t been the only one lying. I had been lying, too—even to myself.
Blame it on being a child of divorce who optimistically wished for better, or on being force-fed Disney fairytales about Prince Charming, but the only happily ever after I could imagine was a monogamous one. My husband also grew up with the expectation that he’d find one perfect woman and settle down. But in reality, neither of us were built for this kind of relationship.
I had recently admitted to him (and myself) that I was bisexual and had been fantasizing about what it would be like to act on my attraction to women, to the point that I became less interested in sex with men. I also had three young children, a growing career and a husband whose work took him away for weeks at a time. The loneliness and need for affection was so strong, I engaged in emotional affairs with a few close male friends. But none of this had ever escalated to sex the way my husband’s indiscretions had, so it was okay, right? At least, that’s what I told myself until our counsellor asked that pointed question, and I realized there was more going on.
So, I decided to explore why people cheat, what non-monogamous relationships look like and why many couples are choosing to embrace this lifestyle. We went to seminars and watched docu-series. I read every book I could find on the topic, including The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt (who used the pseudonym Janet Hardy on the book’s first edition) and Love in Abundance by Kathy Labriola. And I realized that even though we had a beautiful, healthy sex life, before and even during his infidelity, neither of us could be everything the other person needed at all times.
We needed more from our relationship—but not in the way you think
This plays into what relationship expert and psychotherapist Ester Perel says about the reasons people cheat in her book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity. According to Perel, people in happy relationships cheat not because they want to leave the marriage, but because they want to leave the person they’ve become.
For us, this was truth. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t be a wife, mother, accountant, chef, business woman and kinky bedmate simultaneously. He couldn’t be a husband, father, financial provider, house manager, best friend and a romance novel-worthy lover every day. Taking away the hurt feelings his infidelity (and my emotional infidelity) allowed us to see that trying so hard to be everything the other person needed wasn’t working. Whether it was my lack of attention to his needs in the bedroom because I was so consumed with my duties as a mother and my growing need to satisfy my bisexuality, or his lack of affection and romance because he was too exhausted from working 12-hour days, we were both falling short of the other’s expectations. But more importantly, it gave us space to realize that those expectations are unattainable for most, even the happiest of couples.
I respect that many married couples will argue that that’s the way things are when you commit yourself to someone for the rest of your life. That not everything will be roses and rainbows. I don’t disagree. My husband and I haven’t had the perfect marriage—I don’t truly believe anyone has. But here’s the thing. We really only have three options when it comes to marital troubles: Get a divorce, try to make things better or plod along unhappily. We decided to try to find a way to make it work in a way that satisfied both our needs—and fostered respect, communication and honesty.
What polyamory is really about
It may have taken the near-destruction of my marriage to realize that monogamy was not a good fit for us, but this realization is also what opened my eyes to a growing community and lifestyle. Polyamory isn’t just about having multiple sexual partners. It’s not all running through a field of daisies and group hugs. It still takes work and understanding to navigate several relationships at once. At its core, being poly is about giving yourself the permission and opportunity to seek out and cultivate new relationships, whether they are platonic, romantic or intimate.
And for us, being poly meant opening a sorely needed line of communication. It allowed us to sit down and have a brutally honest conversation about what we really wanted out of our relationship and, ultimately, our lives. Finally, we could respectfully set boundaries and explore emotional and sexual avenues we had only just discovered.
Our journey to polyamory was not smooth or clear cut. We explored open relationships, swinging and being “monogamish,” all while checking in with each other to see what felt right and what did not. An open relationship gave us both the permission to have sexual encounters with other people, swinging provided the opportunity to explore sexual desires with other couples and being monogamish kind of blurred the lines between monogamy and ethical non-monogamy. The only thing missing were genuine emotional connections with our other partners. Something that, after a long time of discussion, we decided both of us wanted and needed. Ultimately, that led us to polyamory.
After that day in our counsellor’s office, we both did the hard work it takes to rebuild trust and be honest about what we needed to make our relationship work. We explored and played and took time to focus on just us. Four years later, we have grown together and separately. Yes, polyamory has allowed us to seek out and nurture other partners, but it has also given us the tools to strengthen, support and ultimately save our primary and most important relationship: our marriage.
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