I’ve been married for 7 years and my wife recently confessed she wanted to open the relationship. After several long talks I said we could give it a try, but now that she is actively looking for other partners, I’m questioning whether I can really handle this. I love my wife and I want her to be happy, but I want to be the one making her happy. I worry that I’ll become jealous or crazy worrying that she’s having better sex with them than she is with me. I’m afraid she’ll leave me if I don’t let her do this or fall in love with another partner and leave me if I let her do this. I’ve told her I think this is moving too fast and she said, “You told me you were okay with this – now you want to take it back?” Guilty I said no, but I might. I feel awful all the time. How do I come to terms with her desires without feeling crappy?
– A Lesbian Over Non-Monogamous Engagements
Jealousy issues aren’t exclusive to open relationships. You can still have doubts and insecurities with a closed relationship, say when a hot bartender makes eyes at your wife and you die a little inside. In other words, even if you close the relationship again, there’s no guarantee you’ll never be jealous. Rather than blame the open relationship for the icky feelings you now feel, take ownership of your feelings apart from the topic of openness.
To make your jealousy more manageable, give it less power. Jealousy doesn’t need to be a relationship ender but it is often set up as one in popular culture. Jealous feelings tug at our deepest insecurities, and they are very powerful.
When you get jealous, the natural reaction is to want to do anything possible to end those painful feelings immediately — and prevent their recurrence. But simply ending the episode of jealousy — say, by threatening to close the relationship, as you did — doesn’t do anything to heal the insecurities. It doesn’t help you grow.
So what makes you jealous? Are you worried about being left? Worried your wife’s new girlfriend is better in bed? Suffering from low self-esteem? Were you cheated on by past partners? A combination of these triggers, or none of the above? Think about it.
Once you understand where the pain is coming from, you can work on it. If your sexual confidence has taken a hit, find ways to build it back up. Think back over past experiences that were especially steamy, then try to recreate that energy in the bedroom. Dress up if that makes you feel sexy. Have sex using the position or technique or toy where you feel badass, then channel that confidence.
Practice positive affirmations. This isn’t just woo woo; when you change the way you speak to yourself, it can change how you feel about your appearance and your performance. If your internal monologue tends toward “I’m bad in bed,” remind yourself how long your wife has been with you. She wouldn’t have stuck around if the sex sucked.
Once you’ve taken the sting out of your inner monologue, maybe it’s time to learn new skills, try a new toy, or see if there’s something on your wife’s bucket list (or yours) to spice things up in the bedroom. After 7 years of marriage, things might have grown predictable in bed and your wife may be feeling bored. Rather than focus your energies on how her new gal pal is giving her multiple orgasms, think about what you two can change so everyone’s enjoying the sex you’re having with each other.
When your wife is out on dates, pamper yourself. If you spend the night reading erotica and masturbating (or maybe your idea of pampering is a long workout followed by a hot soak) you’ll be a lot more chilled out when your wife gets home than if you get out nervous energy cleaning the house while imagining your wife being intimate with another woman.
Don’t leave your partner out of this conversation. Open relationships take good communication. Circle back to what she said — “You told me you were okay with this – now you want to take it back?” — and open the conversation.
Explain why you’re having second thoughts. Discuss together ways that you can reduce your concerns and help your wife have the experiences she wants. This might means rules regarding what she can do, when she can do it, or how she can talk about it. For instance, you might tell her you don’t want to know any details to control your jealous reactions. You may take something off the table so she can only do that with you, or you might say “no sleepovers until we’ve been open for 6 months.” Rules allow you to ease into an open relationship with structure that can give you peace of mind.
Your wife should want you to feel comfortable and secure; if she tries to minimize your concerns or shut down the conversation with something like “You said we could do this!” she isn’t being a good partner. If you keep trying to have an honest conversation and she is not willing to negotiate rules for opening up, it’s a red flag — and maybe time to see a couples’ therapist.
When she is aware of what’s triggering your jealousy, you can work on it together. If it’s sexual self-esteem, maybe she’ll withhold the intimate details of her dates so you don’t feel bad or take one day a week to pamper you with affection.
Be open to the idea of allowing your feelings of jealousy to evolve. When you feel jealous, distract yourself or try self-care. Out of respect for your feelings, maybe your wife can move slowly until you feel less threatened.
If, after soul searching, you feel just as uncomfortable with opening up, it could be a sign things aren’t going to work long-term. The discomfort you feel with opening up mirrors the discomfort your wife feels with staying in a monogamous LTR. In this case you can remain firm — you said you could open things up, but yes, you do want to take it back — but understand it may be the beginning of the end. Your wife can either compromise and stay monogamous or she can decide she needs an open relationship, so can’t stay with you. Good luck!