Open and shut

My wife wants to have sex with another man and says that I shouldn't feel hurt or betrayed -- but I do.


Cary Tennis
June 12, 2003 11:14PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I have been married 26 years to a woman I adore. For a few years early in our marriage, we had a slightly open relationship. I had a girlfriend for about a year, and my wife had two lovers (of short duration) during the same period.

That all came to an end about 15 years ago, and since that time, at least to my knowledge, we have had a happy and fulfilling monogamous relationship.

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One of her lovers from those "open" days was a former college friend. She had a close but nonsexual relationship with him when she was an undergraduate. They slept together only two nights during our open period, when he came to visit her one weekend when I was out of town (very convenient). After that, he married another woman, and my wife's contact with him was limited to the occasional holiday greeting.

Around 1997 a private e-mail account arrived on my wife's computer, and she used it to get in contact with this old lover. Their relationship blossomed online. He was in a marriage that had become loveless (and sexless) and was grateful for some emotional support from my wife. I was minimally aware of this -- she would share a little but kept most of it secret from me.

A couple of months ago, after several years of this e-mail relationship, he told her he was coming to our town for a one-day business meeting. He told her how excited he was to see her and asked her to sleep with him while he was here.

She had the honesty to tell me this and to tell me that she really did want to. My first reaction was well, OK, if it will make you happy. However, as it got closer to his arrival, I began to have second thoughts. A few days before he arrived, I told her that I didn't like the idea at all. That made her quite angry, as she had thought she had my blessing.

She spent most of a day with him, alone. She told me that they "fooled around" but did not have sex. She refuses to tell me any more. She also has made plans to visit him at his city some unknown time in the future. She is, of course, continuing their contact via e-mail.

I feel hurt, angry, jealous, betrayed and full of self-doubt. She doesn't see that there is a problem. In her mind, she has been faithful and I should be happy. I have told her that the only way I can feel comfortable with the situation is for her to transform her relationship with this man into a pure friendship with no romantic or sexual overtones. She says that she will. I think she is probably agreeing to this only to get me to stop bothering her about it.

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I feel stuck. Do I have any options here that I do not see (short of leaving, which really is not an option.) We have two almost grown kids and basically a wonderful life together. I cannot see destroying all this. She has admitted that she deeply loves this other man. She has also stated repeatedly that her relationship with me is entirely separate and that I should not feel hurt in any way. She seems to want to return to the open days, and I do not.

Trapped and No Way Out

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Dear Trapped,

You vowed to stick by her in sickness and in health. But a change of heart, a fresh desire as invasive as kudzu, an experiment in the love lab gone haywire: They probably didn't mention these things at the wedding.

Back when marriage seemed too confining and you agreed to experiment with an open marriage, you probably figured you could handle whatever came up. And you never officially closed the door on the open marriage, so it lay unused like an open credit line.

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Now your wife wants to draw down on it. And she doesn't think you should be upset. She says you have nothing to worry about.

You're in deep, my man. If I were you, I would fight her tooth and nail on this. Do whatever you have to do to stop her. Start by arguing that even if you do have an open marriage, the rules are that both parties must agree to all outside activity. You do not agree to this, so she should not be allowed to do it. Sure, you gave your initial assent. But that should not render your later concerns irrelevant. If at any time one party is uncomfortable with something, the other party should be willing to back off. Because no outside activity should threaten the marriage. Then it's not an open marriage, it's a threatened marriage, and nobody intended that. Since she seems to be ignoring your emotions about it, perhaps she has a legalistic turn of mind and this approach would get some purchase on her.

But she may be completely determined. Sometimes when people want something badly enough, they start bending the truth; they deviate from principle. It's as though she's blinded herself in one eye, the eye that sees you, so now she can go off and be disloyal and not feel disloyal.

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If you cannot dissuade her, I still think you should do what you can to prevent her from seeing this man. If she won't listen to you, I see no reason why you shouldn't contact him and tell him to stay away from your wife.

Of course, if she finds out that you contacted him, she might be furious. She might consider it a breach of privacy. That would be ludicrous but it wouldn't be surprising. Like I say, when people want something badly enough, they lose all perspective. I agree that people who are married have a private life. But your wife's private life ends at the tips of her moist, red lips -- nothing they touch is simply her private concern, because anything she kisses threatens the marriage, and that means it threatens you. But if she's in the grip of this love thing, anything is possible.

On the other hand, she may be secretly relieved if you intervene forcefully. She may be trying to punish you for being too aloof and reasonable, for letting her drift into this relationship. She may feel angry and abandoned, and if she believes you really don't care enough to stop her, she will have no choice but to see it through. So you have to try to stop it. If you stand back and pretend that she knows what she's doing, you risk losing her and feeling like an idiot as well.

So what happens if your wife and the other guy both tell you to fuck off? Savage, unbearable weather leaps out of a placid sea, and suddenly you're hanging on to the gunwale. It happens on the water and it happens in marriages. You just try to keep everybody in the boat.

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Cary Tennis

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