DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m writing to you because I think I have a problem with my girlfriend and I’m not sure how to solve it. First of all, English is not my first language so I’m sorry for any mistake in my letter.
I’ve been with her for 6 years and we moved together last year. It’s been great so far and we’re still very happy together, or at least I think we are. I’m not into the idea of marriage and family but, if I was, I’m sure she’d be the girl I’d want to spend the rest of my life with.
I think it’s perfectly normal for a couple that has been together so long to fall into a sort of “routine” and not be as passionately in love as one is in the first years of the relationship. We still have a good time together and have a regular sex life, we’re still very attracted to each other and the moving together part has been mostly good.
So my problem started a few weeks ago, when she first expressed the interest in seeing other people and having an open relationship. We discussed it a few times and she’s always the one to be more open and interested in the idea. I asked her if this was about someone else in particular and she said no, just that it was something she thought could be good for us and could “break the routine”, allowing us to have new experiences knowing that we will be stronger because of this.
She told me that she’s so sure about our relationship that she’s willing to do this because she knows she wants to be with me, it’s just about new experiences and not about me or any doubts about or relationship.
That’s all fine and it completely makes sense to me. I would potentially be interested in meeting other people and having an open relationship, but the truth is that it scares me. Rationally speaking, I know monogamy is against our nature as animals and it’s very hard to be with the same person for many years without feeling the need of exploring new things. On the other hand, I never considered open relationships to be a good idea, and there’s where I’d really love your opinion. I don’t know anybody who’s ever been in one, but I’m afraid it might lead to heartbreak, jealousy, trust issues and breakup.
My girlfriend and I agree on the need to establish some ground rules, like no exes or no close friends. One of the rules she suggested was “no sex, just making out or fooling around”. Do you think it would be better – or less hard to tolerate? Do you have specific advice about establishing rules?
I know it’d be hard for me, but I also want to say yes to my girlfriend and try to make it work, if that’s what she wants. She brought it up four or five times already, so I’m sure it’s something she’s really thinking about. The thought of her “wanting more” scares me and upsets me, but I don’t know if it’s just pride or the realistic chance of losing her. I want to be mature about this and enjoy all the positive aspects, but I just don’t know if something like this could ever end up well for the both of us.
Thank you for you time
Opening The Door
DEAR OPENING THE DOOR: One of the biggest – and most damaging – lies that we tell ourselves about relationships is that monogamy is natural and easy. We get told that if we really love someone, then we never think of anyone else and we never want anyone else. This cultural lie has caused more unnecessary emotional pain and trauma in relationships than… damn near any other myth we tell about relationships, really. The truth is that, we’re novelty-seeking mammals and part of the whole package is that we are literally built for multiple partners. Biological issue like the Coolidge Effect kick in and suddenly sex with the same partner doesn’t have the same zing as it did before; our brains don’t produce the same levels of dopamine and oxytocin during sex as it does with a new partner.
Now the fact that monogamy isn’t our default state doesn’t mean that it’s bad, or wrong… just that it’s difficult. It’s perfectly normal to want to sleep with other people, no matter how much you love and desire your partner. A monogamous commitment just means that you choose not to.
But monogamy isn’t for everyone and that 7-year itch isn’t entirely BS. For a lot of people, there comes a point where they may love their partner… but they also want to sleep with other people.
And that’s where your girlfriend seems to be, OTD. She’s made it pretty clear that she really wants to open things up. So clear that, honestly, I’m wondering if the next time the topic comes up, it’ll be as an ultimatum, instead of a request. You, on the other hand, are pretty sanguine about it. In theory, yes, it’s an opportunity for you too. In practice, it may not be. In general, it can be easier for women in open relationships to find partners than it is for men. Women tend to be a little more cautious around men who claim to be open or poly, for good reason; many a woman has found out after the fact that the other partner in the “open” relationship had no idea about the arrangement. Men… tend to not care quite as much.
But that aside… what are the risks to your relationship? Will opening things up lead to jealousy or heartbreak? Could it lead to the end of your relationship? Sure, that’s a possibility… but then again, that’s a possibility in a closed relationship, too. Monogamy isn’t a Protection Against Break Ups spell; closed relationships fall apart just as readily and often as open ones.
By that same token, however, the same things that help preserve a closed relationship are the same things that preserve an open one: communication, intimacy, communication, gratitude, sex, and communication.
