On opening a relationship
jealousy? insecurity? happiness?
Introduction by Jasmin
I think it's fair to say that most of us enter into a marriage with the idea that it will be an exclusive relationship in all matters - emotional, financial, physical. We say "I do" with the intention of creating a lasting bond with someone that in most cases, we've chosen. And we may have chosen them for a lengthy list of reasons. It may be their humour, their intellect, their curiosity, their drive, their looks or the length and girth of their package.
Most of the time we expect our "other half" to excel and outperform in many, many areas. Often, it means putting an incredibly large amount of pressure on one person to tick all our boxes.
So what happens when you're married to somebody who you adore, who is your best friend, who you trust fully, who you respect wholeheartedly but who does not fulfill you sexually? Do you resign yourself to the fact that you may never have hot sex again? Do you seek sex therapy and try to rebuild a connection? Do you cheat? Or as in Sarah's case, do you decide to open your marriage?
"I'm 34 and my husband Mark is 39. I was in a relationship when we met six years ago, but from the moment we met there was an intense and palpable chemistry. I had been monogamish/cheated sexually with every boyfriend prior to this and was determined not to do it again, so I resisted my attraction to Mark for a few months. In hindsight, while I was being sexually faithful to my then-boyfriend, I was very much emotionally straying. Finally, one night the chemistry got the better of us and we finally kissed and it was a sparks-flying moment. I broke up with my boyfriend and jumped enthusiastically and immediately into bed with Mark. We spent every night together for a month, then moved in together and never looked back. We were married 3 years later. We come from healthy and stable families with both of our parents being married for over 40 years to their first partner. For us, marriage did not change our level of commitment to one another; it was more of a legal document and something for our families."
HOT :: Why did you choose to move your relationship from monogamous to non-monogamous?
From early on our dynamic was a bit different than previous relationships and those of many of our peers. We chalk this up to being a bit older and more sexually experienced when we met, and both very independent. For us, the ability to trust and want to share family, work, finances, and all the nitty gritty reality of coupledom was so important and neither of us wanted to settle for someone who didn’t share the same core values. I think neither of us had really been with someone that we trusted to share our fears and hopes as well as balance the shit reality of paying bills and managing a household. After the honeymoon lust period waned, we found ourselves drifting into an incredibly comfortable space of love and respect but sex became less and less of a feature of our bond. After a few years together I did start to think that on one hand I couldn’t imagine a life without Mark because he had become my closest and greatest friend but I also couldn’t imagine never seeing another dick. And I know he felt the same. Looking back I think we began talking about the fact that sex didn’t define our love and bond very early on, and we were both laying groundwork for opening it up.
HOT :: When did you open your relationship?
After a year of dating and living together we began talking about how sex and sexual indiscretion is not a deal breaker for us. For both of us, emotionally straying was a bigger issue. I’d find myself jealous of how much his work life took up his time, but no problem with the idea of him hooking up with someone else at a buck’s weekend. We both work in social industries with lots of flirting and interaction with attractive people so we agreed early on that it wasn’t worth the time stressing over "what ifs" and temptation, and instead accepted that as long as we came home to one another (without a disease or a child), that was fine with us.
I don’t know when Mark first slept with someone else, I assume a few years ago once our sex life really slowed down. I’m curious but also realise I don’t need to know and there is some nicety in keeping discretion. For me, I had pondered it for a few years and didn’t do anything until last year, when drunk flirting with a friend escalated and casual flirting slowly morphed into kissing and then some.
Around the same time, I realized how much I loved another man and how it wasn’t impossible for my heart to love two people very deeply, despite whatever my latent Christian morality may have tried to say otherwise. This other man is one of my dearest friends, and I had an A-HA moment when I realised that depth of my feelings for him… and that it didn’t detract or diminish the depth of my feelings for Mark or what I wanted from our marriage and partnership. It got me thinking – my love for my BFF is not diminished by her friendships with others so why does the dynamic change when sex is involved? Mark doesn’t own or define my identity, and our love for others shouldn’t reduce our love for one another.
HOT :: How does the open relationship work for you and Mark?
We are lucky in that we don’t have kids and we have opposite work hours so we both have a lot of free time to do other things. For both of us, the openness is mostly about sex and some companionship/friendship with benefits. Mark and I take priority, so for now, if we have a night or day off together we spend it with one another and cannot ditch the other for a secondary partner. For now, we do not ask details and keep other partners separate. I’m not opposed to meeting another partner if he thinks we could become friends but he isn’t at that point yet. I have set a boundary of not sleeping with anyone in his industry or who may know him. We both know that our arrangement is not mainstream and acceptable in Perth (yet!), so I am very conscious and protective of his professional life and do not want to do anything (anyone) that could damage that.
HOT :: How do you set rules and boundaries and importantly, how do you stick to them?
This is something we are constantly communicating and navigating, and IT IS NOT EASY. For a long time, it was “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; but lately that has changed. Now, if either of us will be home late or staying the night out, we text the other to say “I’m not coming home” so they don’t worry. This could be because of a late-night drinking with friends or with another sexual partner. We purposely keep it vague to minimise potential jealousy. I don’t want us lying to each other but I think neither of us really care (or are ready) for details.
