Gay Men in Open Relationships: What Works?

As a couples counselor working with gay men I am often asked my opinion on monogamy and open gay relationships. What works for men in long-term relationships?

First, the research.

Several research studies show that about 50% of gay male couples are monogamous and about 50% allow for sex outside of the relationship.  The research finds no difference in the level of happiness or stability among these groups.

Next, my opinions and advice, based on my therapy practice.

If you and your partner want to have a close relationship and have additional sex partners, be prepared for a lot of talking. And I’m not just referring to discussions about when, where and with whom. I mean talking about feelings, what we therapists call “processing.”

If that kind of conversation makes you squirm, I understand. Most men are not socialized to embrace the sharing of intimate and vulnerable emotions. However, if you aren’t willing to experiment with processing then I suspect the closeness of your relationship may be limited, and you guys could be headed for trouble.

Here’s why learning to talk about feelings is extra important in the context of an open relationship. Most of us enter into long-term relationships because we want to feel special to another person. We want that experience of being number one in the eyes of our partner. We want the comfort, satisfaction, support and meaning that can come from spending our lives committed to another individual.

Additional sex partners can be perceived as a threat to the safety we long for in our long-term relationships. Some of us may not feel threatened on a conscious level, but I believe most of us do feel it unconsciously. And in some manly circles, it is not cool to admit that.

So if you want the experience of an open relationship that works, you will need to continually tell each other how much you love each other, how deeply committed you are to the partnership, and how glad you are to see him. Lots of hugs and kisses will need to be exchanged.

Additionally, you will need to listen without getting defensive while your partner tells you about their moments of insecurity when you have sex with others. You will need to encourage this kind of sharing from him and to push yourself to express any of your own feelings of insecurity, vulnerability or jealousy when he plays with others.

You are not responsible for changing your partner’s emotions but you are responsible for listening to them and for making sure that your partner feels heard by you. Repeat back to him what you heard him say about his feelings so you both know if you really listened.

Beyond feelings, couples must also agree on the guidelines of sex outside of the relationship. They need to talk about what kind of sex is acceptable and what is not okay. These rules will require negotiation. Again, lots more talking. A good book on this subject is called The Ethical Slut, written by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt.

The core actions of a successful open relationship are identical to those of a successful monogamous relationship: shower your partner with attention and positive regard, offer lots of physical touch, share your more vulnerable feelings, and listen well when he does the same.

These principles are easier to say than to do. They take practice and risk, with lots of missteps along the way. Monogamous couples can sometimes get away with avoiding this work and do okay. Not great, but okay. But couples in open relationships won’t do well in an autopilot relationship. To be successful in working through the inevitable hurt feelings, these couples need to lead the way on relationships based on intentional communication.

For more information about how I help individuals and gay couples build better relationships, please visit my website at www.gaytherapist-sanfrancisco.com. I offer services in my San Francisco office or by Skype or phone worldwide.

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126 thoughts on “Gay Men in Open Relationships: What Works?

  1. Kurt

    I like to say thank you for the advice on open relationships. My partner and I have been together now for more than 12-years and are working on an open relationship. My partner would like to experience some other people (safely of course). We have done three ways before and they were fun. However, I seem to be the one who has a bit of jelousy from time to time. I want our relationship to last till the end and we have both agreed to this. What can I do to deal with my unfounded jealousy and fear of him falling for someone else?

    Thank You
    Kurt

    Reply
  2. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

    Dear Kurt,

    I’d like to reframe the question. Jealousy is normal and is based on the true feeling that it would hurt if your partner developed feelings for another person. So I don’t believe that you need to “get over” jealousy.

    I think a better question is “Is there something that my partner can do that would prevent me from feeling jealous?”? For example, do you want to set certain guidelines such as he can only play in bathhouses, or you have to meet the guy first, or no kissing, or just three ways, or you need to hear that he loves immediately before and after the encounter. You should allow yourself to ask for whatever you need, and to expect that your stated needs on this topic will be fully respected.

