Maintaining Balance in Open Relationships

Bisexual husband, bisexual wife, bisexual partner, open relationship, polyamoryNegotiating the politics of sexual and/or emotional relationships and experiences outside of one’s primary partnership is an ongoing process in open relationships. Desire, connection, circumstance are all in a constant state of flux.

Couples make attempts at mitigating the unpredictable nature of having the ability to embark upon a sexual or emotional connection with others by making rules, setting up boundaries, and keeping things within comfortable limits.

The problem with these limitations is that they are made from the stand-point of Here and Now: who you are in this moment; what your current fears are and what your current comfort level is.

The whole idea of opening one’s relationship, however, is to explore beyond comfort levels and open yourself to experience. Therein lies the fun, and rejuvenating qualities of being open. Along with this comes the eventual realization that, with each new experience one’s own comfort level, fears, and personal desires change. Among this list of changes, it is your own personal desire which plays the key role in the push to expand beyond set borders.

Desire drives expansion, fear tries to reign it in.

After all, the idea of opening one’s relationship is driven by desire: desire to be free; desire for other connections; desire for a greater spectrum of experience; desire for internal change, growth, adventure beyond the bounds of monogamy.

Couples usually climb their way up the mountain of a successful open relationship by taking turns leading the exploration of new desires, slingshotting each other to new and higher ground.

An example of this is where a husband reveals his desire to explore bisexuality. After working through this request, the wife decides that this is acceptable. It’s not long after he walks out the door to do so that she begins to wonder, “What’s in this for me? Oh sure, he gets to go out and have all kinds of fun, but what am I supposed to do? Stay home and watch TV?”

As a counsellor I come across situations like this on a regular basis. In many cases the wife is straight, with no desire to explore bisexuality. Her expanded desire would be about seeing other men – something I encourage them to do.

Nothing brings a guy who’s been flying high on his new-found freedom to have sexual experiences with men down to earth faster or with a greater thud than his wife telling him she’s going to be doing the same thing.

“Well hold on a second here Lyza. That’s a horse of a different colour.”

Yes it is, but it is a horse nonetheless. And if you can ride your horses, then I can ride mine.

And lo and behold, a balance mechanism is in place. His desire for expanded experience led the climb. Now she’s caught up and is leading them to the next ledge with her own desire. His expansion was a reach for her, and now her expansion is a reach for him.

When the time comes for her to go out on her first date, his perspective on his own behaviour will change. How it will change is an unknown – even to him. But change it will. This is growth. This is learning. This is expansion of the self.

The question we all need ask ourselves in a consensually open relationship is: will I be able to allow my partner the same freedoms and experiences I desire for myself? Because whatever it is you want to allow for yourself, you must be ready, willing and able to allow for your partner.

These desires will not necessarily be analogous, either. His desire to be with men is not the same as her desire to be with men, and that’s okay. What’s really being asked for by both is the ability to explore some kind of intimacy outside of your partnership.

The ephemeral state of balance is achieved when both partners feel good about their ability to take action, and the ways in which their partner is acting. Every introduction of a new desire then begins an new exploration, a new expansion in the individuals, and therefore in the relationship too.

Which is the whole point of opening your relationship: continuing to expand oneself, which is a requirement to expanding one’s relationship. You can’t be personally closed off and held back and expect your relationship to be vital and dynamic: your relationship is only as alive and vibrant as you are.

Along with the freedom to explore comes the need to act responsibly.

 

Times of sickness, periods of psychological stress, family or work requirements all may contribute to circumstances which may require you to voluntarily curtail extracurricular activities, for your partner’s sake. Or when things have expanded to the point where one or both partners expresses a need to cool off, take a break, and have a period of monogamous interaction.

 

If she’s going through a hard time, you need to use the Golden Measure: if I were the one depressed on the couch and feeling alone and lost in my life, would I feel good about my partner putting on her dancing shoes and whistling merrily as she prepares for a hot night on the town?

