Dear Mary: My partner and I agreed to have an open relationship. Now I regret it
Q: I'm gay and I've been in a relationship with my partner for 10 years now, and when the new law came in we were able to have a Civil Partnership, which was really great. We said that we might even get married one of the days now that marriage is possible for us as well. I know that we both intended to be together for the long haul and we agree on most things, including not wanting to have children.
But there is now something that has changed everything and has begun to eat away at me. After our first few years together we agreed that ours would be an open relationship and we were free to have sex with other people. My partner has a far bigger appetite for sex than I have, and so we saw the open relationship as an ideal solution. There were to be no secrets, although we didn't need to know the nitty gritty of what went on. All that worked very well until about six months ago. My partner seemed more and more remote and was going out a lot without me. He also was keeping his mobile phone pretty close to him at all times. I eventually tackled him about it, reminding him of the no-secrets bit, and he admitted that he was seeing somebody else on a fairly regular basis and was getting very close to him. I asked that he stop seeing him but he is not prepared to do that and so I don't know what to do. I'm desperately upset, cannot concentrate at work, find myself crying very easily and am generally not the person I was before all this happened.
A: As you have found, there are hidden dangers in an open relationship, and it doesn't matter whether you are both male, both female or male and female. The basic premise of an open relationship is that each person is allowed to have sex with other partners but this is usually with the proviso that it is purely for sex. The couple generally also have an agreement that if one person is unhappy with how things are going that they can call a halt and the other one has to agree to this.
What seems to be happening in your case is that your partner has become emotionally involved with a third party and was displaying all the signs of somebody having an affair when you decided to talk it through with him. This is totally unacceptable and you were right to ask him to stop seeing the other guy. His refusal is bringing things to a head and you are left with a few options. You can separate, which would be a shame given the very strong relationship you had up until six months ago. You can suggest counselling if your partner is agreeable to this, but if he is in the heady excitement of an affair, he may not be.
Another avenue open to you is to see if there was anything wrong in the relationship between the two of you that could be changed. If you think about all of this in terms of an affair - nobody goes headlong into an affair unless there is something missing in their own relationship. You say that your libidos were unequal, but you had coped with this by having an open relationship. Was everything else in the relationship really good? If you honestly think that it was, you will have to ask your partner what this man is providing that he doesn't have with you. It may be difficult to hear but you need to know. In order to talk things through, it would be a good idea to get away from home and either have dinner somewhere or even suggest going away for a weekend so that you can have each other's undivided attention. It may even give you both a chance to realise what it was that made you feel attracted to each other to begin with.
You had a lot going for you in this particular relationship, and 10 years is a long time. So it is worth fighting for. He may ultimately decide to stay with his new friend, but you cannot continue as things are because you will find it too difficult. You had an open relationship, but now it is a relationship with three people in it, which, as we all know, doesn't work. So it will have to be back to the two of you or it looks like it will be over between you.