The rules changed after I found myself in a "friends with benefits" situation where I wanted to spend time with someone as a friend but also occasionally have sex with him. The emotions involved for me were superficial friend-zone and never felt like a threat to my primary bond with Mark, but I also felt guilty and that I was in a sense lying to him. So after a few months of awkwardness, pain, and lots of tears, we had a big heart to heart (that involved lots of tears and emotions). This cathartic conversation put us onto a new level of openness. I think we both recognize that we may want some levels of companionship from others (maybe co-workers that understand better our day-to-day, or just someone from a gym that we could lift with), but those are still superficial cares compared to our deeper emotional connection. As said above, friendship and caring for another doesn’t diminish how Mark and I care for one another. To some degree I think we're also both very conscious of who we choose to sleep with and make sure that person can stay in the friend zone and we’d never desire more from them. If someone comes on the scene for either of us that we feel a deeper connection with, I believe we will continue to talk about it and work it out.
I can’t stress enough that as easy as this may be sounding, it sure as hell isn’t easy. Talking honestly and expressing what you really want - and not what you think the other person wants to hear - is so key (and yes, talking often involves lots of tears and anxiety), as well as being very conscious in the decision of another partner.
HOT :: Do you sleep with strangers? friends? foes?
I am not sexual enough to sleep with a stranger. Like, I can just not have sex for a year and be fine with it if there is nothing around to arouse me and my brain needs to be aroused first before I can act, so for me its generally a friend. I do not lie about my relationship, and have started to turn to dating apps to meet new people outside our primary social spheres. For Mark, I think it would be a mix of strangers and friends. We are not discussing details of what we do on the side but we are both conscious of respecting one another and not doing anything that could damage us professionally, so we do keep it within certain types of people and industry.
HOT :: How did you feel the first time you slept with someone other than your husband?
Great. I honestly felt great. I felt a bit bad that I felt no guilt, but honestly, I just felt sweet relief. For so long, I had put pressure on Mark to be everything, to fulfil my cultural wish of a perfect Prince that gave me hot sex, financial security, helped with business, and did the dishes. He couldn’t do all, nor could I do it for him, so finding someone else to fulfil the sex relieved so much pressure and allowed me to really reconnect with WHY I loved him so much.
HOT :: How has opening up your relationship changed your primary relationship?
For a while, we struggled to talk about it and things got really tense between us with the fear of losing a best friend. When Mark (bless that man) finally forced me to talk about it all, we reached a beautiful accord of realising how much we love and rely on each other, and share the same hopes/fears/aspirations for the future (like, there is no one else I trust to make medical decisions if needed or cry to about my professional woes) but how we both want sex with others and that those needs do not diminish what we have. By keeping it open and honestly communicating these pressures and needs has brought us much closer and allowed us to share a deeper intimacy. I’m terrible at discussing my feelings but the need to be open to avoid hurting or disrespecting Mark has forced me to really talk and has made our bond and trust so much deeper.
HOT :: How did your husband feel the first time you slept with someone new?
Ha, well he says he was fine with it! He is the type that if he says something, he means it, so I do believe he was ok with it and not jealous or upset. We do not have much sex, and we both felt horrible at the thought of both of us being trapped in a sexless marriage. For all we do for each other, we both enjoy sex and I wanted someone to give him what I couldn’t give him and vice versa. Its something I’ve thought a lot about over the years… Our bond isn’t based on sex, and as hot as it was in the beginning, we tend to want different things. We are both attracted to one another, but we work wildly different hours so can go days without seeing one another, and then we generally both want to let go and be the lazy one in bed. My analogy recently for us is that we are two north poles: compatible for many others, but not for one another. I know that sounds sad for some, but it works so well for us and allows us to explore deeper emotions without the stress of orgasms. As he also recently said to me, he knows how I am with sex, and how I historically jump from breakup to a new bed and prefer the passion of newness so it wasn’t surprising that me committing emotionally excluded sex and he still loves me completely.
Ultimately, to me marriage is not the Disney ideal perpetuated to us on screen and romance novels (although, I fucking love romance novels). To me, marriage is a legal partnership to get two (or more) people through the tough reality of modern life. It’s paying the bills, helping with sick parents, school runs, taking on the immigration department, celebrating births and weddings, sharing successes, dinner parties with friends, weekend BBQs, and drinking copious amounts of wine to get through failures. I always wanted to marry my best friend and possibly find sex elsewhere, but gay marriage hasn’t been an option until recently. For Mark and I, we found that unicorn marriage. We wholeheartedly trust each other – I don’t worry I will wake up one day to him having run away with a secretary and emptied our joint bank account, and he doesn’t worry I will not be there if anyone in our family needs help. We have each others back, and the fact that he may put someone else on hers doesn’t impact that, it only enriches it and allows us to focus on the amazing level of security, trust, and openness we have.
HOT :: If you were wildly sexually attracted to Mark, would you have still opened up your marriage, or even wanted to?
Yes, I think I/we would have. Maybe not immediately, but eventually it would havehappened with our work-life balance that someone would have been intrigued and shenanigans would ensue. If only for the companionship side of it, and not just the sex… I think one or both of us would have tried something else on the side, then we would have progressed the same path. As I’ve often heard to describe Angelina and Brad, you can be dating the hottest person in the world and still get bored. Passion and lust take so much work, and it’s incredibly hard to balance working on that and the rest of stuff that life throws at you. For us, working on the rest (businesses, family, finances, travel) has been more important - afterall, I can use Lelo for an orgasm, but not to help plan a holiday with family.
I guess at the end of the day it comes down to what people want out of a relationship. I want to know there is someone I trust to always be there for me. I know that no matter what life, work, family, the ATO [Australian Taxation Office] throws at me, Mark is there for me and vice versa; we know that we are both fine on our own but work better together. For others, I know sexual passion is a priority, but past relationships have taught me that sex can fizzle but fiduciary and familiar trust cannot.