There is another way!

This week in the Daily Telegraph, Angela Levin has a series of three articles investigating ‘why the UK is in the grip of an infidelity epidemic’. They are headed Desperately seeking someone’, ‘Being unfaithful keeps me happy’ and ‘Adultery isn’t the end – it’s a wake-up call’.

She has interviewed over a hundred people who have had no-strings-attached sex while married, without telling their spouses, and concludes that this is becoming more and more common in the UK. She also concludes that many of them don’t feel guilty about it. Women are no longer much less likely to have affairs than men, and age isn’t a barrier either.

Like so many journalists writing on this subject, Levin completely ignores the idea that someone might be honest about having sex with someone else. None of the interviewees seem to have considered for a moment the idea of telling their partners about their need for more sex, or about the fact that they are having sex with someone else. As usual, the choice seems to be between monogamy and cheating. The third article talks about what happens when the other spouse finds out, though this never seems to be through a confession.

Interestingly, there seems to be a consensus among the people interviewed that this extramarital sex keeps them sane and happy and therefore saves their marriage. To some extent I would agree with this: sex with others can enliven a relationship, as I have found myself and heard again and again from the people I’ve interviewed. But Levin does point out that “the partner who chooses to have a fling has to live a life of subterfuge and always be on the alert in case he or she is found out”. Yes, it is a big price to pay. I would go further: I’d say it the deceit that causes most of the problems, rather than the extramarital sex itself. In fact, if there is no deceit, sex with others has a much better chance of enlivening the relationship.

I want to say loud and clear to people in this situation: there is another way. You don’t have to be monogamous and you don’t have to cheat. But it requires talking to your spouse and telling them about your needs.

Here are some thoughts from an Open Fidelity perspective for someone who is married and considering having, or has had, a no-strings-attached affair, and who wants to stay in the marriage.

The ideal time to talk to your spouse about this issue is when you’re starting to feel unhappy and are tempted to cheat but before you have done anything concrete to find another sexual partner. It will be much more difficult to try and find a solution if you have already broken your original promises. But even that can be done. The longer you leave it, the more difficult it will be, either to keep the secret or to come clean. And the secret is almost bound to come out at some point.

Tell your spouse that you are having problems being monogamous. Tell them you have considered looking elsewhere for some sex, or that you have done so if that is the case. Also tell them how much you love them, how committed you feel and that you don’t want to leave them. Say that you would like to work out a way in which both of you can be sexually satisfied while still managing to stay together.

Then wait for the suggestion to sink in, for your spouse’s anger to die down, and for them to consider their options and the alternative options (the two of you splitting up; you having an affair behind their back; and you being unhappily monogamous). If your having sex with someone else with no strings attached will really not affect your love for your spouse or your relationship with them, it might be possible to convince them to accept this too (but make sure you are certain of it first!).

If you have been unhappy, the chances are they have also been unhappy, so they might be glad for the opportunity to talk about their difficulties. Who knows, they might also have been wanting something different in their sex life and have been wishing they could tell you. They might even have already guessed that you’re thinking of an affair. This will be an opportunity for you to work out what you both want and find a way in which your probably differing needs can be made compatible.

Then try, tentatively and gently, to negotiate with each other a solution that involves you getting some sexual fulfilment while staying with your spouse. I can’t say what the solution will be – each relationship is different – but I can, over the course of this blog, give you examples of people who have tried this solution and what they have learnt from the experience. Are there some rules that you can agree that will make it easier to cope with each other’s liaisons? Practising safe sex is an obvious example. Perhaps a period of strict monogamy would be a good idea while you find ways to make non-monogamy possible. Are you prepared for your spouse to have lovers too? If you find this idea difficult, ask yourself why. Look for support from others who have tried honest non-monogamy, perhaps via this blog and the links from it.

This whole blog is about this alternative to monogamy and cheating, called Open Fidelity, so keep reading if you want more tips.

7 Responses to “There is another way!”

  1. I’m really enjoying your site and thought I would say hello!

    You may like to read my site? It’s about a polyfidelitous trio trying to make a go of world domination without stepping on too many toes, or having to go too far from home. May contain humour, joy, love, anger, use of Canadian spellings and occasional bitterness.

    Thank you for spreading the word :)

  2. Hi there! I’m adding a link to your blog now. Thanks for linking to mine.

  3. I continue to be a little uneasy about some of the terms of discourse, certainly as they relate to my own experiences. I would never use the word “need” in a context like this: I think it trivializes actual needs (e.g. nutrition, sanitation, safety) and puts one rather in the same camp as someone who “needs” the sense of power and freedom they get from driving a massive 4×4, or who “needs” a foreign holiday 3 times a year to survive the stress of their mundane office job. These aren’t needs, and neither are our sexual desires.
    While I’m on terminology, we also differ on the meaning of the word “monogamy”.
    Picking more holes in this post:
    – open fidelity for me has never been about “more sex”. Rather the opposite: the emotional rollercoaster and sheer logistical complexity involved in open fidelity probably meant that there was a little less sex in total.
    Lastly, in your list of options (splitting up, secret affair, unhappy monogamy) you don’t include “figuring out a way to be happy together while not having third-party sex”. This can and does work, but like open fidelity it requires total communication and commitment.
    Enough for now. Glad to see the blog, and very happy to see you working so hard on this important subject.
    [PS: I never use pseudonyms online]

  4. I omitted “with this particular person” after “not having third-party sex”. There might be lots of reasons for this. For instance, the primary partner might consider this particular third-party to be a desperately unwise choice.

  5. Thanks for your comments Nick. I agree that the need for sex isn’t the same as the need for more basic needs. Nevertheless, some people say that for them it feels like a need and they find it very hard to ignore it. For them, telling them to ignore it probably won’t work.
    I should point out that this post was a response to the articles in the Telegraph, which focused on people who had ‘no-strings-attached sex’ while married. For many others, I totally agree that it isn’t about sex, or at least not just about sex.
    Yes, the further option you mention is a good one if you can manage it. Thanks for the confirmation that it can be done.
    I’m curious about your definition of monogamy – would you like to elaborate?

  6. Maybe it’s enough to say that I think our marriage was always monogamous. The opposite of mongamy is surely polygamy, which never interested either of us.
    But the terminology is difficult. Possibly the cruellest lie in our divorce papers was the words “open marriage”, which means something quite different to me. It made me wonder for a while whether, despite all our communication, we hadn’t truly understood each other. In retrospect I think that it was just the easiest way to express a complex truth to the judge,.

  7. PS: I agree that desires can be very strong, overpoweringly strong, and attempting to ignore them is often counterproductive.
    Having said that, anyone who thinks that desires should always be satisfied isn’t going to be any good in bed :-)