My husband and I were married in May. We’ve been together for eight years. He’s leaving in April for a year-long residence out of state. I’d like to be able to have a “monogamous-ish” (thanks Dan Savage) type thing while he’s gone. How do I bring that up to him? I’ve tried in the past in a casual way, and I don’t think he’s okay with it. How do you start a real conversation about that? I’m totally okay with him doing the same while he’s away and I’d want a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. Any tips?
I applaud you for considering alternative relationship arrangements, for supporting your husband in making choices for himself even when they require him being away, and for writing in. You’ve shown a lot of bravery and openness to change in these actions, yet your question drips of very valid fear.
Opening your relationship whether it’s through a “monogamish” relationship, or “clopen” relationships, as I like to call them, polyamory or something else can be scary. But if you can’t be brave and honest with yourself and your husband, an open relationship will never work.
You say that you’ve “casually” brought up having an open relationship in the past and “don’t think he’s okay with it.” Your road to monogamish will be a bumpy one if you can’t directly present your desires to your husband in a way that makes no assumptions about the way he feels. In an open relationship, assumptions are kryptonite.
Which brings us to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or DADT. I don’t blame you for thinking this is the best way to go. You’ll know the extramarital canoodling is happening, but you won’t have to deal with it, right?
DADT is based entirely on fear — fear of your own jealousy and of what may be triggered within yourself when your husband bangs someone else. DADT also gives the false sense that it protects us from doing what’s hard: telling our partners that we’re attracted to someone else, being accountable to our partner’s needs, and facing their jealousy head-on. You think you’re shielding yourself from your own insecurities, but you’re just denying and feeding them.
DADT is bullshit.
Some of my hardest open relationship moments have been meeting my partner’s other partners. But they’ve also been the most soothing: You meet a real human. Sure, with real beauty and brains, but also with real flaws and, y’know, humanness instead of the perfect bombshell you’ve probably been creating in your head. DADT not only denies their existence and connection with your partner, but also ignores your partner’s experience and denies you the ability to be fully, intimately immersed with your partner.
The most important difference between cheating and non-monogamy is informed consent. Cheating happens any time a partner’s boundary is crossed without their consent. DADT, in all its information-withholding glory, blurs the line between cheating and conscious, consensual non-monogamy, as it withholds the very information necessary to satisfy the “informed” part of “informed consent.” How can you or your husband consent to non-monogamy if you’re both kept in the dark?
Make no mistake, determining how you want information to flow in your clopen relationship will be difficult and fraught with mistakes. Balancing your and your husband’s individual rights to intimacy and privacy while also honoring your marriage and managing your fears won’t be easy. Non-monogamy isn’t easy. But don’t fear what’s hard.
H2O, I encourage you to Do Ask, Do Tell. Write a list of what you’d like your monogamish relationship to look like. Present it to your husband with bravery, love, compassion and honesty. Gift him Opening Up by Tristan Taormino and More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, both books about designing your open relationship ethically. Ask him to write his own list. Listen, negotiate, punch a couple of pillows, do whatever you need to do to feel your relationship authentically. Squash nothing. Once you’ve opened up to each other, only then can you open up to others.•