Transitioning past infidelity
Hello, I'm new here and have only recently begun to connect to other poly folks (though I've been in poly relationships for many years) so please help me out if I'm misusing a term or missing the mark on something common.
I currently have one partner- we're co-parents of a teenager who is developmentally delayed and we 've been together (across a variety of different relationships) for 14 years.
We've been pretty good about coming to the table to hammer things out when our relationship grows beyond the contract and needs an update but he's been terrible at respecting our agreements. For many years, we had a primary relationship and were simply "open" (meaning that we could date others openly as secondary relationships). Then, about 4 years ago, I was having a really hard time with my family of origin, neither of us were seeing anyone else (unusual timing for us) and our son's needs escalated. I asked for temporary monogamy (asking him to please not date anyone or bring anyone new into our family situation until things got a bit more under control). He agreed but immediately started a relationship with someone at work. He kept it a secret for about 2 months, though I knew something was up, and when I found out (NOT through him telling me), I asked to meet her. Well, she was actually pretty horrible- made fun of our son!- so I said, "You know what? No. I am not okay with this person having anything to do with you or our family as a whole." He took this really hard and never really seemed to understand that he had violated his promise and that this was a betrayal.
We changed out agreement to include a process through which we agreed that the other needed to meet someone BEFORE actual dating would happen. To sort of screen out folks and protect the family. We each did this for 4 years, though he never bothered to meet the women I dated- just gave blind approval. I veto'd one woman and encouraged and welcomed others for him.
Last February, I sensed something cooking between him and a student of his. The way he talked about her, it was obvious. So I asked more and, after considering the age difference, power differential, and the fact that she had told him about some pretty serious unprocessed trauma from childhood sexual abuse from her foster dad, I told him very clearly that he was not OK'd to pursue anything with her. He agreed and seemed to understand her vulnerability and why it wouldn't be a great idea. Last Friday, I found out (again, he doesn't tell me stuff- I have to find out!) that he has been building a relationship with her, getting very emotionally intimate, and finally had sex with her. The past week has been an insane rollercoaster.
Here's where we're at right now: he and I sat down with her to break up with her (I wanted to be sure that she was supported and understood that she hadn't done anything wrong or inappropriate and he's just been very insensitive), she has accepted this and ceased contact (past a few understandable raging emails) and he and I have renegotiated our agreement to be a closed group. It's just the two of us right now and lots of healing needs to happen before we move forward but both of us very much want to find a woman in the future to share our life with. For the me, this new agreement addresses a need I've been more and more aware of- for a third member of our marriage rather than just these casual dating scenarios on the side. For him, it might mean... well, I guess I am not really clear on what it means to him. After so much deception, I'm finding it really hard to trust anything right now.
So my question that I hope y'all can help me with is this: How might we move forward? I have a sense of how we can heal the trust issues between us but the idea of him bringing someone in is uncomfortable to me because of his poor judgement. Also, how DOES a couple go about dating women seriously? I feel like we've really stepped through a door here and I'm very excited and hopeful for our future but wow do I feel dumb about this all of the sudden!
The story you told is really about your partner constantly breaking the agreements both of you have made. Do I have this right? If so, it's time to have a serious chat about it. See if the chat moves him to be honest from then on. If it does, great.
If it doesn't, then your next move is to accept the fact that who he is right now is the best you're going to get from him. Is this enough for you? If you ever get to the point where you ask that question, and answer it with "no, this isn't enough for me", it'll be time to make some decisions for yourself. You can't change others. You can only change you. I wouldn't bring his dishonesty into a more complex poly situation than you already have. That's a recipe for a bigger mess.
You have no ethics framework. Not any that I can tell. There's how I roll.
In my book? It would be game over. He's used up his 3 strikes you are out already on the same issue -- the NOT keeping of promises.
Do NOT promise me X then! You have the responsibility to KNOW and STATE your wants, needs, and limits. Don't agree to what is beyond your limit! Ask for a change in the contract, renegotiate limits, deal with it WITH me. Not promise X just to shut me up, just avoid dealing with it, and then you cannot keep the agreement and we end up in the argue-y place.
Have you tried pro counseling?
Because really? If he can't stop lying? Not keeping his promises? I don't have much hope here on your running a successful 2 people marriage (the closed polyship of 2) much less a larger polyship with him with other people in the mix.
You can't play right with a liar/promise breaker constantly shaking up your emotional safety.
I am so sorry you are going through this. I do not envy your position. It's rough. :(
Thank you both for replying!
It could be difficult to understand why I would stay with him and want to continue to work and build when he has this history. I wasn't 100% sure what to include initially but I can see now that perhaps it's important to highlight a few other things.
I deeply love this person and he is my only family (I'm strongly estranged from my family of origin- they are a very toxic system). I emotionally distanced myself from him after the initial betrayal 4 years ago because I have self-respect and didn't want to put myself in the position of being vulnerable to someone I couldn't trust. Yet, we have a delicate family situation (raising a special needs teenager without much support) and I wanted to act in the best interest of our son. I'm pretty clear that this was a good decision- it would have been incredibly hard on our son on many levels if we'd split households. So, we've been sleeping separately and co-habitating as co-parents with this veto option in place as a means of protecting who has access to our son and our home.
Then, last fall, my partner realized that he has some fairly serious issues and finally sought help and was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. Luckily, one of the best treatment centers that specializes in this is in a nearby city and he has been working very hard with a team of therapists for almost a year. The change has been amazing! Yet, it doesn't happen overnight and I believe that his lapse in judgement concerning this young woman (and deceit that covered it up) was an example of a huge step backward in reaction to feeling panicked about having made so much progress.
In short- I have a lot of reasons to believe that trust can be rebuilt and while it's hard to articulate these reasons, I've been really clear with myself about my own needs and boundaries. Now, after this situation has blown up, we are romantically and sexually together again and this past week has been almost constant communication, working things out as they arise, and the depth of our intimacy is something I wouldn't have believed possible.
It will probably be at least a couple of years before we will be ready to welcome someone new but it's a really important piece for me that, as we are laying the foundation of this new relationship, the expectation of a third person is built in.
It's also worth mentioning that another factor that has changed this year is that I've transitioned genderwise. Before, I was trying to have a relationship with him as a gender that I am not and this really prevented a lot of intimacy and authentic connection. Now, as myself, I'm able to share myself with him in a completely new way and he responds to me differently than when I was presenting as a female.
SO... yeah, lots of factors and it's a lovely jumble of human experiences.
My question remains about how does a couple go about dating/ finding a mutual third? It's going to be a while but I want to be thinking about it now.
You have a lot more details going on there then -- between teen son with challenges, and then DH's mental health challenges, and your own gender transition challenges.
Any one of those is a biggie, but so many at the same time. How is your stress? His? Do you do anything for that?
For me thinking about a third person in future has to start with YOU, and making yourself the best and healthiest you can be. Then working on making your rship with him the best and healthiest it can be.
Health people attract healthy people -- unhealthy people attract unhealthy people.
Maybe talk over the worksheets at opening up? http://openingup.net/resources/free-...om-opening-up/
Just as a touchpoint to start on?
See where you are all at and where you might need to go to strengthen skills?
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