Crushed

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Photo credit: Rachel Robinson
Rachel Robinson

Dear Dan: I’m a 42-year-old gay man. I’ve been with my husband for 21 years. We met in college and, except for a six-month break, we’ve been together ever since. I made an open relationship a requirement at the start. While my husband had jealousy and trust issues, he hooked up with others regularly. After a few tense years, we started couples therapy. During therapy, my husband revealed that he was never in favor of the openness. After trying some new arrangements — only together, only at sex parties, DADT — he realized he wasn’t comfortable with any situation. He told our therapist that every time I hooked up with someone, he was retraumatized because it reminded him of the time I broke up with him for six months 20 years ago. I agreed to a monogamous relationship, and I’ve gone a year without hooking up with anyone else. He seemed genuinely relieved and said he felt more secure. But almost immediately, he began talking about how he wanted to hook up with others. I’m at a loss. I feel tremendous guilt for even thinking about splitting up, so I keep hoping we’ll stumble on the thing that will work for us. I don’t know what to say when he says I should be monogamous to him while he gets to hook up with others. He says this would be best, since my hooking up triggers him. We are at an impasse. It sucks that we could break up over this.

—Gay Marriage Having Crisis

Dear GMHC: I’ve written about a few gay couples — and a few straight ones — where one half gets to hook up with others while the other half doesn’t. But they were cuckold couples, GMHC, and the half who didn’t “get to” hook up with others didn’t want to hook up with others. The cuck half of a cuckold couple gets off on their partner “cheating” on them. While people outside the relationship might perceive that as unfair — one gets to cheat, the other doesn’t — what’s more ideal than both halves of a couple getting just what they want?

But if an eroticized power imbalance — an honestly erotized one — doesn’t turn you on, the creepily manipulative arrangement your husband is proposing certainly isn’t going to work.

Which means it’s both ultimatum and bluff-calling time. So long as your husband thinks he can dictate terms by pointing to his triggers and his trauma, GMHC, he has every incentive to continue being triggered and traumatized. So with your couples therapist there to mediate, tell him your marriage is either open or closed. You’re not interested in being his cuckold and he can’t point to his trauma to force you into that role. You’re a handsome couple — thanks for enclosing the lovely picture (sometimes it’s nice to see the face of the person I’m responding to!) — with a long history together, and here’s hoping things work out. But if they don’t, GMHC, neither of you is going to have a problem finding a new partner. He can get himself a guy who likes being dictated to, if that’s really what he wants. And you can find a guy who wants an open and egalitarian relationship, which is what you deserve.

P.S. If your therapist is taking your husband’s side in this, GMHC, get a new therapist.

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