One of my readers of my Psychology Today blog recently asked a question that I have heard many times, in many different settings: “I want to be polyamorous but I am not sure how to bring it up to my spouse.” Because the question is so common, I wanted to post the response here for the many others who wonder the same thing.
B asked how to approach his wife of 10 years whom he loves deeply about opening their relationship to allow him to have sex with others. B explained that his wife had lost interest in sex when pregnant with their first child and now they had sex only about three times a year when she gives in so he will leave her alone. That is not enough for B, who identified himself as a very sexual person miserable about neglecting his feelings and desires.
This was my response:
I am sorry you are in this situation, it sounds very painful for both of you. In order to give you advice I would need more information about what you mean when you say: “She has been seen by doctors before about the issue, with no advice or medication that would change our situation.”
By “the issue,” do you mean low sex drive? Have you two talked about why she does not want to have sex? That is key information, and without knowing if it is an issue of sexual orientation, body image, child hood abuse, hormonal imbalance, or any number of things my advice is by definition rather general.
Even with this limited information, I do have three suggestions for you.
1. Try something new: Instead of the kind of pressure that leads her to “fold to my will because she just wants me to leave her alone” try taking intercourse off the table completely and focusing on other ways to be intimate in order to build intimacy and trust. I am talking here about not only cuddling and non-sexual affection, but also massage, hair brushing, deep listening, eye gazing, and spending special time together. Once you have built up some no-pressure intimacy and emotional trust, you can try knew things sexually focused only on her satisfaction. Get a vibrating toy and explore the clitoris with a lot of patience and variety. If sex is only about you and what you want, bending to your will with no thought of her pleasure, then it is no wonder she is not excited to do it. Making sex about her pleasure and desire can make it a lot more fun for her, something she might be more excited to do more often.
2. Communicate honestly about needs and try hard to meet them: If your wife feels well loved, seen, heard, appreciated, and that her needs are being met, then she is much more likely to feel OK about you directing sexual/emotional/relational energy to other people. In contrast, if your wife feels overworked, under-appreciated, demeaned, rejected, dismissed, or starved for attention, then the idea of you giving your positive vibes away to someone else when she already doesn’t get enough herself is not going to be popular. She will only feel comfortable sharing if she feels like she has gotten enough in the first place, so focus on communicating about what you each need and how to best meet those needs.
If she is unable to communicate about her needs, feelings, and desires, then it is highly unlikely that your wife will be able to communicate enough to sustain a poly relationship. Poly relationships require a lot of communication about feelings, talking about what people want and don’t want to happen, how people are going to spend their time and money, and how to protect against sexually transmitted infections. If you two can’t talk about your own relationship, then focus on improving your communication before involving another person.
3. Get some professional guidance: Understanding the reasons behind sexual reluctance and considering if/how to approach consensual non-monogamy can be an incredibly challenging endeavor that promises pain, personal growth, and the unknown. Seeking support to deal with the underlying issues can help make the difficult process much more manageable.
If the root of the sexual reluctance is physical (vaginismus) or psychobiological and expresses primarily in a sexual setting, then consider seeing a sex therapist. You can find one at AASECT directory or a poly-friendly sex therapist at the Kink Aware Professionals list.
If her sexual reluctance is rooted in family issues, body issues, relational history, or trauma, then consider seeing a counselor or therapist to deal with the underlying personal and relational issues.
If her reluctance is based in her feeling of not getting her needs met, not being seen validated or understood, or an inability to communicate her needs, then consider relationship coaching with me. I provide one time sessions and ongoing coaching for people considering or trying consensual non-monogamy, BDSM, and other relationship styles. I am happy to talk to you on the phone, meet with you via Skype, or in person if you are in the Atlanta area.
However you decide to deal with your relationship challenges, I wish you both the best in your endeavor.