Help! How do I initiate the talk about opening our relationship?

Hey Louloria,

I’ve been married for three years but I’ve always have female friends that I’ve been very attached too. I would go as far as to say I love them. I’ve always struggled with this feeling that I would just to love to touch them or kiss them but I’ve always backed out of these thoughts. It might seem I don’t love my wife but it’s quite the opposite. I am sure I would love to live with her and have a home with her.

Before I would not even think about something like an open relationship but I had a girlfriend who had more than me as a boyfriend and when I found out I got quite mad but afterwards I thought that the only reason I was mad was maybe because she lied to me, not that she had had others. But I want it to be mutual, I want to talk about it with my wife. But I don’t know how. I touched the topic a bit already. We talked about love, that someone always loves more people or even animals in different ways and that there can’t be only one for you and that it’s normal that somebody always feel attraction to other people. So why shouldn’t one give vent to those feelings? Living with somebody is about so many other things after all.

What do you think? Is it wrong that I feel this attraction to my friends, this urge to touch or flirt with others? Am I just an asshole? I’ve already read Opening Up and The New I do, which were really helpful but did not quite answer all of my questions.

Hi there,

You may have read Opening Up and The New I Do (thanks for the new book title for my list btw), but it appears you haven’t read my column if you believe I think it’s wrong to feel attraction to more than one person (or indeed any number of people)!

I believe you have read it–since you wrote to me–it feels like you’re trying to get a sign off of your own emotions which may indicate an as yet undeveloped ability to take responsibility for your own emotions and/or actions. Thus my initial reaction to your letter was quite negative. Usually that’s more a signpost to my own need of internal growth; but on occasion it can indicate a douche-like behaviour.

So are you an asshole? Let’s answer that question first.

In my experience most people have asshole aspects to their behaviour. It’s kind of part of what it means to be human. Apart from the request for absolution of your feelings here’s one aspect I might be able to pick out from your letter.

You, like many others assume that the way you are, is the way everyone is. It may well be normal for you to feel attraction to other people, but human beings run the gamut. Some may be like you, and others may not be. Secondly feeling attraction and acting on your attraction are two different things. Making assumptions that people ‘should’ believe what you believe or ‘should’ feel what you feel is a slippery slope towards suppressing and/or overriding other peoples’ beliefs, voice and needs.

Another danger signal I pick up from your mail is that you seem to see love and touching as intrinsically intertwined. It is quite possible to love without touching, it is possible to touch without loving. As this is the beginning of your journey into open relationship territory, you may not have come across literature helps you understand your love languages (which I suspect may be physical touch). So whist I advise you not to suppress your feelings, do be mindful of your actions stemming from those feelings. You are certainly not an asshole for having feelings (that goes for everyone, yes even the most ‘vile’ feelings), it’s what you do with them that could potentially turn you into an asshole.

How do you talk about them with your wife?

Welcome to a whole new world of honest communication. If you don’t already have honest communication–which it appears you do not since you are skirting round this issue with her–then this is going to be mind blowing for you both. You might consider your attitude to pain in preparation, since this will most likely involve some emotional pain. Don’t shy away from the truth, speak only from your perspective, don’t assume hers, and use compassion in doing so. It takes years to learn honest communication and it takes at least two people to commit to it.

My gut says that when you approach your wife to discuss this, you must make absolutely clear that expressing your feelings does not necessarily mean acting on them. You are both in this relationship and signed up for monogamy. If you now want to change that, then your entire relationship must be re-examined on that basis and continually so.

Consent is continuous.

If she’s cool with an open relationship, she can also change her mind about it once it moves into action territory (note though, that she–like you–cannot control your actions just choose about her own). She can also choose to leave the relationship (as can you).

In summary:

  • Re-examine your beliefs of what is ‘normal’ and what is not. You only know for sure what is normal for you.
  • Understand that having feelings is okay; but acting on your feelings–if you intend to be ethical–is more about making sure you don’t cross others’ boundaries or let them cross yours, which can easily happen when you believe a particular thing is ‘normal’ and thus acceptable. Don’t assume.
  • You entered this relationship with the agreement and expectation of monogamy for both of you. Understand that you both have the choice to change the agreement, but that you also both have the choice to leave the relationship if the agreement changes.

Finally growth–all growth–is worth it in my opinion; it is an investment in the self. But all growth involves some degree of pain. You can read about the difference between pain and suffering on my blog if you’re a patron.

Good Luck,

Louisa