Does this mean that opening things up is a good idea for you? That’s harder to say. Just as monogamy isn’t for everyone, neither are open relationships. It takes a high level of trust and open communication to make an open relationship work; because it involves other people and the thrill of the new, it’s easy to inadvertently let your main relationship suffer while you’re caught up in that New Relationship Energy.
It’s pretty clear that you’re not really keen on the idea. But at the same time, there have been plenty of couples who started off with one partner begrudgingly agreeing to things and then starting to love it themselves. Maybe that’s you. Maybe it’s not. Only you can say.
What I will say is that you two need to do a lot of research and talking before you agree to anything. Trying to open things up when you’re unprepared is a great way to do a lot of unintentional damage to your relationship. So you and your girlfriend need to do your due diligence and a hell of a lot of studying. I strongly recommend that you start with several books: Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickart, and Mating In Captivity by Esther Perel. The first two will help give you practical advice on the best practices with regards to opening up a relationship; the third will help you understand why monogamy can be such a challenge. I also recommend Building Open Relationships by my friend Dr. Liz Powell, which is available for pre-order.
If – and this is a mighty big if – you do decide to give an open relationship a chance, then start slow. Even if you think you’re ready for things, diving in head first is often a recipe for disaster. It can be incredibly demoralizing when your girlfriend goes out and immediately finds a partner, especially when you’re still getting used to the idea. Even just “fooling around”, might be enough to kick your soul in the nuts. Take baby steps at first: kissing and make-outs to start, and see how you feel. You may realize that you’re cool with it. Or it may be a kick in the gut at first, but with time and communication, you’ll find that you’re ok.
And it may be that you will have to ask your girlfriend to hold up while you look for a partner. If your relationship ends up functionally only open on her side, this can torpedo something that might work if things were more equitable. The fact that you are looking for a little strange doesn’t negate your responsibility to each others’ happiness and well-being.
Jealousy will happen. But if the two of you can communicate clearly, openly and with empathy and compassion, you can work through it.
This can be hard… but it could also be amazing. Only you will know if this is something that’s right for you. So do your research and do a lot of talking before you decide, one way or the other.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I recently went through an extensive security clearance update, and during that process (which, for my level of clearance is quite extensive) my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were investigated for various things.
During that investigation it was revealed that my brother-in-law had been having multiple affairs during the marriage and was currently carrying on another long term affair. I didn’t inform my sister-in-law immediately with the information, because at the time I didn’t think any good would come from it.
This week, this affair started to affect my husbands business in the form of a new secretary; she proceeded to tell everyone in the office all about her liaison with my brother-in-law, including customers. So my husband and I told my sister-in-law about the secretary… and all of the others.
Of course she has now accused us of lying and trying to profit from telling her. Not sure what we would be gaining…
Anyway, now my husband has disowned her, and I was thinking of just posting everything online and letting the chips fall where they may.
So my question is do I have someone secretly give her the photos, emails, texts, voicemail recordings etc. or do I just cut ties and let her figure it out on her own? You were definitely right when you said in a previous article that the wounded always “shoots the messenger”,even when it’s family. Any insight on how to repair this and move forward? Or is my husband right, and we should just cut ties and forget them and when my brother-in-law eventually leaves for the young girl tell her I told you so?
Caught In The Middle
DEAR CAUGHT IN THE MIDDLE: My advice is to stay the hell out of it, CitM. This is humiliating enough for your sister-in-law. It’s bad enough that her husband is cheating on her; having other people rubbing her nose in it just pours salt on an already gaping wound.
Your brother-in-law is already twenty pounds of jackass in a five pound sack and his current paramour isn’t much better. It’d be far better for your husband to apply the Chair Leg of Truth upside his brother’s head; not only is he treating his wife abominably, but it’s also spilling out into your lives as well.
But your sister-in-law, unpleasant as she may be acting right now, is the victim here. I’m not surprised that she lashed out the way that she did; she’s feeling hurt and humiliated. She’s having an entirely unsurprising reaction to humiliating news; accusing you of making it all up is a defense mechanism. It’s a way of trying to force this to not be happening. She’s being incredibly unpleasant, yes, but she needs sympathy right now.
Now, if you want to give her some leverage in the divorce proceedings that she really should be initiating… well, offering her the evidence will certainly give her a leg up on the guy who’s not only cheating on her but dragging everyone else into his mess. But otherwise: keep out of it. This isn’t your fight, and the petty satisfaction isn’t going to be worth the profound pain that you’ll inflict on her if you decide to say “I told you so.”
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)