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Advice – How do you stand monogamy?

I have (33F) been with my partner (33M) for 14 years and I am horrified at the thought of never, ever having sex with another person for as long as I live. I’ve struggled with it for years. And yes, we talk to each other about what we like and don’t like, we experiment together to find new ways of making each other feel good, etc. The sex still isn’t the best, and maybe that’s part of the problem. But we are still working on ways to make it feel better for both of us. However, I feel so stifled by the thought that this is it, he’s the only one I get for the next 50 years or so, until we die. I honestly feel so anxious, depressed, and angry.

I’ve talked to him about this struggle, so he is aware. But he is unwilling to experiment with any form of non-monogamy. Outside of the sex issue our marriage is good, we both think we’d have a very difficult time finding a new love as good as what we have now. So how do I deal with my struggle with monogamy? How do I stay content with one partner?

Just to clarify, I was not a virgin when we got together, I had a few partners before him. He wasn’t a virgin either. Also, there was a very unfortunate miscommunication around the non-monogamy issue when we married. But this is the situation and I’m trying to make the best of it.

Anonymous, Reddit.

Dear Anonymous,

Monogamy is a discipline.

Monogamy is a constant dedication, everyday practice, and a relationship-binding promise. Monogamy is by far the most popular and most socially accepted relationship orientation. For many, monogamy is not only the de facto standard model for relationships, but the only model for relationships. The few who do question the standard and take the lesser beaten paths often face criticism, rejection, and shunning. And because the consequences of rejection is so severe, even those who are aware of non-monogamy stick to monogamy for the simplicity’s sake.

Fourteen years is a long time. That means that for almost the entirety of your adult life, your sexual experience has revolved around the context of your and your husband’s respective sexualities. And you say that both you and your husband had other partners before you met each other. But the type of sex that you have when you are twenty one is very different from the type of sex you might have when you are twenty five. And it can be very different from the type of sex you might have when you are thirty or thirty five.

And sex is a lot like cooking; you work with the ingredients you have available.

Even with limited ingredients, you can still make many great dishes. And with limited sexual context, you can still have great sex. There are multiple different uses and preparation methods for even one ingredient plate. But just like it takes very creative cooks to make otherwise dull ingredients really sing with well-established recipe, it takes two very creative monogamous people to make the sex in long-term monogamous relationship work over the duration of their relationship.

You are currently stuck between an impossibly hard rock – sexual stagnation – and an impossibly hard place – monogamous agreement.

Before you are crushed between the rock and the hard place, you can choose to either work on the stagnated sex life or renegotiate on the monogamous agreement. For many, working on innovating their sex life can be a creative endeavor that holds off exhaustion regarding monogamy. For many others – and I’ll include myself here – reworking or renegotiating the original monogamy agreement is a fundamental relationship saving strategy. And for all others, they endure as long as they can until they break.

And it sounds like you have worked very hard to keep your sex life with your husband afloat and upbeat in the fourteen years that you have been together. But I feel a deep and fundamental sense of exhaustion from how you feel about the sexual aspect of your connection to your monogamous husband. That exhaustion is manifesting in anxiety, depression, and anger.

The anxiety comes from the vast expanse of your erotic future ahead of you. Much of it you can already project based on the fourteen-year erotic history. Like I said, limited ingredients. And even if both cooks are working to creatively approach a recipe, if the ingredients aren’t pristine to begin with, the final plate was never going to be great. In the same way, if your and your husband’s erotic foundations never had the fundamental chemistry it needs for long-term survival, then there was always going to be a limit in terms of the sexual experience you can have with your husband.

The depression comes from acknowledgement of that projection. The state of your current sexual headspace is already not great. And it just disappoints you more to think about how much more stagnated your sex life can get. Part of it could even extend into the dread as you foresee how much more you’ll have to endure in order to have, not just the sex you want to have, but the sex you find acceptable.

