Notes from a Newly Open Marriage
Contributed by Stacy C.
Original publication date unknown.
RD042806

Like pretty much every major life decision I've made, the choice to open my previously monogamous marriage happened almost without me realizing it. My husband and I have had poly friends for years; observing their active romantic lives, featuring occasional elated highs and more-frequent train wrecks, led us to occasionally discuss why an open arrangement would or wouldn't work for us. Our general consensus was that while neither of us had any moral or ethical objections to the idea, and while we'd both acknowledged our capacity to love multiple people, poly wasn't for us.

I worried about the practical side. It's hard enough to keep a relationship functional with just two people involved. Mix in more, and you multiply the opportunities for problems and misunderstandings. D's concern was more instinctive. He didn't think he could handle the idea of me being intimate with other people. Since we were both quite happy and in love with each other, we opted to stick with monogamy.

That is, until life decided to do its usual trick of mucking about with carefully-laid plans, and D developed a requited crush on a mutual friend of ours. She was at the time in a monogamous relationship of her own, and therefore unavailable, but opening our relationship was once again an active discussion topic and in the course of one conversation, the idea moved from hypothetical to actual. My unconcerned response to D's growing attraction to our friend somehow assuaged his jealously and insecurity, enough so that he was interested in experimenting with opening our relationship. Since my only concerns were pragmatic, and could theoretically be overcome with enough attention and communication, I agreed to give polyamory a try.

It's been a year now, and in that time we've been through more romantic permutations than I would have guessed possible. We've also had some of the most volcanic fights of our five-year relationship. The good news is, we're happy with our decision to be poly, the tumult is settling down, and we're still fiercely in love.

We started down the poly path with one significant advantage: We've always been good about communicating with each other very loudly, when necessary. I can't imagine this arrangement working at all without fairly uninhibited honesty and an unusual level of self-knowledge. The only way we got through some of the problems we ran into was by persistently talking through them, even when we were at our most upset and emotionally strung-out.

When we agreed to open the relationship, we decided to start slow. Neither of us would actively seek other partners; we would simply remain open to any opportunities that arose. I figured it would be months before either of us actually started dating anyone else.

Naturally, it happened within weeks. On a weekend trip to visit friends several states away, D fell very hard for a woman he met there and suddenly I, who had never in my life been jealous, turned into a mopey wreck. It was one thing to agree in theory that my partner could see other people. I'd always assumed that any connection between him and another woman would develop very gradually. Instead, it happened almost overnight, and someone else was suddenly in his thoughts almost as much as I was.

I hated that. I would have cancelled the poly arrangement right then and there if I could have, but I realized that while D would give her up for me, he would (quite understandably) resent me for forcing him into the choice. I gritted my teeth and sulked. D did his best to reassure me, but I was a morose mess for a few weeks.

Two things changed my mind. The first: With D's encouragement, I put up an online personals ad and went out on a date. It was really the first of my adult life with anyone other than D: I'd dated very casually in high school, but never fallen in love with anyone, and didn't date at all in college until I met D my junior year. I don't have any objection to promiscuity, but it's not in my nature at all, and casual physical encounters make me horridly uncomfortable. It was one of the reasons I'd viewed poly as optional I wasn't in any rush to be intimate with anyone other than D.

The date went well, we decided to see each other again, and the second date was even better. By the end of the evening, my jealousy over D's new relationship dissolved. I had no idea if things would go any further with the person I'd just met, but I quite suddenly understood emotionally what I'd before only grasped intellectually: I could be attracted to someone else without that affecting or lessening my love for D in any way. And if I could feel that way, I realized, so could D. It's a notion pretty fundamental to polyamory, but thinking it and feeling it are two separate things.

The second change that assuaged my jealousy was an insight I had months later, after D had broken up with the woman who initially provoked the reaction. I realized that for me, jealousy shows up when I feel envious or insecure. The rapid intensity of D's first outside relationship scared me; D kept assuring me his new relationship wouldn't infringe on ours, but so much had changed so quickly, I didn't fully trust his promises. He'd been swept away by this. How, I wondered, could he know he wouldn't get even further entranced and deeply involved?

On top of that, I was envious of the special attention D was showing his new love interest. It had been a long time since we'd had that giddy "new relationship energy" in our partnership, and while what we have in its place deeper and more complex, it's easy to get a bit sad and left-out feeling watching from outside the power of those initial sparks.

