Multiple relationships are the latest craze to sweep the dating world and my (now ex-)husband and I went along for the ride a few years ago. Unfortunately for us, our marriage ended up falling apart in the process. I still believe in open relationships, just not the way we did it back then. Here’s why it didn’t work for us.
Insecurities got the better of me. I’d struggled my whole life with low self-esteem and it was hard enough to know my worth when our relationship was closed. So when my husband started seeing other people, my insecurities just went through the roof. Is she prettier than me? Smarter? Better in bed? My fears ate me alive and ended up having my husband for dessert. I didn’t have enough of a hold on my own inherent value to feel safe from the comparisons I made in my head.
We didn’t know how to communicate. As it turns out, healthy communication skills are not something you’re born with and unfortunately, it’s not something most people are taught, either. You put two people together who have a lot of strong emotions but no safe ways of expressing them and you’re going to have a bad time. We constantly blamed each other for how we were feeling rather than taking responsibility for our emotions and working together to find a way to deal with them.
Slut-shaming was totally a thing, and it hurt. This was a rough one. We both grew up in very sex-negative environments and there was a fair amount of shame related to sex for both of us, so as you can imagine, opening ourselves up to multiple partners was a potential minefield. For my husband especially, the thought of me sleeping around ended up being too much for him to handle and he really struggled not to see me as ‘dirty’ or ‘devalued’ for having casual sex with a new lover. It actually put the brakes on our own sex life for a long while.
There’s no guidebook on how to handle something like this. Sure, there are great books like The Ethical Slut or More Than Two, but reading a book is very different to actually witnessing this kind of relationship in action. We’d never seen anyone else trying polyamory and unlike monogamy, there isn’t really one set way of doing things. I grew up with one set of rules and then suddenly tried to live by another, entirely different set. We had to figure it out as we went and that meant a lot of trial and error… emphasis on error.
Polyamory is much harder without a support network. The thing about being on the forefront of any new idea is that you’re probably the only person you know who thinks that way. That means when things go wrong, nobody else gets it. My monogamous friends had no idea what to say when I told them what we were struggling with and I felt totally alone. Much later, after my husband and I had already separated, I found a polyamorous, sex-positive community in my city. I finally realized how helpful it would have been to have a support network of people practicing the same relationship structure that we were.
There were no distractions from our situation, which meant we fixated on it. Polyamory and the struggles that we were experiencing throughout our journey became the biggest thing in our lives. We were both unemployed, living in a new city, without anything else to keep us occupied, so there was simply too much time to obsess over the little things. We got so caught up in the whole process that we forgot to have lives outside of each other and outside of polyamory.
Boundaries weren’t respected. There were many instances where I felt the need to move slower, where I was aware of my limits and what I was capable of handling at that point in time. Sadly, I felt that my husband didn’t understand those limits and I often felt very challenged to push past what felt right for me in that situation. Instead of advocating for my boundaries, I folded and our relationship suffered heavily for it. Too much too soon is not a sustainable way to expand your comfort zone. Unfortunately, I had to learn that the hard way.
I was emotionally dependent on him. Before we opened our relationship, I had unconsciously given my husband total power over my sense of self-worth. My image of myself was completely wrapped up in what he thought of me (or what I thought he thought of me). I could barely imagine life without him and the pressure of this got to be too much for him. The more dependent I was on him, the less he wanted to be with me and this spiraled quickly downwards.
The illusion of control was too tempting. In any relationship, whether exclusive or open, there are no guarantees, but the illusion of safety and control are much less often challenged in monogamy than in polyamory. This freaked me out and I spent a lot of wasted energy trying to grasp that illusion of control after we opened our relationship. I had a morbid curiosity for what my husband was up to with his other partners because I thought if I had enough information, maybe I would maintain some kind of control over the situation. Of course, that’s not how it works and it all ended in flames.
We weren’t healthy to begin with but I only see that now. The thing about disrupting your relationship structure is that you have to have good foundations from the start. We thought our relationship was rock solid but it turned out to be shaky from the ground up. I believe polyamory itself can never dismantle a relationship, but it can be a hell of a ride and if there’s anything that’s not working, it’s going to become very clear while you’re opening your relationship. For my husband and I, that meant all our unhealthy ways of relating to each other and ourselves that had previously been buried were suddenly on the surface and that’s what destroyed us in the end.
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