How to make a poly/swinger relationship work?
My current situation with my husband is a tricky one. We got married 3 years ago under the pretenses that it would be a monogamous marriage. Obviously, I found out during the marriage that I could not be exclusively monogamous (I mean, I could be monogamous if it just happened that way, but the main point was, I didn't want to feel like I "belonged" to any one person).
My husband and I sought counseling, and it helped a lot. He was able to accept me having a relationship with another guy, whom I've been dating for about 4 months. It's been going pretty smoothly so far.
My issue is that my husband is more of a swinger. He doesn't really want to be in a relationship, but wants to have casual, sexual encounters. And well, this would be ok with me, except he wants it to involve me, because it is easier for people to swing as a couple than for him to be a single guy trying to find other people to sleep with. I want to be able to cater to this, but at the same time, I open up sexually after I have made some kind of emotional connection with someone first, which usually takes a long time to happen for me. I am a sexually shy person.
I guess I'm worried if I can or can't be more sexually open with other people. And if I'm not able to be more sexually adventurous, what that could mean for my relationship with my husband. I'm not sure how to draw a line between being able to compromise, but also being aware of what I am really comfortable doing or not.
Another side note that worries me, when my husband and I were discussing opening up our marriage, it seemed pretty clear that he wanted things to feel balanced. While I understand this, in a way, it's hard to acknowledge because if it were the other way around (my husband in a relationship, but I wasn't), I wouldn't be looking to have a relationship to "balance" it out. And I wouldn't expect him to do something with me (like swinging) if he didn't want to. Polyamory to me isn't about settling the score or balancing the relationship. You meet and fall in love with people at random times, and your partner shouldn't be expected to find someone too. I just think my husband has a hard time understanding this. I do understand his needs, I'm just not sure if he understands mine sometimes.
Has anyone else had this kind of dilemma? Even if you haven't, does anyone have any advice or suggestions on how to go about this? Please and thank you :)
As I don't have a lot of advice (I mean I have one parent whos a swinger, one who's an ex-swinger/chronic cheater, but it's as alien to me as my being poly seems to be to them).
Is it being specifically requested that you swing with him to up his odds of having sex, or he's just said it would be easier and so its your idea to do that? I think everybody knows its pretty imperative not to have sex you don't want to have - the long term ramifications of doing so to please others is probably not worth it one bit.
Is he open to hookups on craiglist? Dating with the goal of finding a gf who will swing with him instead of you? (Have heard of some people doing that so everybody is getting their needs met and nobody is having to do something they dont want to) Nevertheless, if you are open to seeing if swinging would appeal to you, you could agree to go to a swing party and not get involved with anybody, to just check it out, with it being agreed that you'll see how you feel about it after the fact. It's certainly possible to go and just watch or wander around, or to end up having sex with each other but not other people there. I'd just make sure to set clear boundaries about expectations so you dont get pressured into anything you don't want to do.
My first thought, that Anneintherain already articulated, was that it sounds like the ideal situation would be for him to find a gf/FWB/playmate to swing with him. My understanding (I have no experience) is that swinging is, in general, fairly M/F couple focused, so guys operating solo are pretty much out - BUT, in a poly-type dynamic, I don't see why the female of the couple would have to be the wife.
A common mistake (that I have made myself a number of times) is to equate "fair=equal" - i.e. that both sides have to look the "same" in order to achieve "balance". I think the goal is for everyone involved to have the freedom/opportunity to have their needs met and live their lives in a way that they personally find fulfilling and satisfying. This does NOT mean doing things that you don't want to with in order to "make" your partner happy.
I'd make the analogy with some of the BDSM threads I've read here - say wife wants to explore BDSM but husband doesn't. In a monogamous situation this would mean that one or the other doesn't get what they want or they have to compromise. In a non-monogamous situation? Fine. She explores BDSM with someone else. In my mind, a good example of the "one person can't be everything to another person" idea.
To me it sounds like an open relationship would suit you better than swinging, i.e. both of you being able to pursue sexual/emotional relationships separately rather than as a couple. It is understandable that he would feel like it's imbalanced or unfair or that he would have better chances if you were with him. But those are his feelings to manage. They are not something you need to fix, and it is definitely not your responsibility to help him find partners.
If you feel like trying swinging, you can, but if you don't think it's for you, then it probably is not. You don't need to find compromise with him about that. It's cool that you want to be considerate to him, but whether you're comfortable or not is for you to decide.
I think both of you need acceptance for each other's agency in this. If you don't feel like swinging, you can totally decide not to. But also (whether you decide to swing or not), your husband has his own choices to make on whether, in the long run, he wants to be in an open/poly relationship.