    Reply
  3. Paul P

    Until 3 months ago the words ‘open relationship’ never featured in my mind. I am in a long term relationship of almost 9 years and still consider it to enhance my life thats why I am still with my partner. I have always been a secure level headed person that could accept/adjust to anything even with time, but suggesting an open relationship with my partner brought out feelings of jealousy and insecurity that I hadn’t even considered could happen. Things became so bad that I considered leaving my partner, however 3 months later, trying out some cognitive behavioural therapy, plenty of communication and time, I have seen that nothing has changed with our relationship. I hadn’t considered this is something I wanted, but was aware that my partner would, however I gave it a go and I have been much calmer, enjoying life again and even more so and the benefits for my partner has brought us closer and open with each other. I can honestly say that although initially painful, I feel I have dealt with alot of the potential feelings before they may happen and now we can both work better together in our relationship without wondering what or what if. This isn’t a having your cake and eat it, it is about challenging what you are afraid of and trying something that may or may not work. But the ultimate rule is honesty if you have to lie to your partner, you are lying to yourself and you are not worthy of your partner.

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      Paul, thanks for your comment. I’m glad to hear that you are committed to communicating honestly about challenging issues with your partner. That’s the central path to a rewarding relationship.

      Adam

      Reply
  4. Paul P

    and Kurt, you are very much entitled to have any feelings associated with whatever you are experiencing, jealousy is not just one emotion, it is mixed in with feelings of insecurity, fear, rejection etc… but yeah perfectly normal

    Reply
  5. Andrew

    I’m with a man that I love, a lot. We’ve only been together for a few months but we got serious pretty quickly. I am 18 and he is 37. Yeah, big gap. Anyways, I met him when I finally decided that I was going to explore sexually and meet some men. He was the first one I met and the last. Things are mostly good, but I feel like I’m losing what I really wanted to do. I wanted so badly to explore sexually and I don’t feel that I did. The urge is so great that I’ve considered cheating but can’t. I want to talk to him about maybe opening up the relationship of only for a while to allow me to explore. I don’t want to look back on my life and wish that I would’ve experienced what I initially wanted to do. I’m afraid of hurting him and although I want to meet other men, I don’t want to lose him. What should I do? :(

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Andrew: Good relationships require honest discussions, including discussions about difficult or scary topics. When we don’t bring up issues that are important to us we eventually become distant from the people we love. It takes courage to express our needs and desires, but it’s essential for maintaining closeness. Being honest also shows respect for the people we care about. You run a greater risk of hurting your boyfriend when you hide your feelings from him rather than simply saying what is true for you.

      Reply
  6. Mike

    My partner and I have been together 6 years now. We are so very much in love and have a great relationship. I am now at the point of wanting a open relationship. I use to be against it but now feel I understand why people are in open relationships. I am trying to get the courage up to have the conversation with my partner. I don’t want to sound like I live in a dram world but why cant a couple have either another partner in the relationship or even another couple in the relationship? Like i said before I never thought that was for me but now its something I want to explore with my partner.

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      Hi Mike,

      In your message you didn’t indicate why you want an open relationship. I think it is important to get clear on the reasons. Once you really understand why you want this it might be easier to express that truth to your partner. If sex with your partner has become boring then I suggest you first try to discuss new, creative ways to expand your sexual connection with him before discussing an open relationship. If your interest in an open relationship has nothing to do with your current sexual or emotional experience with your partner, then he is less likely to be triggered by your new interest in exploration.

      A successful open relationship requires a great deal of ongoing honest conversation about jealousy, guidelines, and a range of uncomfortable feelings. I get the sense from your message that you may have difficulty with these kinds of discussions. If so, then an open relationship might put your relationship at risk. I suggest learning about good couple communication habits before moving forward too quickly.

      Reply
  7. John K

    This advice seems very sound. I’m going through something right now with my partner of 9 years (we have lived together for 5 and started playing together with three-ways and then separately — but with full knowledge and with total respect and honesty — about 3 years ago). My problem is that my partner has decided to go on ‘vacations’ by himself when I am working and now attending circuit parties with new friends I’ve never heard of and doing some drug experimentation that is not his personality. While I want him to live fully and completely, I don’t want to confuse my appreciation for his living life in his way to be an ability to walk all over my needs to feel considered and special. He has not invited me on these trips, but he says he misses me … I am weirded out by the distances he is going to, and I know we will have to face our feelings and really talk this through “processing” it if we are going to make it. I appreciate what is written above, and I’m going to re-read it and use some of the ideas to try fixing this hurt.

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      John, thanks for your post. Great to hear that you understand the importance of “processing” in relationships.

