My open marriage won't shut

The experiment has ended, but I can't stop wanting my lover

By Cary Tennis

Published April 28, 2011 12:01AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have a problem that has been plaguing me for about six months now and as much as I try to move past it, I find myself stuck and unable to let go. My husband and I have been together for 12 years. I don't have much experience outside of him because he was my first serious boyfriend and sexual partner. About a two years ago, he suggested having an open marriage. We talked for months about it, read books and spoke with sex-positive counselors to make sure that our foundation was strong enough handle whatever may come up. After months of careful consideration, we felt prepared to try it. So early last year, I took a lover.

At first it was wonderful. I experienced a sexual awakening that gave me a confidence I've never had before. My lover understood the arrangement with my husband (who was very supportive of our relationship) and everything seemed fine. That is, until I fell in love with my lover. From February to October, we had an on again/off again relationship that became more tumultuous over time. I didn't know how to process my feelings or the dynamic between the three of us because it didn't change the deep love and commitment I felt for my husband. It was a confusing time and raised so many painful emotions for me -- jealousy, insecurity, unworthiness, heartbreak ... you name it. I became so unexpectedly vulnerable, and eventually the only way I could be at ease with myself was through sex. The bottom line is that through it all, my husband stood by me and helped me through these feelings, while my lover became openly hostile and resentful, especially after I told him that I loved him (he promptly ended things when I told him that).

In the six months since things ended, I haven't been able to let go. I've never had my heart broken, and the pain sometimes feels unbearable (and especially hard to express because I can't forgive myself for feeling this way). While my lover has moved on to several new relationships, I find myself pining for him and in a few instances of begging on my part, sleeping with him again. The part that I really cannot understand is why I still desperately seek validation and love from this lover when I have all that and more at home with my husband. It's almost if I find myself so unworthy of my husband's love that I try to find it from a man who clearly doesn't feel that towards me. We're seeing a marriage counselor and have decided to close our marriage, but I still feel hopeless about how to proceed. I feel like I've been stuck in this quicksand for so long that I don't even know where to begin to find the confidence to move on. Please help.

Can't Shut the Door

Dear Can't Shut the Door,

One thing that's not helping is that you're still screwing him. Still screwing him is not the optimal way to stop screwing him. If you're trying to stop screwing him, try not screwing him.

If you can't stop screwing him on your own, then get help. Try Stop Screwing Him Anonymous or something.

Making love with somebody you're trying to forget is like drinking to stop drinking. You'll never drink enough to get your fill and stop.

I say quit cold turkey. Cut off all contact.

Or do I misunderstand? I hope I'm reading you right. You say, "While my lover has moved on to several new relationships, I find myself pining for him and in a few instances of begging on my part, sleeping with him again."

So look. Just end it completely.

Screwing somebody tends to make you fond. It's something to do with biology. You want to be less fond. How do I quit thee cold turkey? Let me count the ways. You could think about his nose hair and his male privilege and how they don't harmonize. You could think about how he's playing you for a sucker. You could think about how he's not holding up his end of the bargain. His end was to end it. You say he promptly ended things. But it sounds like not really. It sounds like he said, OK, I'm ending this! and then he kept on having sex with you for the heck of it.

That's pretty unethical if you ask me, even if you asked for it, and especially in a situation that's supposed to be so all-fired conscious and self-determined and way mad ethical-like.

The understanding was that everybody's an adult and everybody can handle it. That's straight out of the 1970s. Load of crap, IMHO. Some people, maybe, can sort of handle it. Like the French. Maybe they can handle it.

We go into these things like adults but we come out like children.

You need clear ethical boundaries. Them you do not have in the instant case.

So maybe there is a program you could get into to do the 12 steps around this issue. Actually, I don't supposed it's called Stop Screwing Him Anonymous. It's called something more like Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. I mean, you're out of control. You can't stop doing the thing you don't want to be doing, and it's ruining your life. No shame. Just get the help.

You and your husband obviously are not up to this on your own. Why should you be? For heaven's sake, this is why most of us are scared stiff of an open marriage.

Did you think being able to handle it was equivalent to being able to talk about it without yelling? That's like thinking you can handle a forest fire because you're able to talk about it without bursting into flame.

By handle it I mean handle all the stuff that's not in a textbook, all the stuff that you don't talk about but that drives you to go over to his house in the afternoon and not tell your husband and make love to him and then leave desolate once again, because you've done it again when you didn't want to, because you're simply out of control. You're powerless over this thing you've unleashed.

So get some help. There's no shame in finding out you're powerless over something. The world is full of powerful things -- methamphetamine, roulette, clandestine encounters in truck-stop mens rooms, newly purchased diamonds, afternoons at the horses, the smell of Miami at midnight, the taste of 8-year-old Scotch, the feel of a pilfered wallet, the satisfaction of crunching somebody's face with your boot, the rush of winning in a courtroom and a thousand other private pleasures that drive us in all the insane ways we are driven.

It is only surprising that we don't get in worse trouble more often.

Got more questions like this? Read the book
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What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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