Also, mutual decisions are something both/all parties are responsible for. Right now he has decided to open up and is deciding to stay with you and live with the fact that you have another partner. That is his decision. Even if you were the one who wanted to open up more, even if you were the one to realise you want poly only after you were already married. Still, in agreeing to stay with you and to open up, he agreed to the consequences. My point is, it is not something you are doing to him, it is something he agreed to. He is allowed to any feelings he may have, but it is not your responsibility to fix them just because you were the one who wanted to open up or are "getting more out of it". It is not a competition, it is a decision you made together and keep on making together everyday.
That is where the fallacy of thinking sometimes sneaks in. I know I have suffered from hinge guilt: that is, felt guilty for "making my partner feel bad" when he has felt jealousy (I talk about Alec, because this has been more of an issue in my relationship with him). But that is not actually what is going on. I am not making him feel bad. He has choices, and those choices have consequences. He has agreed to open relationship and then to poly (we used to be monogamous before). He didn't have to agree, but he did. Yet, you can't always foresee the consequences of what you choose. Thus, he may not have known at the time that he would feel jealous. That is why it is also something he keeps on choosing in staying in the relationship. I cannot fix his feelings and it is not my responsibility to do so even if I'm the evil selfish person who has more partners (=what society and culture and helpful acquiantances will tell us if given the chance). He has a choice. All I can do and should do is trust him to make the choice. That means, I trust him to do what he needs to do and what he decides is best for him. If he chooses to stay, I trust that his feelings are something he wants to handle. If they become something he cannot handle, something that is harmful to him, I trust he will choose to end the relationship. I trust him to protect himself.
Interesting thread and I saw a lot of my earlier-poly self in it. (Not that I'm an expert - I have only been poly for 2 years, with a 6-month open relationship previously).
Well, firstly, it's great that you're both willing to explore this kind of marriage together. Congratulations on that and on working through to this point.
Secondly... it's not an easy road ahead.
But, importantly, with some ground work and ironing out of creases... the potential of poly is wonderful.
The main things I will say about poly:
- jealousy doesn't always fade with time and experience.... don't be surprised if it rears its annoying head at the most random of moments
- different situations, circumstances, etc. can set off different reactions
- timing is everything.. if you experience a stressful life event, or if your relationship gets rocky, be careful to balance your poly pursuits
- it's all about trial and error... something didn't work? try something else
- it's also all about learning.... what you believe now, you may laugh at in 6 months
- the first 6-12 months can be rocky... NRE can make you act like a complete idiot... and you may upset each other needlessly whilst you are learning
- never ever feel more evolved, better, or more successful 'at poly' than your partner.... never treat them like they are lagging behind, if they struggle... being poly takes courage - struggles do not make a person weak: facing struggles makes them strong... always remember that and acknowledge each other's courage
Onto the specifics, then.... :)
It doesn't seem like a swinging situation would suit at the moment. But, your husband could consider solo casual sex activities. OKCupid is very poly friendly, for a start. So perhaps nudge him in that direction.
You are not a prude, or wrong, for not feeling good about swinging. You are you... you are who you currently are. Things might change in the future, or they might not. But the whole point of poly is to find *personal* fulfillment, travelling alongside an important partner who can help you grow.
If you need the emotional side filled with others right now, explore it. If he needs casual kinky sex, he should explore it. Put swinging on a wishlist for the future. Right now, he's probably clinging to, or even pushing, the idea because it enables him to feel 'ok with non-monogamy' whilst still dropping some of the guilt of being with someone else on his own - and still keeping that feeling of 'we're in this together'.
Reassure him that even if your sexual and emotional exploits are separate for now; you're even more together than ever, because you are choosing to take this path together.
The balance thing...
Oh yeah, we've all been there. Hahaha.
I used to bang on and on about wanting balance when my girlfriend had myself, her husband AND a serious secondary partner AND other guys here and there. I was convinced that if I had the same amount of partners, or one other partner to fill the same amount of time, everything would be even and wonderful.
Firstly, having other partners at the same time CAN be a massive pain in the ass. Sometimes you never see each other, because you're busy with secondaries on different days - secondaries rarely fall into place as easily as "well, you see your secondary on weekends and I'll see mine... that way we are never alone and are both occupied".