      Reply
  8. Chris

    Dear Adam,

    I have met this terrific guy and we have been dating for about 4 months…He tell me that he is a very sexual person who can disconnect sex from love. He would like to open our relationship to this possibility. I am not a prude person by all means, but i deeply feel that it is too early for our relationship to endure such a big change. I love and cherish him immensely, our encounter and relationship has not been the most easy one. So, I am not sure if this request is too early for us to explore? Can you advise? Many thanks, Chris

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Chris,

      If you are feeling hesitant about opening the relationship then I would advise that you listen to and respect that feeling. For an open relationship to work successfully, both partners should be interested and engaged in the process. Without that comfort level from both partners there is a big risk of a cycle of resentment, fear, and insecurity that can damage the bond between partners.

      Adam

      Reply
  9. Matt

    Thank you so much for sharing your insight with others. I am hoping you can help me. My partner and I met in May 2011. We are not living together yet, but intend to, and both want to spend the rest of our lives together. This is a second relationship for me ( i am 55 and was in a previous 20 year relationship that was supposed to be monogamous but i frequently cheated). My partner is 43 and this is his first relationship.

    The problem is I am a bottom and he is versatile. We are talking about having 3 ways as a way for him to get what i cannot give him. i have thought about going into therapy to try to change my sexual blueprint so to speak, but i have no history of being a top whatsoever.

    So far we have only talked about doing it, but it has already triggered some very serious emotions in me. I feel like i will lose him. That he will find someone better and i will find myself “out on the curb”. It breaks my heart to even think about him being with someone else even if i am also there. I wish we could just be monogamous but see that he is unhappy being only partially sexually satisfied. But scared to death about having 3 ways. I get jealous when close friends hang out with other friends instead of me, much less having 3 ways with a partner. But we are complete and total soulmates in every other regard. I know i would never find another person who i was so compatible with.

    I guess in general i would just like to hear your thoughts. I hope i was not too graphic for you to be able to print. I don’t know if you just do personal replies. I just don’t know what to do. Demand monogamy and probably create a divide which will leave to resentment and potentially end the relationship. Or agree to 3 ways and be consumed with fear and abandonment issues, thereby causing me to develop resentments that will potentially end the relationship. Or if it is possible for me to change my sexual road map? Or if it is possible for a person such as myself with a lot of insecurity, jealousy, possessiveness, negative emotions etc to somehow get so i am ok with having 3 ways.

    Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

    P.S. I also worry we might catch something from our newfound friends that we don’t want. We are both HIV positive and intend to be completely open about our status, but there are other things one can catch as well. Thank you again.

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      Hi Matt,

      I don’t think it is a good idea to engage in three ways if they don’t interest you and trigger feelings of insecurity. That may set up a cycle of resentments that could put your close relationship at risk. Instead, I would suggest you approach your current monogamous sex life with more creativity. Find out what your partner loves about being a bottom and find exciting new ways to satisfy his needs that work for you too. Toys, fantasy and role play can make your sex life within a long term relationship exciting, spicy, and ever-evolving over a lifetime. You both need to approach this with a spirit of fun, trust, and openness.

      Reply
  10. Michael

    Hi,
    Thanks for this article, it has helped me a lot. Here is my situation; I have been with my partner for 3 years now. I love him more than life itself. I am 28 and he is 33. I have been out my whole life and had the oppertunity when younger to fully explore sexually before I met him. His family and firends back in Italy still do not know he is gay. Before he met me he had only been exploring for about a year. Last Sunday I discovered that for the mast month he has been cheating on me with a total of 8 different partners. It completely shattered my world. But despite all of the pain it caused I still love him too much to lose him from my life. He told me that his reason for doing it was because he was getting older and does not feel that he has properly had the opportunity to explore sexually and he did not tell me because he did not want to hurt me. Not knowing actually hurt me more. Anyway, I proposed to him an open reltaionship as I feel at the moment I would rather allow him to see other people than lose him completely, but he has told me that he is meeting someone this week and I am so, so scared. I am scared because he has told me that two of the guys he cheated on me with he had seen on more than one occasion. He also told me that he likes to get to know a guy first before he has sex with them. This scares me because I keeping thinking, almost with certainty, that he will end up developing feelings for one of these guys and leave me. For him, it seems so easy to just go out and have sex with someone else, almost as though he is not considering my feelings at all, whereas for me, I cannot bring myself to do it. I have been chatting to guys online but everytime one of them proposes a meeting I make up an excuse. I feel sick to my stomach at the thought of being with someone else even if my partner knows about it. I don’t know what to do, but I don’t want to lose him.

