Hi everyone, I've been a long time lurker here, but now I think I could use a little advice/perspective. I have to admit, I feel a little silly about this post, like it's going to make me sound very young (I'm in my late 20s)...but I also feel it's valid and coming from a place of genuinely trying to be the best partner I can be...anyway, here goes (I'm sorry this is so long, it feels good to get it all out though...appreciation to anyone who makes it through the whole thing)
Background: My husband and I have been together for 8+ years now. A few years ago, we dabbled a bit in non-monogamy. At the same time, he was doing a lot of evaluation and healing in general through therapy and having quite a lot of success. The dabbling, for me, was awesome. It was like a switch went off in my head that this is fabulous! I can love my husband, yet still make these new connections and have these new experiences and it just makes me feel wonderful all around, yay! My husband, however, realized that he is pretty firmly set in the monogamous side of things -- and one day he came home and basically said, that stuff we've been doing? Nope, no more ever again. Surprising the heck out of both of us, I kind of freaked out.
What followed was an agonizing year of trying to compromise, feeling incredibly misunderstood on both sides, debating divorce, etc. I will admit that in the course of that year, "compromise" was not really on the table for me. Having had time to reflect back, I realize now that my initial kneejerk reaction to being told NOPE combined with a long history of people (not my husband) emotionally manipulating me, telling me I was broken/not good enough/etc...well it resulted in me fighting like hell to get things my way.
Luckily, I pulled out of that in time to realize that as much as I personally would enjoy a poly or open lifestyle, it wasn't worth it without my husband by my side. So, I told him, ok, we're done with all this. I choose you. Over 2 years later, things are much better with us, though there has been a lot of healing to do on both sides and a lot of guilt on my part, especially, for the pain we went through. And, I think because of that guilt, I swung pretty hard over into "poly? pff, I don't need no stinkin poly. I'm gonna be the best mono-wife ever!!" I think, though, that now I'm finally regaining some equilibrium and am trying to decide where that puts me and what I want to do about it.
Current Situation/Question/Part I want responses to:
Over the last few months, those little blips of poly-thoughts that I had smashed down have begun to resurface and aren't very smashable anymore. However, I have zero interest in going back down the road of before. Therefore, I've been thinking long and hard about what I'm truly seeking and if/how that can be achieved while not devastating my relationship again.
I've come to the conclusion that I would be okay with not having full on romantic/sexual relationships with other people. However, the little things, flirting, making that connection, enjoying the chemistry would satisfy a large part of the poly feelings. But, the guilt and fear of repeating the past (or even appearing to want to repeat the past) has had me simply avoiding those interactions entirely. After all, where is the line drawn from harmless flirting to not so harmless flirting to actual physical contact (fluttering eyes to a touch on the arm to kissing??) I know it's very subjective.
Then, the other night, my husband went out with a friend and came home and told me how they had been flirting with a group of women and how positively those women had responded. He said it was a great ego boost and that he wished he could hang out with one of them (he'd known her years ago) but that he didn't want to put himself in a compromising position. I was genuinely happy that he'd had such a great time and thought to myself that I honestly wouldn't have minded if he'd done more. This got me to thinking about where those lines actually sit with us right now and if we are maybe ready to reopen a discussion.
My thoughts now, is that I'd like to discuss with my husband, not about opening the relationship, but about reframing and redefining within our relationship what is acceptable when out and interacting with others. I know that sex (PIV, oral, digital, etc) with others is off the table...it is too much, too complicated and not going to happen if we stay together. BUT, I also know that remaining 100% non-physical is agony for me (that sounds dramatic, but it's fairly accurate). It is maddening to have the flirting and chemistry, but to have to not admit it out loud and leave the plausible deniability lingering. My proposed solution? Reframe acceptable flirting to basically be all the usual banter, joking, casual touches up to and including kissing. Yup, just kissing...all clothes stay on, hands stay out of pants, etc.
My hope is that kissing would be mild enough to be acceptable to my husband, yet physical enough for me to feel some sense of gratification and to eliminate that lingering deniability that drives me nuts. If I'm attracted to and flirting with someone, I want to be able to be like "yup, we just kissed, so it's a real thing and I'm not actually being shady and driving myself crazy wondering where the line of what is ok and what would be hurtful meet".
Is this ridiculous? Any advice on how to approach it with my husband? I'll admit I'm somewhat afraid to bring up the topic for fear he'll think I'm trying to chip away at going full poly/fully open again. Honestly, I'm ok with never going full poly...but I'm realizing that maybe strict mono isn't quite gonna cut it either.
And in case anybody is wondering, I do feel confident I could hold to the boundary of kissing without going further. I have no idea whether some day I'd want more, how could I know that? But I want so badly to remain in my marriage, I love my husband deeply - I just can't completely eliminate all poly/open tendencies, as much as I have tried. So, again, is this reasonable? Am I ridiculous for even thinking of having this conversation? If not, how do I approach it so it doesn't seem like I'm trying to work my way up to more?