Originally published November 14, 2014.
My wife has been reading a lot about open marriages and she recently decided that it was the best move for our marriage.
Quick background: we have been married for over ten years. During this time I have cheated on her numerous times. It started with online sex chats and running up hundreds of dollars on credit cards. She first found out about it by finding the charges. We had been married only 1 year at this point. She told me I had a problem and needed to get help. I told her I could stop and apologized over and over. I didn't get help and several years later she finds out I have been doing it again. At this point we started to see a counselor. We worked on things for a while, but slowly we stopped going and I ended up back where I was before. When she caught me the third time, about two years later, we went to a new counselor. She admitted that she had at this point cheated on me with someone. We both wanted to stop and we continued seeing the counselor together as well as me seeing one on my own. Again, this lasted for a while, but at some point we stopped going. This past April she found out I had been talking with someone for a while and meeting up with her. She confronted me and I said I would stop. I did and although I didn't get help, I continue to have no contact with the woman and haven't had contact with anyone new.
Just last month, I happened to see a strange message on her phone. I found out then that she was seeing someone else and things quickly snowballed from there. I confronted her and she told me she wanted an open marriage. I was shocked but I should have seen it coming. As we talked about things I found out she was actually seeing two people. One had been ongoing for three years. I told her I didn't want to do this and I was going to get the help I should have gotten ten years ago. I started by seeing a new counselor. I now realize I have issues I need to work on in order to be a better person.
My wife as agreed to hold off on meeting up with anyone, although she does still want an open marriage. I don't blame her at this point. I don't even trust myself at this point. How can I ask her to give me another chance? She has already said she will probably resent me for forcing her to stop seeing the men she's been seeing. She says I was able to choose when I wanted to do what I did and now I am taking that right away from her. I really don't think she wants an open marriage. I think she landed on this option given my actions. We both do love each other and do not want to end the marriage. (We also have children and don't want to be apart from them.) I really don't want to have an open marriage but at this point I feel I need to give her what she needs.
Please share any advice you have on how to move forward with an open marriage or any suggestions on how to prove to her I really do want to stop.
A Sorry Soul
Your marriage is already open, ASS. But instead of practicing ethical non-monogamy—it's a real thing—you and now your wife have been practicing non-ethical non-monogamy. You've been a non-ethical non-monogamist for almost as long as you've been married, and your wife is playing catch up. So here's what I think you should do...
Instead of beating your heads against the wall—or beating them against another counselor—why not give ethical non-monogamy a chance? Read this book. Can't read a whole book? Read this letter that Amelia Earhart wrote to her fiance in 1937. Read it right now. It's not long. The rest of us will watch this batshit/dirty video (link NSFW) while we wait for you to read Earhart's letter.
Okay, ASS, you back? Good. Now it seems to me that you and your wife might be happier if you modeled your marriage on Amelia and George's marriage:
On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. If we can be honest I think the difficulties which arise may best be avoided should you or I become interested deeply (or in passing) in anyone else.
You and your wife have been through 10 years, multiple outside partners, two or more childbirths, and I lost count of the counselors and I'm not gonna reread your letter just to recount your counselors. Stop pretending that good intentions and the right counselor and insights that came to you only after your wife started fucking other people are going change anything. It might help if you also stopped telling yourselves that you two have failed at monogamy and started telling yourselves that monogamy has failed you two. You're not any good at it, your wife isn't any good at it, and you're unlikely to get any better at it. Let your wife do her thing/things, you do your thing/things, be honest with each other, treat each other with respect and kindness, and be there—under the same roof—for your kids. And this thing you keep failing at? The default setting for straight marriages? The monogamous model/ideal? Stop trying. (For the record: I'm not saying that monogamy is impossible and that no one is capable of it or that it always fails. It's possible, some people are, it doesn't always. Mr. and Mrs. ASS, however, aren't capable of it.)
And the money you're spending on counseling sessions? Sock it away in your kids' college savings accounts.