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4 Responses to Maintaining Balance in Open Relationships

  1. Natalia
    9 December, 2015 at 15:09

    Dear Mark,

    I am going through something very similar to Jennifer. But I left my partner because he was lying to me the whole time and it hurt me that he wasn’t honest. We are getting back together and I told him that I want honesty so that we can figure out what to do. I love him very much and I am willing to work it out. He had have sex with other men, but that was before he met me and about 7 year ago. He said that he wants to be with me and not with a man. How can I trust him? I told him that I don’t want to share him, but I also don’t want him to make him be what I want, I want him to be who he is, but I want honesty. I used to get jelous and I am on my right, am I not? I am faithful to him, I respect him because I love him and I don’t feel the need to be cheating on him. When I met him I decided that I wanted to be with him for the rest of our lives, what can I do to make him understand that I want to be his desired. Should I stay with him, or should I give him time to think it over and define himself. Thanks.

    • Marco
      9 December, 2015 at 18:39

      Dear Natalia,

      Thank you for reaching out to me with the email you sent, as well as this comment on my blog.

      Below is my response to the email, and I’d like to add something here to this comment. You mention a few contradictory points: You don’t want to share him; you want him to be Who He Really Is; you want him to be honest; you do not want him sleeping with others.

      You need to decide what is more important: authenticity, or hearing what you want to hear. If he honestly wants to be with a man, but you do not want to hear this, or do not want him to feel this way, or partake in this action, then you have a problem. Or he does: should I be honest with her or should I tell her what she wants to hear?

      Please see my blog post: Open Communication Means Being Able to Hear Without Judgement

      Now here is my response to the email, which also fits with the comment:

      What you need to understand is that your boyfriend is bisexual, and like so many bisexual men, he is ashamed of Who He Really Is.

      His shame means he cannot express his true feelings, because he feels they are wrong and bad. He feels unloveable and defective because of his sexuality. (Please read my blog post, “Why Do They Lie About Being Bisexual?”)

      The fact that he has been masturbating and getting caught is his way of communicating with you, of telling you who he really is. He wants you to know, wants you to love and accept him, but fears you will reject him instead.

      If you want to be with him and you want him to be honest with you, then his bisexuality must be talked about and completely accepted – by both of you.

      Natalia you need to know that he will want to have sex with men, and will need to do this throughout his life, and that this must be a part of your relationship together.

      You need to be okay with this, accept this and understand that his desire to be with guys is not related to you, is separate from and in addition to his desire and love for you.

      If you want him to be honest with you, then he has to know that he can tell you what he’s feeling, what he desires, what he needs – with men.

      The hardest thing for bisexual men to do is accept this about themselves! Which means you need to be more accepting of him than he is of himself.

      By leading him, letting him know you love him for Who He Really Is, and support his need to be with men, you will prove to him that his sexuality is acceptable. In this way he will feel comfortable telling you what’s going on with him.

      I suggest you discuss ways in which he can fulfill his need to be with guys comfortably within your relationship. Make these decisions together, and agree on the details of how this is to work. Whether this means he has a steady boyfriend on the side, or you have guys join the two of you, or he sees guys at various times on his own whenever the need arises, all that is up to the two of you, but you need to figure it out together.

      Make clear guidelines for how these things are to happen.

      As tempting as it may be, I would suggest you refrain from asking him to promise anything. He is still much too fragile in his self-acceptance to have him make promises.

      He may also suggest that he will not need to be with guys anymore, or that he’d like nothing more than to stop doing that. He may also promise to stop.

      Do not listen to these words. He can no more stop having sex with men than he can with women.

      Acceptance is the only way to go. When he says he wants to be with a guy, this has to be as non-confrontational and easy as him saying he has to buy more socks.

      The good news is that by talking about this, and allowing him to have the experiences he needs, your bf will eventually come to a place where his desire is much more balanced.

      When bisexuals repress their desire, it gets blown out of proportion, becomes obsessive, and is often expressed in unhealthy ways. When they are able to be Who They Really Are, then the desire is much more manageable, easier to live with, not as urgent, pressing, or desperate.

      So the better he feels about himself, the easier it is for him to be himself, express himself openly (hey honey, isn’t that guy a hottie!) and have his needs met honestly, the less of an issue the whole thing becomes.