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Michael,

      You have experienced a significant betrayal. Your partner has lied to you repeatedly. To heal and learn from this experience your partner needs to empathize with your experience and really understand what it feels like for you. He needs to listen and apologize from a sincere place. And it is your job to share with him your feelings of mistrust and hurt. If he can’t do this then he may not have the maturity and communication skills to maintain a long term relationship. I think you proposed an open relationship too quickly. Now is the time to focus on dealing with the aftermath of the lies, not to accommodate his desire for multiple sex partners. From your post I get the sense that you may have trouble acknowledging and respecting your own needs. If this is true then you may want to consider psychotherapy. It can help you move through life with greater empowerment.

      Reply
  11. Thomas

    dear Adam,

    I would like to hear your opinion on this matter:

    I very recently dumped my boyfriend after 2 years as I found out he had sex with someone that we had a threesome with a few weeks before.
    Lately we were gradually working out an open relationship where I was the very cautious and jealous guy of us both.
    My jealousy did put pressure on the relationship but I had already aggreed on sex in bathhouses and threesomes in our home.
    When I found out he had had sex with that person behind my back I felt abused as he had neglected our aggreement and I felt I had to end the relationship.
    In the beginning of our relationship he had cheated on me once before and at that time we hadn’t had any open relationship perspectives yet. Though I did forgive him as I felt he had learned from his mistake and the relationship was on a lot of pressure at that time too.
    After reading this article and a few reactions though, I don’t really know how to feel about all of this anymore.

    I honestly can still see myself getting back with him and making the relationship even more open as I know it would probably release a lot of pressure. We had a special connection and we had conquered other issues and invested a lot in the relationship during the two years.
    On the other hand he did lie to me twice and decided not to be patient but to push it on me or even do it behind my back.
    I have honestly been too clingy and jealous which may have been contributing him to cheat. Though he has been impulsive and close-hearted during the relationship too which he now really regrets. He has sent me this text message where he really opened up his heart for the first time, explaining how he regrets his mistakes, what wonderful things I did for him that he never really appreciated, and him even trying to commit suicide… It totally shattered my heart!

    Have I been too prudish and maybe ended a possible good future?
    Should I turn back and forgive him as we were already on our way to a potential good open relationship?
    Or am I trying to justify him cheating and lying to me as it all has very recently happened and I still have feelings for him?

    Much thanks in advance and best regards!

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Tomas,

      Due to his suicide attempt it is likely that your ex-boyfriend is clinically depressed. If you decide to remain in contact with him you should urge him to seek psychotherapy. Low-cost psychotherapy is available in most areas if cost is an issue for him. His suicide attempt is not about you–it is about how he responds to his own feelings. Only you can decide if you want to enter into a relationship with him. If you do decide to get back together I would advise you to do so only on the conditions that: 1) He enters into weekly psychotherapy to address his depression and 2) He has several face-to-face conversations with you where he listens well to how his lying impacted you and he takes responsibility for his actions.

      You have not been “too prudish.” You have a right to a monogamous relationship. You can find a partner who shares your values regarding intimacy. You may want to explore with a therapist why you stayed in a relationship with a man who was “close-hearted” and why you are thinking about an open relationship when it doesn’t sound like it is something that serves you well.

      Reply
  12. Wandering eye

    I am in a relationship of two years with a great guy who I love completely. He is honest, successful, smart, we get along great etc. Though I still find my boyfriend very attractive our sex life has stalled. There are various speedbumps- He frequently shuts me down when I make advances, yet at the same time he is fairly jealous and insecure. Also we both like to be on top so that creates some friction. When I brought up why he shuts me down he says it’s insecurity over his body- he feels kinda gross and outta shape when he gets too busy or stressed. Basically he has self-esteem issues. As for me Ive played the field my fair share before I met him, so I know absolutely that hot guys are a dime-a-dozen but an honest, hard working guy from a good family that I can always depend on – irreplaceable.

    I haven’t cheated but I have to admit when he’s in shut-down mode, It’s pretty difficult for me. For me, playing together with a 3rd would be okay to try, it would definitely alleviate some of my sexual frustration, and I don’t think I would necessarily have a problem seeing him getting off with another guy because I have no problem separating sex and love. However with his self-esteem and jealousy issues, I have no idea. He brought it up once, earlier in the relationship, maybe he could sense I wanted more sex than he did, but I didn’t pursue the topic at the time. I’m wondering if there maybe is some way to open things up without aggravating his self-esteem issues?

