I don’t have an issue with polyamory as a concept or as a freely chosen relational style for people who want it. However, when it’s being forced into your relationship, it’s a very different story. I was crying myself to sleep at night while he was pursuing “deep and meaningful connections” with other women. Looking back, I can see many signs of where we were headed… or where he wanted to be headed in our relationship.
Still, I wasn’t prepared. He came into our room one night and said, “I need to tell you something,” before revealing that he needed more: more relationships and connections and intimacy with other women. Worst of all, he wasn’t asking – he was issuing ultimatums. Here’s how I responded.
I went into shock.
I didn’t understand how my husband could be saying these words to me seriously. It wasn’t a subject we’d talked about over the years. It had never been a thought or a theory, much less an option. At least, not for me. We had been married a dozen years. We had kids. We were a committed, monogamous couple with a family. A large part of my brain kept denying that this could be really happening. It seemed to come out of nowhere. I was in a state of disbelief and, for a while, I wasn’t even able to feel hurt or angry because the shock just made me numb.
I obsessed over our history.
The entire story of our relationship was crumbling. I needed to understand. What could be causing this? Where was it coming from? When had it started? How long had he been unhappy? What had I missed? How had I missed it all so badly, for so long? I was looking for the core issues, the heart of what was going wrong in our relationship. I needed an explanation. I was desperate for reasons that would make sense and could give me some kind of hope. I didn’t want to believe he was serious. I kept telling myself this wasn’t what he really wanted, it was a cry for help, and I would answer.
I tried to fix what was broken.
It’s not bad to work on issues in your relationship; relationships take work. Sometimes you do need to fix things. But when the thing that is wrong is your partner no longer wanting to be faithful to you, exclusively, there’s not much you can do about it. I didn’t want to face that truth, so I dug around. I tried to find issues I could fix in a desperate bid to try to save my marriage.
I dove into denial.
I invented a lot of stories to make sense of what was happening in a way that made it less awful than it really was. My ex provided me with plenty of angles, and I used them. I kept myself from facing reality by not telling anyone what was really going on. I isolated myself to avoid hearing what I didn’t want to hear from people who would cut through the bullsh*t.
I began to compromise.
Compromise and cooperation are healthy parts of a healthy relationship. But when your partner asks you to betray your own values, that’s not healthy. When your partner asks you to participate in something that goes against who you are as a person, that’s a big problem. He wasn’t asking me to compromise in a way that worked for both of us, or find a solution we could both feel okay about. He was demanding and threatening. And even though I still drew my lines, and kept myself from situations I didn’t want to be part of, I compromised on what I tolerated from him.
I focused on survival.
After so many years together—from a young age, too—I had no idea what it would be like to be on my own. Starting over seemed impossible. The idea of splitting up was terrifying and heartbreaking. I didn’t know how to cope with it. So I held on by my fingernails to what we had, as bad as it had become. I let him get away with a lot of sh*t, because I was afraid of losing him and breaking our family apart.
I diminished my pain.
I repressed my own hurt because I was trying to survive. I was making excuses and rationalizing things for him, instead of paying attention to my own pain. I listened and tried to understand his needs, when I should have been expressing how betrayed I felt. I was devastated, heartbroken, confused, angry, and so hurt. But I kept trying to be mature, to contain my emotions, and to be “the bigger person” so we could get through the crisis and save our marriage.
I believed his bulls**t.
I didn’t listen to my own gut instincts. I tried it at first; I did try. But I got lost in the confusion and hurt and pain. I let him give me excuses without taking responsibility. I accepted his half-assed apologies that came without any genuine remorse for the pain he’d caused. And I let myself hope when there was no actual progress or change. I looked at surface-level things and tried to believe that things were healed, even when we had not dealt with the core issues.
I downplayed our problems.
Our marriage had never been perfect, of course. But I’d thought of the issues we’d had over the years as isolated, separate instances. Nothing was unforgivable. A lot of mistakes were understandable. I had my own emotional baggage and toxic traits, too. But when my ex began pushing for an open relationship, I started looking again. And that’s when things changed.
I saw the patterns.
I cared about my husband and he was unhappy in our marriage. He was clearly in pain. But my empathy for his pain was so deep I let him get away with deceiving, manipulating, and treating me badly. Until I finally began to trace the threads of his behavior back, and back, and back—and see that this wasn’t new behavior. It was simply a newer, more drastic version of how he had been treating me for a long time. And I had been tolerating it.
I stopped protecting him.
For a long time, I had told myself I was strong enough to handle it—whatever it was. I could handle life. I could handle a crisis. I could handle a lot of things, like my husband’s lack of responsibility. I protected him from the consequences of his own choices. I took control instead of getting out of the way and letting him deal with his own messes.
I stood up for myself.
I had been in a codependent loop for a long time; it made me feel secure to be needed. But I had not been taking care of myself. I was pushing myself to a breaking point, and I finally broke. It was the best thing that could have happened. I started talking to people I trusted. I started asking for help. They helped me gain the courage to say clearly what I needed and wanted in our marriage. They helped me set my own boundaries. They helped me understand that being deceived, manipulated, and pushed into something you don’t want is not acceptable treatment in any kind of relationship—monogamous or polyamorous.
I asked him to make a choice.
It wasn’t about issuing ultimatums. It was about being clear and honest, and asking for the same. What I wanted in our relationship had not changed; I wanted a committed, monogamous marriage. If he didn’t, that was his choice. But I deserved to get a clear answer, without coercion or blame. So I asked him to choose: monogamy with me, or polyamory….without me.
I made a choice.
He didn’t choose me, but I chose myself.
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