I have been attempting to open up a dialogue with my wife about my wanting to stray from our relationship in a purely sexual manner, and only with men. I am a trans man (he/him), she is a cis woman. We did try to open up once, and during the process of finding the guy I was going to hook up with she seemed fine. But after all was said and done, she basically flipped out. We tried to talk through it, but she ultimately closed the conversation and we just sort of left it alone. Ever since, the conversation gets brought up pretty sporadically and she says I should just do what I want and tell her when it happens, because she doesn’t want me to resent her later. But the conversation almost always seems to drag out statements from her like “one day I hope I’m enough for you” or something along those lines. I’ve explained that me wanting to explore with men doesn’t mean she’s not good enough or lacking, but I was wondering if you had any tips or ideas on how to navigate this.
I really empathize with this challenging situation you are experiencing, and can appreciate how frustrating this may feel. As someone who is passionate about helping folks like you live your most authentic life, free from shame and guilt, I know enduring lack of self-expression and sexual expression can feel quite painful. I also have empathy for where your wife finds herself in what you describe, as she is working to accept her husband now being bisexual, possibly mourning the loss of how she viewed you and your relationship earlier. Change can be difficult for all parties. Yet that does not mean you cannot navigate this in a healthy and compassionate way, taking inspired and intelligent action.
Here are some ideas and tips for how best to navigate this as you open up your relationship, and work towards living your most authentic life:
- Come at this from a Needs-Based Perspective. From a place of empathy, what do you think are some of the needs and/or values that your wife is wanting in this situation as you both open up your relationship, and you explore your sexuality? Safety? Security? Support? Concerns perhaps about her physical well-being? Consider meeting your wife where she is at while working to understand her perspective. Next, what are YOUR needs? Self-expression? Self-acceptance? Connection? Sexual adventure? As you consider both of your needs from a place of compassion, you can have more a heart-centered conversation with your wife moving towards the outcome that you ultimately desire.
- Keep in mind that Needs are different from Strategies. Needs (similar to values) are positive, life-affirming, and flexible. However, strategies that we come up with to get those needs met, can be inflexible or not work to meet all parties needs effectively. As you open up your relationship, you can actively come up with strategies to add to your wife’s feelings of security, safety, and trust as you negotiate Agreements – which are really a list of strategies that you both agree to, while keeping both of your needs in mind. Having these agreements written out in a place that you both have easy access to can help reduce any potential misunderstandings and help create a safe container for your relationship, working as a team as you move through this transition together. Expert Tip: Find out what each of your primary Love Languages is (do a search for “5 Love Languages quiz”) to help facilitate, showing each other love and support in a way that works best for each of you.
- Work on de-programming monogamous thinking. Having thoughts such as “I am not enough” is a common thought that many folks have, and it is often leftover from living in a world where we are often taught compulsory monogamy and scarcity thinking. We cannot force someone else to change their thinking or their habits. It is a choice and takes effort to de-program monogamous thinking, and move more towards a feeling of abundance (and away from scarcity thinking). Is your wife desiring to make this change in herself, as you open up your relationship? The decision is key. As you have an authentic, honest conversation with your wife, you two can explore where she is currently at on the spectrum of opening up your relationship to more sexual partners, as well as you exploring your sexuality. Consider giving her some grace and emotional space, as she continues to wrap her head around how her marriage and her spouse are changing.
- Note that there may be a difference in pacing as you open up. Often one partner wants to open up a relationship faster than the other. There are no rule books for this journey, yet one easy guide to follow is to go at the slower person’s pace as much as possible. Change can feel very jarring and scary. Being as gentle as possible with your spouse can help increase feelings of trust and security. That said, I have seen situations where ultimately there is a compatibility issue in the end. As we evolve and grow as individuals, often partners CAN move in the same direction. Yet bear in mind that good, well-intentioned people can grow in different directions, over a lifetime as well. Remember that there is an opportunity to learn and grow in all of your relationships no matter what the outcome ultimately is. I hope this provides some comfort for you both.
- If needed, consider hiring a relationship coach, therapist, or marriage mediator. If you are still encountering difficult or seemingly insurmountable challenges in your marriage, it may be time to reach out for help. Each relationship is unique and may require unique solutions as well as learning new skills, often with the assistance of a professional. There is no shame in raising your hand and asking for some assistance through these murky waters. A professional can help clear any fog away and give you both clarity, help define needs and boundaries, as well as teach you skills that you can use for a lifetime in any relationship that you cherish.
I wish you and your wife the very best on your journey. Any relationship and emotion management skills that you both do work on, can only help increase your satisfaction in all of your relationships. Also learning to quiet down those “not enough” gremlins is a great formula to live with more joy and courage in every moment.
With love and gratitude,
* Question provided through the Shameless Sex Podcast (www.shamelesssex.com).