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      I don’t think three ways are a good solution to the problems of sexual frustration, low self-esteem, and having your advances rejected. These are important relational issues that need to be discussed in more depth. A series of honest, connecting conversations could make a very big difference in your sex life. A good couples counselor can assist with this. The purpose of the conversations would be to deepen trust, empathy, and a feeling of “being heard” on these topics. Once that occurs there should be more room for collaborative creativity in your sexual connection. Like all parts of a relationship, sex gets better when a couple takes the risk of communicating honestly and sensitively about their more vulnerable feelings.

      Reply
  13. Marc

    Hi Adam,

    I’ve been in a relationship for almost 5 years. A couple months ago, one morning, I glanced at his phone when he received a text message on the phone I found out that he was receiving nude pictures from other guys on his phone and they were asking for them in return. When I confronted him about what I saw, after being upset and asking him for the truth, he said that it was a weakness that he had one day and it was isolated. He said that he had messed around in the past when I asked and said that he did not want to leave me, he wanted to stay with me and loved me. I was devastated, but I told him that I was hurt because he couldn’t be honest with me. I asked him if it was me, if he wasn’t happy with something, he brought up our varied need for sex; he wants to have sex more often than me. I don’t see sex as something I need more than a couple times a week and I feel that any more than that will diminish the meaning behind it for me. I’ve had a relationship where it was done more often together and it ended up getting boring and expected instead of spontaneous and fun. I explained my feelings around this and he said he understood and had come to accept that from me (however, he obviously has a problem with needing it more). A couple days ago, I found out that he was an online hookup site, so I set up a dummy account to validate his intentions. Well, I caught him now and he hooking up with other guys. Now I’m in the situation again and I’m finding myself looking at suggesting an open relationship because I don’t want to lose him, but I realize I have to deal with our honesty problem first. I don’t think I will have a problem with an open relationship because I’m a pretty rational person, but I’m more hurt about the dishonesty and dishonesty again and it hurts. I have no clue about how to go about an open relationship and I am not sure about boundaries. Truthfully, I’m not sure I would want to know about details with him and other guys, but I do want him to be honest with me. Any idea for credible resources? or advice?

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      Hi Marc,

      In terms of timing it doesn’t sound like now is a good time to think about how to navigate the complexities of an open relationship. That process requires a great deal of trust, cooperation, honesty, sensitivity, and deep communication. It sounds like now is the time for you and your partner to talk about how it really feels when your partner lies to you, and for your partner to get in touch with what is going on for him around sexuality. I imagine there is a lot more to this than your partner wanting sex more than two times per week. His job is to look more deeply into his motivations and how they are related to his relationship with you. He also needs to really understand what it felt like for you to to experience this betrayal. That requires a process of non-defensive, intimate, and vulnerable conversations that can take many months to complete.

      I don’t suggest that you agree to an open relationship under pressure. That decision should only come from a position of strength and deep closeness and connection between a couple. A good resource for this is the book “The Ethical Slut” by Dossie Easton.

      Reply
  14. Matt Cooper

    Mr. Adam,

    I have enjoyed reading your discussion on open relationships, and how you address your readers questions. What is your personal stand on open relationships?

    Furthermore, when is it appropriate for a couple to open up their relationship. I find that several readers are suggesting open relationships to a cheating spouse in order to keep them, which I believe you thing is not the right time to do so.

    I am in 3 year relationship, and I sometimes have desires to be with other men, and would not be opposed to my partner being sexual with men he is attracted to, especially if they yield some sexual satisfaction that I can’t or have no desire to meet. (top, bttm, kink, fetish). However, how can I suggest, an open discussion about opening the relationship, without making my partner feel insecure, what type of therapist handle this matter?

    Again, I thank you for taking time for answer all these questions in this discussion with much gratitude.

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      Hi Matt,

      Most good couples counselors can help you and your partner explore this topic together. I’d recommend a therapist who has experience working with gay couples. It could be difficult to bring up this topic without triggering some insecurity in your partner. Therefore, if you and your partner do not have experience talking through difficult subjects like insecurity and hurt then it may be very challenging to engage in an open relationship without damaging your connection. Opening up a relationship without having advanced skills at “processing”–which means being able to listen and respond to your partner’s vulnerable feelings with sensitivity–could put severe stress on your relationship and I don’t recommend it. This is not a decision to be made without a great deal of empathic discussion between you two since feelings of jealousy are inevitable in open relationships.

