Psychology
05 Oct 2018

I want an open relationship or I will break up with you

What happens if we are forced to choose between our partner or our peace of mind?

Wysokie Obcasy
Krystyna Romanowska Wysokie Obcasy, Global
I want an open relationship or I will break up with you - NewsMavens
Woman thinking, Pixabay

The following fragments from Krystyna Romanowska’s interview with Izabela Jąderek originally appeared in the Polish weekly “Wysokie Obcasy” in August 2018.

Krystyna Romanowska: Opening up a relationship -- what does it mean? Ménage à trois? Permission to commit adultery? Polyamory? Polygamy?

Izabela Jąderek: "Opening up a relationship" is an elegant expression. But often it boils down to a situation in which a man announces to his partner that he wants to have sex and/or be in a relationship with other women.

KR: How might a woman react to her partner’s revelation?

She’s shocked. Then, she usually says "no". 

The man, confronted with her reluctance, might respond: “I understand your reaction but give it some thought. For I can’t imagine being in a monogamous relationship anymore, so we might have to split up otherwise”.

She tries to negotiate: “What do you mean by an ‘open relationship’? Are you going to see other women? How often? What about us? Who am I to you?”

A storm of emotions then begins: jealousy, fear, love, trust, concerns over sexual safety and diseases. If they have children, the situation is even more complicated. But in many cases, the woman starts to consider saying “yes”.

KR:  Seriously?

Of course. And very often she eventually agrees on his terms. But the question is: is her partner really going too far? After all, he’s giving her a choice.

KR: It's more like blackmail.

Yes.

If she agrees to an open relationship out of fear of losing him, she does it under pressure. This is not a consensual agreement.

KR: How do you feel about these scenarios when you hear about them in therapy?

I understand and accept people entering into polygamous relationships. They always have their reasons to do so.

Monogamy is deeply rooted in our culture, but not everyone wants to live in a monogamous relationship -- and that’s OK. There are cultures where women have several partners. They enjoy this arrangement and cannot imagine limiting themselves to only one lover. These women are fully aware of their motivations and potential challenges of their decision. They work hard on their jealousy, don’t accuse their partners and never hold grudges. They make their own choices.

But the women we’re discussing today, whom I meet in therapy, are making decisions under pressure, often thinking: “There must something wrong with me”, “What have I done wrong?”, or “I should do my best to always please my partner”. Their helplessness and low self-esteem are heartbreaking and, yes, I wish I could do more to help them see their own worth.

KR: Are these kinds of scenarios simply about men who are bored and looking for a thrill?

Not always. All involved parties are equally responsible for the quality of their relationship.  But sometimes one half of a monogamous pair is dealing with other issues.

There are some men who would like to be in a polyamorous relationship but don’t have the courage to tell their partner. They are struggling to sustain their connection with their spouses. The more intimate things get, not to mention if a baby appears, the bigger their urge to seek other relationsips. 

[Troubles in a couple’s sexual relationship can complicate matters even more.] If the man, for example, speaks about his unfulfilled needs, suggests seeing a specialist and receives no interest or sympathy from his partner, then “opening up the relationship” may seem to him like a reasonable solution.

KR: Are men who suggest an open relationship more sincere and honourable than those who secretly cheat on their partners?

In my opinion, they are. Provided they know exactly what prompted them to suggest such an arrangement. It’s hard to talk about honesty if a man conceals his motives from his partner. Such an unconventional decision calls for an explanation and requires deeper self-reflection: “Why am I doing this? Am I afraid of attachment? or Am I scared that she’ll leave me?”

Telling your partner that you want to be in a relationship with other women is better than cheating and lying that she’s the only one.

KR: What happens when a woman reluctantly says "yes" to opening the relationship?

She feels guilty and tries to negotiate. The relationship becomes tense, stressful and exhausting. Simple activities like going to a party together become unbearable, because she’s constantly keeping an eye on him, trying to find out what kinds of women he’s attracted to. It gets even weirder when the couple meets one of the man’s lovers.

Women reluctantly consenting to an open relationship persistently try to convince themselves they’re doing the right thing, because they feel like they should always accept a man’s decisions.

KR: Should they?

If that’s not what they want, then they most certainly should not! People don’t have to do things against their will! It’s called freedom of choice.

KR: But then he will leave, right?

He might but he also might not. 

My advice to every man thinking about opening up his relationship would be going back to the source and asking himself: "Why do I need an open relationship?", "What’s missing from the present one?", "Have we ever been happy together?", "When did it change?"

Women should do some self-questioning as well: "Do I feel pressured?", "Do I truly believe there’s something wrong with me?", and "If so, why do I think so?"

KR: When does the fear set in?

Usually immediately. And we can distinguish two different fears. The first one relates to the relationship itself. The second one is a concern about what this situation says about the woman herself. A monogamous relationship is easy to understand in many ways. It’s based on the conviction that our partner chose us over all other women, and this makes us feel special and adored! When our partner suggests being open to other people, our significance and uniqueness are erased.

Very often women read it this way: "If a person who loves me wants to be in a relationship with other women, surely I’ll never be good enough for any other man". That’s why many of them decide to stay with their partner and allow them to see other women. 

KR: Aren’t men afraid to ask about an open relationship? Their partner could easily tell them to sod off.

They don’t always ask. Usually, they announce it. I’ve never seen any of these men showing a hint of fear or apprehension.

Men, despite being full of their own worries -- about their masculinity, for example -- are in many ways more inclined to talk openly about their entitlements. They’re taught to do it from the earliest age and continue to do so as adults. When they suggest an open relationship, they rarely seriously consider the fact that it could lead to a break-up. Whereas women will often think twice before verbalizing their needs or concerns.

***

Izabela Jąderek - Psychologist, sexual educator and Polish-English psychosocial skills trainer. Social Psychology lecturer and doctoral student at University of Social Sciences and Humanities.

Translated from Polish by Martyna Kardach

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