The anger comes from the difference between the realistic projection of your future erotic life and the idealistic vision of your erotic future. The larger the gap, the more it makes you angry. It is in part due to the miscommunication that you had about non-monogamy. It could also be in part that you imagine yourself having missed out on an erotic revolution that you could have had in your twenties but didn’t. It could even be placed upon your spouse’s unrelenting resolution around strict monogamy.

One thing is clear. As they stand, status quo is not okay.

And it is okay to admit that the status quo is not okay. And if indeed status is not quo, then it is time to figure out what your next steps are.

First step is to communicate the urgency and the degree of your unhappiness. It doesn’t matter if 95% of your relationship is great. If sex is important to you and the sex sucks, then it is 95% of the problem. Then at that juncture, you can both talk about how you can keep working on introducing new and innovative ways to keep your sex life energized. There are more kinks and erotic fantasies than you and your partner can reasonably keep up with. The sex toy industry will keep churning out more innovative ways to be erotically connected to your partner. The possibilities there are endless. You and your partner just need to be enthusiastic and open-minded about those endless possibilities.

Or you can both talk about renegotiating on the initial monogamy agreement. You mentioned that your husband is pretty firm on where he stands about monogamy, but that you haven’t had a serious conversation with him about non-monogamy since about seven years ago. Now would be a great time to revisit that conversation and figure out if there are any brand of non-monogamy that might be available to you.

In a later comment, you said that your husband was open to an emotional non-monogamy, as long as sex was off the table. That is not a bad start. It actually reminds me of one of my first steps into non-monogamy. At the time, I was unfulfilled in a long distance monogamous relationship. My partner at the time and I had an agreement that we can engage in romantic / sexual flirtations or conversations with others as long as there was a hard boundary on meeting that person. That relationship didn’t end up working out, but it allowed me to make a more informed decision for the next partner I dated with whom I pursued a more explicitly non-monogamous arrangement with.

We will also have to consider the possibility of this as an irreconcilable difference.

You can’t make yourself not feel bad feelings in the same way you can’t make yourself force good feelings. Feelings are moment-to-moment manifestations of your perceived headspace. And if you are anxious, depressed, or angry all the time, maybe it is because you are not and will not be happy in this relationship. And that is okay.

It could also be possible that your husband would not consider opening up as a spouse retention strategy, then subsequently decide to end the relationship. And that too is okay. Each one of us has a rightful say in what happens in our relationships, especially if it deviates too far from the type of relationship we truly aim to have.

Fourteen years is a remarkably long time for any relationship. Just because this relationship didn’t go all the way to the end of your life did not mean that it wasn’t meaningful or successful in its own way. Some of the best relationships I have ever had were measured in months. And one of the most memorable conversations I had with someone else was with a person I only met that one night. What I am trying to say is that longevity of a relationship is a great measure for the work you’ve already put in. But it is not a sound argument for why you should continue to be in an unfulfilling relationship.

I will leave you off with another personal story.

As someone who is polyamorous, I will tell you that sex with one specific person will always plateau. And that too is okay. Managing that erotic plateau is the main conflict point for almost all the long-term relationships I’ve been a part of, read about, and witnessed second hand. Even the polyamorous ones.

“How can we spice up our sex life” is the most common relationship and sex advice I see online. And the common advice to that question is to question the very elements we find comfortable, and step into that discomfort to find “spice.” By that, I mean if you are only having sex at night in bed, your erotic headspace is limited to what you can do at night in that bed. Of course your sex life is going to plateau if that is all you have to work with. Have sex in the morning. Have sex in the car. Have sex without a penis involved. Have sex without a vagina involved. Have sex watching the porn you like. Have sex watching the porn he likes. Have sex where the other person is penetrated. Just learn to step away from the accepted erotic norms and dare to be creative in how you and your husband approach your shared erotic space.

What is important is to make different aspects of sex a challenge and then accomplish that challenge.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at teatimetomato@gmail.com. If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

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