      Reply
  15. Joseph

    Hi Adam-

    Thank you for the article, although I still have some questions where your advice might help. My partner and I have been together for 4 years now. We are both deeply and emotionally committed to eachother and plan on being so for a very long time. Over the course of our relationship, what once was a thriving sex life slowly tapered off into the sex life of what I would imagine a couple (unlike us in our 20′s) would experience after years of partnership. I’ve always found myself to be sexually aggressive, and in the beginning of our relationship my partner was receptive, but slowly reasons for not being in the mood became more and more present. We’ve discussed this issue many times, in fact 90% of our arguments stem from it, and over time I’ve become not only extremely self conscious, but frustrated that I can’t be there for him physically. The mention of another guy, picture, etc. and suddenly he’s in the mood, but when it comes to me, not so much. Eventually, we sank into a routine of me getting a quick rub in and then that’s it. Lights out.

    A few days ago, we somehow began discussing finding a third or another couple to liven things up. For me, I felt it would be another way to connect to him, and possibly strengthen our sex life. Quickly, it became me going with one guy, him with another. We were both aware of the independent ventures. Mine was awkward, unfulfilling, and, as usual, quick. The more I learned of his, the more upset I became. He put himself in a very dominated position, allowing for slaps in the face, aggressiveness, hair pulling, etc. Things I would have never considered doing. The thought of him being violated like that scares me so badly and makes me sick to my stomach. In an attempt to deter my feelings, I offered him showing me how to play that role- what does he like? How can I make him want me like that? But there was the problem- he doesn’t. He desires it from others, strangers, but he says he likes the gentle and affection status of our physical relationship, although we’ve both agreed its stagnant.

    I just dont know what to do. I want to be there for him, emotionally and physically, but he only wants the former half from me. Any advice or comments would help. I’m literally driving myself insane.

    Reply
    1. Adam Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Joseph,

      This is an issue that will require more cooperation and communication from both of you. Your partner will need to recommit to engaging with you sexually. Since you two used to have a thriving sex life we can assume that this is doable for him. You may need to show more openness to exploring the world of fantasy and role play with him without judgement. Does he feel judged by you for his interest in being submissive? If it bothers you that he is having sex with others then I think you should both agree to stop. Your work as a couple is to find a way to connect with each other sexually and to keep this conversation going until you have reached a solution that gives you both pleasure. Since you have talked about it many times without success then I suggest you consider couples counseling with a licensed psychotherapist. If you allow the current situation to continue for a long time you may be putting your relationship at risk.

      Reply
  16. Bart

    Hi Adam,

    I appreciate your thoughtful responses to others, and I’d value your thoughts on my present situation. My partner and I have been together for almost 3 years but live separately, a few miles from each other. Our relationship has been complicated and tested by numerous issues, including my divorce (after a long-term marriage to a woman who I cheated on), child custody issues, and my coming out and accepting my sexuality. Our sex life has been great, but not as frequent as either of us preferred.

    I always believed my partner was very supportive and patient. We agreed our relationship was committed and monogamous. He shared with me his pain at having been cheated on in past relationships, and I assured him I had no interest in anyone else.

    Things came crashing down recently when I came to his house unannounced and found another guy in “our” bed, clothed but with his penis out and lube and drugs on the bedstand. My partner told me the guy was “an old acquaintance” who had “called out of the blue” and wanted to borrow a porno tape. His story made no sense; I became suspicious and started snooping in his emails. I discovered e-mails documenting months of serial infidelity involving Craigslist posts for “group parties” at his house (or at hotels when he traveled) involving drugs and bareback sex with multiple partners.

    I am shocked by the betrayal and deception, and feel like I don’t even know this guy – a guy who’s told me I know him better than anyone else. When I confronted him, he denied authorship and claimed someone else had sent them – although the emails contain his phone number, address, gate code, stats, and pics. He adamantly denies ever cheating on me, and refuses to admit any more than an “error in judgment” in allowing people into his life who abused his trust and used his computer. But I never knew any of these people were in his life in the first place, and I wonder why they were and when they will return. He is now defensive (I should have never snooped; I have more important things to deal with) and I am suspicious whenever his cell phone chimes a text or email.

