Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What do you do when you’re in a monogamous relationship, and you want to open the bedroom to “outside options” … but your partner’s not on board? Have your own questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Scary Mommy,
My partner and I are in a long-term monogamous relationship. We’ve been together for ten years and our sex life is getting really stale. I got the idea of having an open relationship, where we have sex with other people, and I can’t stop thinking about it. The thought really excites me. But when I tentatively brought it up to my partner, I got shut down. I feel like this could be the answer to our bedroom rut, and I’m a little resentful that my partner won’t even consider it. I don’t want to cheat, but if nothing changes, that’s the direction it’s going to go in. Help!
For some folks, monogamous sex equals monotonous sex. And that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, or with your relationship; variety is just one of your personal preferences, same as mint chocolate chip ice cream or watching rom-coms. Unfortunately, that doesn’t often pair well with a long-term relationship. For a long time, society has ingrained in us that we must pair up for life, and that if you’re not completely satisfied with one person for the rest of your life, you’re doing it wrong. Not to mention, some people actually are monogamous by nature, and cannot fathom the thought of juggling more than one romantic or sex partner at once. Again, preference!
Anyone who’s ever been in the same sexual relationship for a while can tell you that it’s perfectly normal to get into a ho-hum, predictable routine or even have a dry spell. The first thing you need to do in this situation is evaluate why you’re so bored in the bedroom — and, since your partner is obviously uncomfortable with opening up your relationship, determine if there are any alternatives to spice things up without bringing a third party on board. Can you engage in some role-play? Introduce some new toys into the repertoire? There are plenty of options to liven things up between the sheets, and your partner might be much more willing to try any of those.
If that still doesn’t scratch the itch, and your longing for outside lovin’ doesn’t quiet down, ask yourself what deeper issues might be at play. Are you no longer sexually attracted to, or in love with, your partner? Are you having troubles — in the bedroom or otherwise — that you’re hoping an open relationship might fix? Are you incompatible in other ways? If there is another issue present, whatever it may be, rest assured that it is not going to be helped by throwing something as complicated as non-monogamy into the mix. Trust me.
All that being said, maybe your partner just isn’t on board with the idea because they don’t fully understand it. There’s such a taboo around cheating that perhaps they can’t separate it from consensual non-monogamy. Or, they may be envisioning something entirely different than you are — a polyamorous relationship, maybe, where there’s a new, emotional connection being formed — where your interest in banging someone else is purely physical, no strings attached. Or they may be confused as to whether this is something you want to do alone, or whether they’ll be a part of whatever extraneous pairings you’ll be having. It’s time for a conversation with your partner where you clearly and specifically lay out your intentions; if you’re just leading in with something as vague and vastly open to (mis)interpretation as “I want to have sex with other people,” no wonder you’re getting the cold shoulder.
If your partner is even tentatively on board after you lay it all out there, you’ll need to further solidify the plan by making some ground rules that you’re both comfortable with — like whether you’re going to see potential sex partners one-on-one or as a couple, whether you’re going to share details about your encounters, whether it’s just casual sex or if you’ll allow other types of intimacy, etc. If there were ever a topic where you want to make sure there’s no “gray area,” it’s this one. (And regardless of your personal ground rules, one should always be at play: MAKE SURE YOU’RE USING PROTECTION.)
But if, after you’re clear about your wants and intentions, it’s still a no-go from your significant other, you’ll have some decisions to make. Because the last thing you want to do is hurt the person you love, or make them fear abandonment. Which is why going behind their back and doing it anyway isn’t an option; your needs aren’t more important than theirs, and satisfying them in a way that could be damaging to your partner is just shit behavior. If you just can’t be monogamous any more, it may be time to re-evaluate the relationship — and, if you’re ready to move on, end it in a way that allows your partner some dignity rather than wrecking it by stepping out anyway.