Tell Me About It: ‘He was in an open marriage when we met, and was forthright with me from the outset. I had long hoped he would be happy with just me’
PROBLEM: I met my partner in slightly unusual circumstances. Ten years ago, when we got together at work, we were both in our mid-30s, he was in a long-term relationship and had two children. Most of my family and friends assumed we had an affair, but we didn’t: he was in an open marriage and was forthright with me from the outset. His wife also had a lover, and I met her and her other partner several times.
Over the course of the next six months his relationship started to disintegrate and he moved in with me. I have never openly engaged in any discussion with anyone about why I got myself involved in this situation, but if I am honest with myself, I have always had low self-esteem and I never thought this beautiful man would pay me any attention and when he did I was willing to compromise. It may be hard to believe but I found it to be a bit of a turn-on. Once we started to live together, he began to see other people and he also encouraged me to do the same.
Although I have been tempted, I have not slept with anyone else since I met him. For the last five years he has been monogamous as we have been busy raising our own child and spending a lot of time with his two children. About six months ago he told me he fancied someone he met in the gym, and he has started to date her. He says she is very conservative, and he hasn’t told her about me. It may sound ridiculous but I feel like I am the one he is having the affair with. I had long hoped he would be happy with just me. I don’t feel I can tell him this, as it makes me a hypocrite.
He is someone who moves on very quickly from jobs, friends and family, and I am terrified he will do the same with me.
ADVICE: Open relationships can work where all involved feel equally participant and there is honest ongoing discussion about all aspects of the commitment. This is not happening in your situation; in that you do not feel you can speak for fear of abandonment and therefore you are silenced.
On one level, your partner has been very honest about his expectation of an open relationship, but you are not happy with this and he needs to know what this means for your family. You clearly think he has the capacity to move on from you and your child, as he has done with his previous partner. If you want to challenge this, you will have to find the courage to speak about it with him and risk the possibility of this ending in separation. Your child and his other children also need to be considered as you all have formed a blended family, and this is at risk of rupture. All our actions have consequences and, in your case, not speaking up might result in missing out on an opportunity to fight for keeping your family intact. Your partner may be able to put up an argument for how his idea of family might work and this needs to be heard but ultimately you will have to decide if you can live with this. You say that your self-esteem is low, and this is not a good position from which to make a difficult life choice, so immediate action is needed on this. Have you tried counselling or meditation or even courses that are available online (eg aware.ie) as a starting point?
Putting effort into our own wellbeing immediately boosts our self-esteem and it is not self-indulgent to invest in this. Talk to friends and family about what they think might suit you in terms of self-development and take what they have to say seriously — they know you and want what is best for you, so they will not lead you astray. Your child will also benefit from a parent who is confident and willing to stand up for themselves so this process will affect more people than you alone. Of course, addressing self-esteem is a long process and what you are dealing with is a situation which needs to be addressed immediately. Can you ask your partner for time where he is not developing a relationship with another person, so that you can gather the capacity to know what you want for yourself?
If he is not willing to give you this, you may need a break from him while you figure out your own future. This would be a painful and grief-filled time for you, but to continue to pretend that everything is fine is clearly a road to pain and loss. You will need supports. Can you confide in someone you trust who won’t dismiss your partner and will help you talk things through? However, ultimately this is a decision you need to make for yourself.
You love your partner, and this situation is one that requires you to speak up now and seek whatever supports that will allow this conversation to happen.