    Problem is, I love this guy so much! It felt so right with him and I trusted him without question. He professed to want a life with me, and I believed him, but I just can’t reconcile his claims of love and committment with this apparent secret wild life that excludes me and endangers my health. I feel heartbroken, foolish, inadequate, and cynical. I don’t know if I can ever trust him or any other guy again. His unwillingness to “come clean” in the face of insurmountable evidence is doing nothing to help me understand what happened and why, how to prevent it from recurring, or how to rebuild trust, which seems a basic requirement for our relationship to recover. I really don’t know what to do and almost wish I’d never seen those emails so I could still have the innocent trust I once had for this man, who told me I was everything to him when I clearly am not. How do we resolve or get counseling for a problem he refuses to admit exists?

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Bart,

      You will not be able to resolve this issue until your partner admits that he lied to you and makes a full disclosure about his activities. You are experiencing an extreme form of betrayal because your partner is continuing to lie even after he has clearly been caught lying to you. It would make no sense to trust him, and a relationship that is not based on trust is very destructive to the emotional health and self-esteem of the couple. Your partner’s illogical lies are most commonly associated with people who have a significant substance abuse problem.

      Your partner needs a wake-up call. Sometimes the threat of losing a relationship can provide the needed shock to help a person trapped in denial to begin to take responsibility for his unhealthy patterns. Ironically, ending the relationship may be the best way you can help your partner begin his personal work. Remaining in the relationship would be an act of cruelty to yourself.

      Reply
  17. Peter

    Hello Adam,

    I am writing to you from another country, and English is a foreign language for me, but I hope you will be able to help me regardless my country of origin and possible spelling mistakes.

    First of all, I would like to thank you for your article.
    Your assistance on this matter will be greatly appreciated as well for I am unable to find a solution on my own. I have recently realized that without a professional assistance and an impartial assessment I might soon give up something that is really valuable for me.

    My partner and I have been in a relatioship for about 8 months. He introduced me to his family and to his friends. I am always a welcomed guest at his place but we still live apart. I am 23 and he is 31. Everything seems to be perfect. But there is still something that I cannot truely accept.

    When we started to date he warned we that he had been dissappointed with monogamous relationships. He said it because he wanted to be honest with me. And I had no choice but to accept it. You might want say I had another choice… But I hadn’t, I liked him so much from the very first moment I saw him, that I promised to cope with it, to overcome those sad feelings that his polygamy may arouse. So, almost from the very beginning I knew there was someone else he went out with. He explains to me that he dates other guys only for sex, that this is only a physical need, that none of those guys has ever been as close to him and to his relatives and friends as I am. But still this role is hardly satisfactory for me.

    I cannot imagine having sex with someone else. I would not deny that I notice other guys passing by, but there will never be anything else except that “noticing”. I cannot date anyone else. I will never try to make an acquaintace with someone, who I might possibly like. I will try to keep a distance with anyone who might ruin my feelings to my boyfriend and meddle in our relationships. Tha loyaly has always been an irreplaceable base for me. And unfaithfulness was considered as a treachery. I understand now that fidelity is not always mutual and now I see it depreciated, valueless. I feel as if my whole world and my system of values are upside down now. Once, when it was too hard for me to carry on, I tried to break up with him, but our separation lasted for 2 hours. Then I went back to him and asked him to forgive me.

    Since then I have managed to accept his way of life, his polygamy, the fact that he might have sex with someone else, that I will never be “his only one”, but “the best” of them. But at what costs? We never speak about that, we try to avoid any topics that might somehow remind me of his polygamy. But I think that this kind of “avoidance” undermined our mutual trust. There is now something that “Must-Not-Be-Named” or spoken of. I cannot openly speak of my feelings, of my regrets and of my being insulted. If something reminds me of my being not “the only one” (that can be anything, e.g. a TV program about polygamous relationships, a newspaper article, etc.) I immediately grow torpid, become silent and reserved (we never make scences with shouting and rebuking each other). And this not only ruins the day (I become emotionally immobile, inert and apathetic), but also leaves its mark and leads to unpleasing thoughts. I cannot truely reconcile myself to the role I am destined to play in this relationships. Somewhere inside I still feel myself insulted and depreciated.

