Polyamory/Surviving spouse's NRE


QUESTION: Background: 20+ year marriage, two handicapped kids, husband dropped polybomb a year ago.

This completely floored me because I thought we had a really good, solid marriage. We've stayed together through some really rough times, supporting and loving. I had no idea he was so unhappy.
We've been in marriage counseling and I've been trying to understand what went wrong and how to fix it. We finally agreed to slowly opening, a few dates, no sex with other women. I don't want to lose the love we built, the dreams we had together to another woman, but I feel like I'll lose him if I don't give him the freedom to explore. He has offered me the same freedom, but that's like offering a steak to a vegan, I'm a little repulsed. I guess I'm just hard-wired monogamous.

Two months ago, he met a woman with whom he really clicked. They've been out for a couple of lunch dates, and it seems they're constantly on the phone or texting. When he's home, he's wrapped up in her to the point I feel like his roommate instead of the woman he loves. They are pushing to get more time, dinner dates, and the subject of physical contact has been broached. I've done some research on NRE and I know that's what this is, and that it's going to be hard to deal with, but I never realized how hard it would be to watch the man you love, the only man you want, taking his heart from you and giving it to someone else.

How am I supposed to survive this? What am I supposed to do when I want to be the woman he's falling in love with? I'm not going to beg or make demands. I have some pride left. I feel like I should just cut my losses and leave before he asks me to leave. Every polyamory book I've read has said "own your own shit" and don't put your pain on your partner, but there's no advice on how to do that. I feel so alone. Any advice would be appreciated.

ANSWER: Hi, Leslie.

I want to begin by saying I'm sorry that you're going through this. For a "hard-wired monogamous" person, a partner's polyamorous inclinations can be crazy hard to understand, let alone deal with.

Also, I want to commend you on doing what a lot of people don't: trying to understand. That you've taken the time to read poly literature says a lot about you.

Now, to your question of survival. This is certainly not an easy question to answer, which is likely why none of the books you've read have given you a step-by-step guide.

NRE was a factor in the collapse of my own marriage. All parties involved were guilty of not making enough effort to salvage things, but I bear the primary burden. I was the equivalent of your husband, although my wife had her own "secondary" and was not monogamous.  It was the NRE I was experiencing that was the culprit. And the long and short of it is that I regret how things played out. Once the NRE faded, I "came to my senses" and wished things hadn't gone how they did, but it was too late, by that point. So I can very much empathize with how you must feel.

That being said, I don't have a lot to offer. On the one hand, your husband's NRE may fade, just as mine did, and he'll remember all the reasons he fell in love with you in the first place. How long this will take is anyone's guess; we're all different. On the other hand, even if this does happen, it may well be that you'll never be comfortable with the situation.

And this, I think, is the real question. If the NRE wears off and things improve with your husband, can you be content to share his love and attention? Or will the presence of the other woman be a constant needle under your fingernail?

The truth is, he may never ask you to leave. But will you want to stay, anyway? From what I read in your words, it's not just the NRE that you're finding difficult, but the entire concept of polyamory itself (at least, with regard to yourself).

If you can honestly say that yes, you'd be okay being in a "V" relationship with your husband and another woman, then we can try to figure out some coping strategies for you to survive the NRE. But if your "yes" isn't fully authentic, I think NRE survival is beside the point.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Right now, I'm not sharing anything with my husband other than space. When his girlfriend has a meltdown, it's "You have to be understanding, this is hard for her to be alone without me." And then he'll spend however long it takes, in person or on the phone, to comfort and reassure her. But if I'm having problems, I get the poly answer, "You need to own your own shit, I can't fix things for you, it's up to you to fix yourself, etc. etc." I'm "controlling, hysterical, needy". He has no interest in me other than what I can do as a housewife and business partner. I feel more alone than I've ever felt in my life. I can't talk to friends or family about this, I can't talk to him about it. Rather than incurring his scorn, I've just stopped trying to talk to him. I talk to my therapist, and we're working on making me okay with losing my husband if it comes to that. But I want that to be a last resort. She's not familiar with polyamory, and really has no advice on how to deal with this situation.
We've been together through so much, and nothing has shaken our commitment to each other like this has. I'm afraid if I can't figure out how to accept my new demoted status and find some way to be at peace if not necessarily happy, this may be the end of our marriage.

It certainly sounds like your husband isn't handling the NRE well, either. One of the most important things new poly folk tend not to realize is that when you add a secondary to your relationship, you need to devote MORE time to your primary, to make that person NOT feel the way you're currently feeling.

There are some poly-friendly counselors out there. Have you tried to find one?

I may be reading too much into your words, but it sounds like the girlfriend is new to polyamory, also. In fact, it sounds like she may have never heard of it before. What is the relationship between the two of you?

If there is NO relationship between you two... that would worry me quite a lot. In fact, in all honesty, I would view that as the biggest red flag of all and would start talking with an attorney. Because I would consider your husband NOT truly poly, but simply wanting to have the girlfriend openly while not having to get a divorce. (Again, purely my opinion, other poly folk may disagree.)  


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Vincent M. Wales


I will answer questions on the subject of Polyamory, including Polyfidelity and other variations.


I "came out" as poly in 1997, though I've felt my poly side strongly for a couple decades longer than that.

I am the founder of PAARC, the Polyamory Awareness & Acceptance Ribbon Campaign. I have also belonged to two local poly organizations.

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