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‘My wife wants to have regular sex with another man and I regret going along with it’

Ask Roe: I’m worried that, in agreeing to her request in principle, I’m running a risk of my family falling apart

'I am now having second thoughts but am wary of saying it to her'

Dear Roe,

I am married with children. My wife and I have a caring and loving relationship, but she recently told me that she had met up with another man some time ago and had allowed him to intimately touch her and had oral sex. He has been to our house on social occasions and I know that they engage in flirting and have kissed, but laughed it off as being drunk and just messing about. He is separated with children and has a partner. We have a healthy sex life, part of which involves fantasising about other people, being involved with several partners of both sexes at the same time together, and using toys. Before we were married she and I had multiple partners and I knew that she had sex with more than one person at the same time. After telling me, she then told me that she would like to have sex with this other man on a no-strings basis more regularly and that he has asked her if it would be possible. He has asked her to keep what happened between them a secret. I have a job that involves travel and will be travelling on business in several weeks’ time, and she has asked if she could meet this other man to have sex while I am away if she has a desire to. Although initially, to keep her happy, I agreed, I am now having second thoughts but am wary of saying it to her. Recently while I was working, she contacted me to say she had bumped into this man and, when I asked if anything happened, she implied it may have. She subsequently admitted that she had sex with him. She also implied she may have had sex with another man who she says she is attracted to but I’m not sure if she has. I’m now worried that in saying I agreed to her request in principle that I’m running a risk of my family falling apart and my marriage failing.

There are some important ingredients missing from both your letter and seemingly, your interactions with your wife, namely; emotion, opinion and any sense of agency. In your telling, you neither have strong opinions about this situation nor any opportunity or power to express them – though I strongly doubt that this is true. You have written in about a very real, high-stakes situation – you fear “my family falling apart and my marriage failing”, and yet nowhere do you make clear what your fears are centred on. Are you scared and unhappy because your wife is cheating? Are you scared and unhappy because you want to have an open relationship but this man in particular feels like a threat? Are you scared and unhappy because you have a relationship where you feel unable to express your opinions and desire for your wife not to sleep with other people? All of the above?

The fact that you have not clarified this is important, vital even, and I believe lies at the heart of your issue, and any possible positive outcome. You need to address and acknowledge what you are thinking and feeling to yourself, and then start expressing this out loud to your wife. You say you risk your marriage failing, but the way it is right now doesn’t seem to be working for you.

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There’s a persistent and concerning lack of clarity here, both about your relationship and your own desires. You need to start thinking about what you want and addressing this with your wife

You write that you and your wife have had active and exciting sex lives before meeting each other, and that during your relationship you have engaged in sex with other people. Many couples have threesomes and some couples enjoy group sex or attending sex parties where they both have sex either in front of other people or including other people. Technically, this is a form of non-monogamy, but this isn’t usually what we mean when we use terms like non-monogamy or open relationships, because it is a shared experience. It is a couple having a sexual experience together, with another person, that is most commonly limited to that particular occasion.

You, on the other hand, seem to be conflating previously having some shared sexual experiences with your wife with your relationship now being completely open for your wife to have sex with other people without you, and I don’t know why you’re doing so. They’re not the same thing. In some relationships, both situations could be acceptable, but the differences, boundaries and limits would have been clearly discussed, addressed and agreed upon. From your description, what has instead happened is that you and your wife enjoyed some shared sexual experiences with other people; then she started flirting with a man and kissing him, but laughed it off as a drunken joke; then she informed you that they had met up and had oral sex. Again, I don’t know what conversations – if any – were happening at any point, but it certainly doesn’t sound like you are having clear communication and agreeing on boundaries. It sounds like your wife has been testing the waters of what she could do with another man, moving from flirting to kissing to having oral sex – importantly, without seeking your consent first – and seeing your reaction before escalating further. As you apparently didn’t express any anger or boundaries around these interactions, she has now escalated to “bumping into him” and having sex with him and again, only telling you afterwards.

To state the obvious: in most relationships, this is the definition of cheating. Even in open relationships, boundaries are clear, discussed, and each person’s feelings are taken into account. At no point does there seem to have been a clear conversation about what you are comfortable with. Instead your wife has done what she wants and told you afterwards, and now wants to have sex with this person on an ongoing basis. There doesn’t seem to have been any conversation about how you feel about this. Notably, there also doesn’t seem to have been any discussion of whether you want or have her blessing to have sex with other people.

There’s a persistent and concerning lack of clarity here, both about your relationship and your own desires. You need to start thinking about what you want and addressing this with your wife. Do you want a relationship where both of you can sleep with other people? Do you want a relationship where she sleeps with other people? Do you want to go back to a relationship where you have shared sexual experiences with others, but only when you’re both present? What are your specific fears about how these extracurricular interactions will affect your marriage and family?

Those are the framework questions about how you want your relationship to look moving forward, if you both want it to. But first, you need to dig deep and address how your existing relationship dynamic got you to this point. Why is your shared communication so lacking? Why are your boundaries not respected? Why does your wife feel comfortable betraying your trust and why do you not feel comfortable clearly stating your feelings and needs? Why do you seem to feel lacking in agency in your own marriage?

You need to decide what you want, but you also need to address why both you and your wife have normalised not considering or caring about your needs, desires or boundaries. An individual therapist could help you untangle how you have got to this point, and a couples counsellor could help both of you untangle the dynamics you have both created; clarify what you both want; and see if it’s possible for both of you to be happy while respecting the other’s needs and boundaries. Good luck.