      Now you are both still very young, so this is all new to both of you. Time is required here: time for him to open up to you; for him to see he can trust you; for him to find balance in himself and in his desire; for you to feel comfortable about Who He Really Is; for you to easily have him meet with men; and finally for you to find out what your needs are, and what your wants and desires are.

      This is a process. Go slowly. Understand that there may very well be mis-steps along the way: his self-loathing may get the better of him at times – as it does with all of us. But as long as there is a steady movement toward more acceptance, more openness, more willingness to share, you are on the right path.

      This is all very workable Natalia. Yes, it is unconventional, but as we all know, conventional relationships do not have a great success rate!

      Just because it is different does not mean it is not possible. It is. I have been successfully living like this with my wife of 21 years for the last 7 years. We are both very happy, in love, and would not change anything.

      Love, joy, happiness and intimacy are there for you.

      Be brave and strong in your love for him.

      I wish you the best of all eventualities.

      Much love,

      Mark

  2. Jennifer
    28 October, 2015 at 02:01

    Hey mark, I found your website after doing some research. On Father’s Day I found a pic of other men on my endeared’s phone. I was editing a pic and inadvertently sent it to trash. Upon retrieving it I was thrown for a loop. I’m not sure how to bring it up… I love my endeared. I feel like I stumbled across his dark secret, and now I feel really confused and unsafe. I want to have a considerate, honest discussion with him but I’m fearful that I will loose him. He is a wonderful amazing man whom I truly love and respect and I feel that we are an incredible team together, I don’t want to live without his love, friendship. I get it people are privy to there own privacy but I thought we were in a monogamous relationship. Our life together is incredible including sex. I knew / felt something was up several times but he’s always reassured me. Something in his kiss. I cannot explain…intuition???
    I just feel a little/ a lot betrayed and fearful overall.
    Any insight you could offer would be helpful. Thank you

    ~ Jennifer

    • Marco
      16 November, 2015 at 17:34

      Dear Jennifer,

      Thanks for reaching out to me and sorry for the delayed response.

      The issue with your partner is one which many face: he has not come to terms with himself; he is not comfortable with Who He Really Is, and is hiding instead.

      You see he too is fearful of losing you! He believes that by keeping this “unpleasant” aspect of himself hidden, he is saving his relationship with you.

      I know, this is a strange twist in logic, but one in which many of us partake. You too are considering whether or not to talk about this, how to do so, what to say.

      We all acknowledge the need for honesty and authenticity in our interactions, but when faced with the task of actually having to communicate these, we shy away from it.

      For many bisexuals our urges, needs, wants are often seen as annoying, burdensome and that which is to be denied. We struggle against these uncomfortable aspects of ourselves in an attempt to make ourselves more appealing to the rest of the world – and especially potential partners, who we firmly believe will not understand our “strange” sexuality.

      Jennifer there is only one path to relationship bliss, and that is to tackle the big issues head-on, fearlessly.

      You need to sit down with him and crack this egg open: confront him with the Craigslist correspondences.

      Ask him about his sexuality. Ask him all the questions in your mind. Dig down until you begin to hear answers which make sense, which feel authentic to you.

      It is very common for men to deny this. They will say it was only an experiment. They were only wondering, looking, playing around.

      For some this is true, but for many this is not.

      Again, the biggest thing you need to discuss right up front is his sexual desire for men and how this is going to play out in the long term.

      It is vital that you and he come to a place of honesty and openness. There is something going on with him, and he has to disclose what this is.

      Ask him questions and keep asking until you feel satisfied with the story: has he ever had sex with men? If so, when did it begin, how often, with whom, when, where, what did he do? If not, when did he begin thinking of it? What does he think about? What would he like to do?

      This cannot be denied or swept under the rug. This is not something that goes away, disappears on its own.

      Sexuality is an integral part of who we are. When he opens up about his wants, is honest about his needs, then you know you are on the right track.

      Of course this may impinge upon your beloved monogamy, but many aspects of life do.

      There is much to discuss and figure out, but all of it is workable, growthful, and ultimately will make you much stronger as a couple.

      I wish you all the best in this. I’m available for counselling should you feel the need.

      Kind Regards,

      Mark

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