Realizing exactly what elements bring out my jealousy has given me more control over it. Now, if I start to get twingy, I can deal with the root causes, and prompt D for extra reassurance, attention, time, or whatever else I need to stop seeing green and, if there are valid reasons for me to be feeling insecure, we can discuss them. D has been out with several others since that first poly relationship of his, and so far I haven't again experienced the kind of overwhelming jealousy and uncertainty I initially experienced.

Which isn't to say we conquered our only obstacle. D and I have different triggers for our insecurity. Another rough moment we faced fairly early on came with my first breakup. Things had been going well for two months or so, and I'd started to fall hard for the guy in question; the relationship's abrupt dissolution left me startled and sad. Having D around to love and console me was an enormous comfort, but my happiness with him didn't cancel out my despondency about the breakup. That frustrated D. He took my misery as a sign that my aborted relationship was more important to me than ours.

The two weeks or so in which my outside relationship was unwinding ended up also being one of the most stressful periods in my relationship with D; all the flux and my emotional unbalance pushed the limits of our communication abilities. D says he was immensely strained by the emotional whiplash of dealing with the constantly changing on/off status of my secondary relationship: shifting back and forth from "must console Stacy about breakup" to "must suppress jealous twinges over Stacy's once-again-active outside relationship" left him with a very short emotional fuse.

One of the hardest things for me to accept, not just about our poly arrangement but about our relationship in general, is that D and I each have a small number of issues and emotional viewpoints on which we'll never be in synch. Opening our relationship has brought those out in the open and forced us to confront that in ways we didn't have to when we were monogamous.

An example: I'm terrible with time. "A minute" is, to me, a malleable temporal unit; when I say "I'll be there in a minute" I really mean "I'll be there sometime soonish, when I'm finished with whatever is currently occupying my attention." Similarly, if I say "I'll be home in an hour," I could actually mean I'll arrive in 60 minutes, but I'm equally likely to take longer. This caused some charged fights early in my relationship with D, when I would suggest I'd be home from work "in an hour" and actually return in three. The fights turned even more explosive when it was a date causing me to run late. I could understand being upset when I waltzed into our apartment 45 minutes past the time I'd agreed to be home. I couldn't understand D's distress when I showed up at 12:03 after having promised to be home by midnight.

Following one particularly epic blow-out about the time issue, we finally argued our way to a conclusion that came as a revelation to me. I can't understand the way D's mind fixates so precisely on time. He can't understand why mine doesn't. We can both try to explain our logic, articulately and at great length, but we can't convince the other why our own outlook makes sense. After that fight, and our truce, I thought, "Wow. I can live with this, because I love D, and this is an unchanging aspect of who he is, and if we want to stay together we need to find ways to accommodate each other, but I will never understand the emotional framework that prompts him to react this way." And he'll never understand mine.

It drove home, in a way nothing had previously, that this is the most basic and most difficult part of blending your life with another's: Being able to accept and adjust around aspects of your partner's outlook that you find alien and doing so willingly, out of love. It's not a poly-specific revelation, but dealing with the stresses of opening our relationship forced me to work that out and live in it in a way I hadn't before.

For the first few months of our dive into polyamory, D and I dealt with the issue almost around the clock. First, there were tons of logistics to work out, about physical boundaries, time, dating arrangements, whether or not to meet outside partners, how much detail each of us wanted to hear about each others' outside partners ... and then, once we had the basic details hashed out, we started hitting the big emotional challenges. That took more time, more talk, deep naval-gazing to understand our own thoughts well enough to honestly explain them to each other, and lots of reassurances and special evenings together to be sure our own relationship stayed both strong and exciting.

Finally, perhaps five or six months into our new arrangement, the 24/7 relationship maintenance tapered off. Thank god. We'd never before had to spend so much time actively 'working on' our bond, and it's not something I would have been able to keep up indefinitely. It was necessary and worth it to get things to where they are today, but I'm happy and relieved to be stable enough now that D and I can curl up together for an evening of dinner and DVDs without having to discuss at all our poly arrangement.

I've also discovered a neat, unexpected side benefit of polyamory: With others I date, I get to enjoy different activities, interests, conversations and experiences than I find through my relationship with D. But my encounters with others also remind me how well-suited D and I are to each other. At the end of the day, he's still the only person I want to come home to.