Is Taking A Break From Non-Monogamy A Step Backwards In A Relationship?
We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Now, onto this week’s topic: how to take a break from non-monogamy.
Q: “I'm in a monogamish relationship. My partner and I were openly dating other people for about six months, but it started to get too much and I wound up asking for a pause. He agreed, but I know he's disappointed. He says he's willing to compromise and not date other people. He insists that it's worth it to be with me. But I also know that's not what he actually wants. I don’t want to lose him, so I keep trying to be more open to non-monogamy than I worry I actually am. How do I know whether non-monogamy is actually for me, and if it isn't, how do I know whether or not I'm asking him to compromise too much? What if he says it's OK, but he ends up spending the rest of our relationship resenting me for it? Can you really go from open to closed without it being a step back in the relationship?”
A: Thanks for the question! I once heard another sex educator say of choosing your relationship model — “if you can handle boredom, choose monogamy. If you can handle intensity, choose non-monogamy.” It’s obviously a really simplified take on a very complex issue, but there is a basic nugget of truth to it. Non-monogamy can bring up some really intense, sometimes overwhelming feelings. It’s understandable to want to take a breather. It’s also understandable for your boyfriend to feel disappointed about the change. I know this feels like a really sticky situation right now, but I think it can be more straightforward than it feels right now. Here are five ways to handle a non-monogamy to monogamy transitions.
Don’t See This As A Failure
First things first — going from non-monogamy to monogamy is not a step back. It’s a transition, yes, but there’s no need to put a value judgment on it. Monogamy isn’t better than non-monogamy, and non-monogamy isn’t better than monogamy. They’re simply different options that work for different people. Plus, you haven’t “failed” at non-monogamy. There’s no denying that non-monogamy can be intense, and can stir up huge feelings. Lots of people in monogamish relationships can end up feeling overwhelmed, and many people transition to monogamy — just like many people can feel unsatisfied in monogamous relationships and end up transitioning to non-monogamy.
If anything, I would actually call this a win, because you were willing to voice what you need and let your boyfriend know you wanted to take a break. I really want to commend you for that; it took a lot of vulnerability and honesty.
Next, I want to address your question of whether or not non-monogamy is for you. Of course, you’re the only person who can ultimately answer that question (though this past column might also provide more clarity). But here’s something interesting to think about: right now, in some ways, it would be much easier for you to be non-monogamous. You wouldn’t have to worry about your boyfriend resenting you for the rest of your relationship. You wouldn’t have to worry about him ending the relationship because of it. And still, you’re not saying that you want to go back to being in an open relationship. I think that says a lot. It’s important to recognize the difference between what you want to want, and what you actually want.
Remember That Nothing Is Permanent
I know I just hinted that it seems that non-monogamy isn’t right for you — and I think it’s important to acknowledge what’s true for you right now. But also keep in mind that nothing is permanent. Our feelings are particularly fleeting. It may just be at this moment in time, or at this point in your relationship, non-monogamy feels a little bit off. You very well may feel like going back to being monogamish at some point in the future.
Who knows — maybe seeing your partner’s willingness to make this compromise for you brings the two of you closer together, and you wind up being interested in opening back up a few months from now. I wouldn’t mention that to your boyfriend (you don’t want to give him the impression that you’re going on a break from being monogamish but will definitely return to it very soon). But perhaps this recognition of impermanence makes you feel a little more comfortable expressing your needs at this time.
Trust Your Partner
Just as I encourage you to trust yourself, I also want to encourage you to trust your boyfriend. He’s telling you that it’s worth it to him to give up an open relationship to be with you. It sounds to me like he understands the trade-off he’s making. He’s not taking it lightly, but he’s making it with open eyes. I know the fact that he’s disappointed about switching to monogamy is scary to you, because you’re worried that means non-monogamy is what he really wants. But it’s OK for him to acknowledge that he’s disappointed. It makes sense to be disappointed. And sharing those feelings with you is actually much more honest and realistic than pretending he doesn’t care. I would be wary if he told you he had no feelings about it.
The bottom line? You have to trust him that he’s telling the truth when he tells you he’s willing to make this compromise.
Check In One Last Time — Then Leave It Be
If you’ve already asked your boyfriend “are you sure?” multiple times, then leave it alone. But if you haven’t had a satisfying conversation yet, I think it would be fine to check in with him about it one last time. I would recommend saying something like, “I know that this is a big decision for both of us. I’m glad you respect my desire to have a monogamous relationship. I respect and understand your disappointment. I’m glad you’ve said you still want to be with me. I just want to make sure that this is a commitment you’re sure you’re willing to make.” If you want, you can offer to give him a few days to think about it before giving you a final decision.
After that, don’t bring it up again. Continuing to harp on it is only going to drive your boyfriend away. He won’t be able to hear, “are you sure you’re not resentful?” over and over again without eventually wondering if he is.
Wishing you the best of luck!
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