New Poly Relationship Trauma
New poster to the blog, new to poly, and new to a partner experiencing a break-up. Needing advice!
Iíll briefly tell our story. Iíve been married for over 15 years in a perfectly happy monogamous relationship. We have kids. In short, very happy life. And then I had an affair. I developed feelings for someone much younger than me. They developed over a 3-year period. During that period he nearly died, and that was when I realized I loved him. I waited about 6 months (due to distance) to tell him how I felt with no intention of it turning into an affair. I know that is hard to believe, and Iím sure there will be plenty of doubters out there, but my intention was just to tell him because I couldnít stand the thought of something happening to him (such as death) without him knowing. I told him it was just a tragic love story: two people meeting at the wrong time or in the wrong lifetime. He agreed. And thenÖ
My husband learned of it very shortly after it happened. He learned of it in the worst possible way: my teenager overhearing a conversation and then searching through texts and emails to find proof. (After months of counseling with her, we are healing.) My husband was amazing, and after a few short hours of thinking and talking and hating me, said, ďHave you heard of polyamory?Ē I hadnít. He heard about it on a podcast somewhere sometime that he doesnít recall. He thought of it because I told him that I honestly did not feel less love for him, and this other person filled no unmet need in my life. He simply added to it. I couldnít understand how it could happen, but it did. Of course, I told him, I would end it. But we talked for hours about polyamory. We read about it. Listened to podcasts. And talked and talked and talked. And decided to try it.
My secondary lives overseas, so we were able to work on all this without interruption. We have never been closer. Everything I read on poly made sense to me. I was feeling it! Full love. This processing and learning and falling in love with each other all over again went on for about 4 months. Then he started dating. At first it went OK. He went on a few dates with different women he met online. It was a bit unsettling (as anything new is), but we did it. Granted, I didnít feel too threatened, physically or emotionally by these women. They were cute, but not stunning. They seemed nice, and he had a good time. It resulted in sex a few times. One relationship is continuing. Occasional dinners, kissing, sex. Weíre a busy family, so there isnít time for a huge focus on a secondary.
Then he met someone at work. A younger, beautiful, married, former stripper. The problem is that he had fallen for her without communicating it with me. He says itís because he couldnít believe someone like that would be attracted to him, so he didnít believe it himself. So, he concealed all the flirting, gift giving, etc. When I learned of it, it was when she started to pursue an affair with him (by revealing that she used to be a stripper, and he is the only other person she ever told, besides her husband). So, he said his marriage was open, she got excited, and they started to make plans. Well, our agreement is no affairs and no married women (unless open marriage). He was willing to have an affair. I said no. So, that halted everything. We processed again, all of our feelings about this, and we grew closer as a result. It was a very up and down closeness because more and more kept getting revealed (all the various flirting he did, without my knowledge). So, Iíd feel close, and then another small bomb would be dropped and Iíd retreat. It went on like this for about a week. It felt like an affair, even though nothing physical happened, simply because it broke the rules of our new poly agreement (open communication about all relationships, budding or existing). This may seem stupid, but it did feel awful. But we worked through it OK. She decided to talk to her husband about opening their marriage. So, it looked hopeful. I was threatened by this woman due to 1) jealousy (beautiful, younger, sexy) and 2) fear (he already really, really liked her before I ever heard her name, what if he replaces me with her?). I journaled, read poly blogs, and worked really hard to get past those two feelings. It was hard, but I think I was succeeding. Everything was open and honest and they were moving forward by her working it out with her husband. And thatís where the problems really started. Let me describe a typical week:
Monday: She would say: ďMy husband and I are reading about poly and thinking, so heís asking that you respect this time by not flirting. We can work together, talk as friends or colleagues, but not flirt.Ē
Tuesday: She would flirt, leaving my husband confused.
Wednesday: She would flirt harder. My husband would ask, ďDoes your husband know you are saying stuff like this to me?Ē She would say, ďYes. Heís OK with me flirting, but not you.Ē
Thursday: More one-sided very confusing flirting. Our conversations would be focused on trying to figure out if she was lying and if her husband really knew. I was very uncomfortable with the power differentials there. One can flirt, the other canít. Talk about a tease!
Friday: More aggressive flirting.
Monday: She would say, ďI spent all day Saturday crying because my husband said no to an open marriage. He canít do it. Iím so sorry.Ē My husband would be sad. She would cry at work. Total emotionally draining day, which would turn into a totally emotionally draining night for us, processing all of this.
Tuesday: She would flirt again, and suggest he ask her on a proper date because sheís a proper girl (informing him sheís not a feminist, and likes old-fashioned romantic notions). (BTW, as a feminist, this conversation just infuriated me!) He would text or call me all excited that there is potential, but so confused because the day before she said it was over and she couldnít stop crying.
Wednesday: When heíd probe as to if something changed, she replied, ďLet me worry about my husband. I can be quite persuasive.Ē
All of this killed me! It felt like every day we were renegotiating the rules of the relationship. It felt so dishonest. It felt like trickery on her part and we (me) were supposed to just be patient and ride this emotional roller coaster. We started fighting quite a bit about it. I saw it as manipulation, he saw as someone who really liked him who was trying to make it work. I saw it as one big giant striptease. Look, but donít touch. I can flirt, but you canít. You canít have me. Oh, wait, you can have me. This caused me nearly daily crying for the last two weeks of the 2-month long attempt at adding her to his life. And he just kept pushing for this to happen. And I kept wondering, when he saw how much pain it was causing me, why he couldnít stop? It felt to me like my pain was not worth more than his desire for her. And that was too painful to grasp for me. Yet, I was too prideful to veto. I learned a lot about myself, and the most important thing I learned is that I have way too much pride. I wanted him to stop it, but I didnít want to be the one to put a stop to it. So, in addition to my feelings of jealousy and fear, I know I have to work on pride. I also felt so guilty, because I got to keep my secondary, yet I couldnít settle my emotions enough for him to work to get somewhere with his. Guilt.
Finally, I said, either do something with this woman, or it has to be over. I thought that if I could just get off the roller coaster, I could make it work. So, he asked her on a lunch date, they went, and then they went and parked andÖ They didnít have sex because the car was too small, but they certainly engaged intimately. It was hard for me, but I got through it. It wasnít harder than all the processing they did about their feelings for each other everyday. And then at work, she hinted that her husband didnít know (but was coy about it), but that he did know they had lunch, but needed at least two weeks before they could see each other again outside of work. When he came home and told me that it looks like all her husband really knew was that they ate soup together, and still needed a two-week break, I lost it.
So, hereís where we are at: Instead of stopping it honorably and using my veto power, I acted dishonorably, and threatened divorce, even though I really, really do not want to divorce this man. As we processed the fight, he knows I do not want a divorce, and knows that I knew that in my heart and head, even as the words poured out of my mouth. So, he stopped it. And itís painful for him. He misses her. She is really sad (cried at work for over a week, which I also found to be so manipulative). She is also really angry and told him it was unfair. She said she did all this work to open her marriage and then I get to pull the plug. I see that, by the way. But it doesnít matter. I canít keep going the way it was going. It was so painful!
But now I am left feeling terrible. Can I be polyamorous? I know I can love two people. Can I see my loves love others? I think there were so many things wrong with this, from how it started dishonestly to how manipulative the other person seemed to be, that itís hard to pull apart what are my struggles with poly and what are my struggles with this situation. I donít know what my questions are for the forum. I just want to hear. I am bracing myself to hear how wrong I am. But even if you all say that, Iím not sure I can be at peace with this particular relationship. Help! Tell me what to read. Give me ways to think about this.