Russell’s story: part 1

Russell is 38-year-old entertainer who finds it difficult to be monogamous and is now in an open relationship. This is the first part of his story, before he met his current partner, in his own words.

At the age of 20 I met my future partner of 9½ years. Sylvia was an arty type and we fitted well together. The relationship was good – in fact the sex was excellent and there was lots of it. It was other stuff which got in the way of our relationship continuing in a smooth progression of lifelong monogamy, mainly lack of trust, jealousy and a low self esteem on her part, and a lively, excitable, fun-loving persona on mine.

I’ve always found it easy to talk to people and am not bothered about appearances, so I’ve lots of friends and contacts. Sylvia wasn’t so outgoing and I often went socialising by myself. Sylvia would sometimes ask if I fancied other women, or if I’d told her I’d had a coffee with a female friend with whom I wasn’t sexually active, Sylvia would ask things like did we ever hold hands, or if I kissed my friend goodbye, was it on her cheek or lips?

I loved her – enough even to decline the offer of sex with someone at a party. This event (or non-event!) was some kind of fulcrum in our time together. I told her that I could’ve gone upstairs with the woman but had declined because I was in a relationship with someone who couldn’t cope with that kind of thing, and I loved her more than a quick fun bonk with a stranger. I felt good being faithful at the party, as I believed I was being honourable and behaving in the right way.

Her reaction was unexpected – she flew off into a rage. I think the supposition was that I’d done something to encourage this woman. When I told her, I wished I’d actually done the deed! If I had done it I would have either told Sylvia or been ‘seen through’ if I’d tried to hide it. And I’m fairly sure that would have been the end. It really made it clear to me that she had a problem with her feelings about me, that she was possessive and damaged.

So, smarting from a punishment for my honesty and integrity, I started ‘lying by omission’ i.e. I decided not to mention the occasional coffee dates as it only seemed to stir up trouble.

Trying to be monogamous

I should say from the beginning that I have talked to Russell but not to Sylvia, so I only have his side of the story. However, I don’t think his experience is unusual. He is the kind of person who thrives on getting to know new people, and on flirting. He says that many women find him attractive and he gets an offer of a sexual encounter fairly regularly. Someone with his kind of personality will always find monogamy difficult.

Russell is also a person who hates being dishonest or breaking trust. When he was with Sylvia he tried hard to stay faithful, in a relationship where this meant staying monogamous. When offered the chance to have sex with someone he found attractive, he said no because he knew Sylvia would be upset by it. This seems to me to be exactly the right thing to have done.

As usual, I’d like to ask what you would have done in Russell’s situation. I wouldn’t recommend lying by omission, the route he chose at the time – and I’m sure he now wouldn’t recommend it either.

One possible way forward might have been for the two of them to have a long discussion about what their different expectations were, and how they might get round their differing needs and personalities. Perhaps with the help of a counsellor, they might have worked something out.

Another possibility might have been for Russell to continue his ‘occasional coffee dates’ but mention them to Sylvia each time. But this would have been very difficult without first having that long discussion and it would have caused a lot of conflict. I can see why Russell didn’t do this.

And I suppose the other option might have been for Russell to decide that he was unable to continue in the relationship, given the differences between his and Sylvia’s outlook on monogamy.

When your partner admits being tempted

What about Sylvia’s options? I don’t know exactly why Sylvia reacted negatively to Russell’s admission – although again, I don’t think her reaction is unusual.

What would you do if your partner came back from a party and told you that they had been offered sex but refused because they wanted to be faithful to you? ( This is assuming that you have an agreement of monogamy, whether spoken or unspoken.) You could feel angry or hurt if, as Russell suspects of Sylvia, you think that they might have encouraged the other person. Or you could thank them for being honest and for thinking of your wishes even when tempted to break their promise.

It is clear to me that Sylvia’s reaction was most certainly counterproductive in this case. By giving Russell the impression that he was being punished despite his honesty, she was giving him no incentive to be honest again. Perhaps she thought that she had to give him a reason not to even flirt with other women again, never mind be honest about his flirting. With Russell or someone like him, this was never likely to work. Reacting angrily to your partner’s honest admission that they have refused an offer of sex is just encouraging them to lie in the future.

For some people who have experienced this situation, they’ve discovered that actually they didn’t mind their partner being interested somebody else, and the experience has opened up a whole new world of Open Fidelity. It didn’t happen this way for Russell and Sylvia, although the experience shaped the way Russell felt about monogamy and later helped him to work out a more honest way to have several lovers.

In the next post, I’ll tell you how Russell and Sylvia’s relationship developed.

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