Also, the emotional side-effects and growing pains of poly can take their toll when dating at the same time. You start to do the comparison thing... you feel you've been the perfect poly partner, balancing, compromising, sacrificing, etc... whilst your other half has been swanning about on dates. Of course, they feel the same way about you. And if you're both experiencing jealousy/insecurity? Bam. Explosion. And if just one of you is? Confusion. "Why are they so damn jealous when I'm not jealous of them and they've spent way more time together this week" blah blah blah.... ;)
It might take your husband a while to admit to this... but I've realised that I wanted balance because I was afraid. Afraid to be the one who was shit at poly, because I was jealous or envious. Shit at poly because my girlfriend has all these other loves and I only have her. Afraid that if I didn't 'Start Being Poly', I'd be developmentally behind my girlfriend. Afraid of being by myself.... afraid of facing my emotions and working through them without the distraction of another person.
BUT... and I can't stress this enough....
This fear does NOT make your husband weak.
Your husband is doing what all of us do - feeling a subconscious fear and clinging to something safe to get us through. He probably doesn't even realise he's doing it. I didn't, until about a year later. And sometimes - crutches actually help. There's nothing wrong with wanting to ease in gently and be kind to yourself. It's actually good in many ways, because it is the opposite of reckless behaviour - which can be far more damaging.
My girlfriend said something to me a few months ago that really hammered home. She'd been dating like a freaking maniac and I was feeling The Void. So I went and found myself another girl to fill the time. My girlfriend pointed out that maybe I could use these times for reflection and growth, instead of distraction and hiding. She was right.
However, all of this being said....
There will be another reason your husband is wanting to find balance.
I was crying out for this when I kept banging on about 'balance' and my girlfriend just couldn't see it.
He is very, very likely finding a void, when you are engaged in activity or communication with your boyfriend.
He might be feeling like you're less interested in having sex with him, less interested in cuddling him, that you don't text him like you used to.... or whatever...
Have you asked him about that?
It can be very, very easy to think that the only good thing about poly for yourself is to get some action yourself. In truth, I think that's only half of the real value. Now that I can embrace my quiet times, when my girlfriend has a lot of other love, I've learnt to appreciate self-growth as a benefit for myself. When I date people, I learn how it feels to be on the other side of the fence and learn how to balance, etc. Hopefully your husband will see that at some point too.
As for your husband not understanding your needs... .that's a very important afterthought there. It's that kind of thing that can cause massive, slow-growing, wedges in marriages over time.... because wonderful, new, sweet, sensitive guy will come along and make you feel so very understood.... To get our needs met and understood, we basically have to bang on about them in different ways until it clicks. So you may want to talk to him about that... and also make sure that you are listening to his needs... (which may NOT be the need to swing.... but those other underlying things we just talked about....)
Thank you everyone for your replies, they were really helpful.
I will mention that I did go to a swinger's club with my husband once. It was a little overwhelming, but I didn't have a bad time. I'm glad I gave it a chance, and I am considering going back. I told my husband that he really needs to work at my slow pace, and he seems ok with that.
The idea to swing was my husband's idea as a way to "balance" things. He did not want to be empty handed while I saw someone else. I told him that saying that offended me to some extent, as if he was saying that having just me wasn't enough. And I told him that seeing other people had nothing to do with him not being enough. My relationships with other people are a separate thing (unless otherwise specified). I have the capacity to love more than one person, but it doesn't mean I love one person more than the other. But I do think my husband does have that fear that he isn't enough and that I have to look elsewhere to get what I want. I have told him time and time again that it is not the case, and I really try my best to comfort him that our relationship is fine and that I'm happy.
However he really has his heart on swinging, which I am fine with. I'm just worried if I will be able to swing with him. I did suggest that maybe he try to find a girl to have casual sex with on his own, but he doesn't sound very interested in doing that. I think he really wants me to be involved too. To some extent, it's flattering that he wants me to be around, but at the same time, I want to encourage that it WOULD be ok if he wanted to have sex with someone without me.
I guess another thing I should mention is that part of the reason why I am sexually shy is that I have not had many sexual partners as it is. I have had sex with my husband, and just recently my other partner. That is my sexual history.
I don't have a lot of sexual experience, and especially the last time I went to the swinger's club, people seemed really into it and comfortable with everything. I want to feel that brave, but it feels like a lot of pressure to perform for someone else, and I think that overwhelms me.
Anyways, I do realize this is a slow process, and that change won't just happen overnight. I am willing to be patient, and willing to learn what works and what doesn't. I think my main fear is that I won't be comfortable with swinging, and I am worried about the problems that will cause for me and my husband when I'm dating someone and my husband feels empty handed. I realize that is not my responsibility and I shouldn't feel bad about that, but I do want to be mindful of hubby's feelings too. I don't want to disregard what he wants, but I want to feel comfortable saying no, of course.
I plan to keep communications open, and try to keep checking in with how comfortable things are feeling. Thanks again for your replies!! I'll probably keep updating as things arise.
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