    The thing I disire the most at the moment is the loneliness, a sort of asylum where I might hide in for some time from anyone who might know me. An asylum where I can stay as long as I need in order to rebuild something that has been so brusquely demolished.

    Am I too conservative when sticking to that old-fashioned relatiopnships based on mutual loyalty? What can I change in my way of thinking to achieve true reconciliation?

    Thank you in advance.

    Regards,
    Peter.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Peter,

      No, you are not being too conservative. Very large numbers of gay men worldwide are also looking for and have achieved monogamous long term relationships. You and your partner do not share the same values around monogamy and this is often a very reasonable and healthy reason to end a relationship. As you have already experienced, trying to change your own values so that they can be in line with his values around sexuality is a fruitless process that is destructive to your own mental health. The kind of emotional intimacy you are looking for simply isn’t possible if you and your partner don’t match values on this very basic and very important topic. I imagine the thought of ending this relationship is very painful to you. That pain is unavoidable, but will lessen and then disappear over time. Remaining in the relationship under these conditions would be like picking at a scab over and over again–the wound would not heal.

      Reply
      1. Peter

        Dear Adam,

        Thank you for your advice.
        However, I am not sure that I can end up this relationship at this point.
        I am sure you will agree with me that one mustn’t hurry when making such a dicision, and I will certainly need some more time for consideration. My partner is very dear to me for I haven’t ever seen a person that would “fit” me that well: same habits, same way of life, sames tastes. You might say that this is just an illusion that will vanish over time. And only then I will see that we are not that similar. But in this case I just need that time to see it myself, to get rid of that intoxicating feeling I have when he’s by my side, to learn to regard things in a sober light. Only then I will be able to make rational decisions on what is more dear to me: the relationship with a person like him or my mental health and harmony within myself.

        Once again I would like to express my gratitude for your help and for what you are doing. There are no psychotherapist for gay couples in my country and you can imagine how difficult it is sometimes to find a solution on your own. I wish you and your patients good luck!

        Regards,
        Peter

        Reply
  18. Chance

    My partner and I have been together for over 5 years with 3 of those being long distance. We’ve always had an open policy but now that we live together; we are finding that the policy needs to be amended. Do we only play when we are away? No playing when we are home? One of the beautiful things about our relationship is that we are able to discuss and work through difficult situations. However we cannot agree on the terms of our open policy. I’d rather have a don’t as don’t tell and he would like to know all the details. It doesn’t help that I moved to a city where they’re not many people that look like me. So most of the friendships I try to make have an under current of sex.

    I have probelms with tell all because my partner has a history with major insecurity and lacks self confidence. For me, I feel like sharing those details would just be unhealthy for him and at the same time I feel interrogated. Secondly, any experience I might have outside the relationship is strictly N.S.A, discreet and safe.

    In our discussions I’ve communicated that I love him and want no one else but do enjoy variety (w or w/o him.) He said he completely understood that. There is a 17 year age difference and being younger, I do have the need to sometimes feel attractive to men in my own age group.

    Any advice on how to come closer to compromising? In the end that is what it will take on both of our parts.

    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Successful open relationships require that the members are able to process the issues of jealousy that may arise. If these feelings can’t be discussed and resolved then the partners will just end up hurting each other. That hurt will lead to distancing and the eventually the health of your relationship will erode. Your partner has agreed to an open relationship but with a history of insecurity and low self-confidence he may not be a good candidate for an open relationship. That’s something for you two to talk about and for him to look at more closely. Is he opening the relationship just to please you (not a good idea) or because that’s what he truly wants? You are an advocate for variety–have you two explored variety in your sex life together through fantasy and role play? Developing friendships does take time and effort but you can make great friends within the gay community without the undercurrent of sex. Bars and the internet are sexualized environments. Gay clubs and organizations are the best way to make gay friends without the pressure of sex.

      Don’t give up on these discussions about sexuality with your partner. They really are essential for healthy long term relationships. If you keep running into roadblocks then finding a local licensed couples counselor might be a great idea.

      Reply
  19. Andy

    I know there is no “one size fits all” answer to this because everyone is different and every situation is based on those differences. Your advice seems to always come down to the importance of communication and respecting your partners feelings dealing with the addition of another sex partner. Your advice is right on the money and I could use your input as well. I am in a partnership of 15 years and of those past ten, we have had to deal with the fact that I cannot fulfill him sexually due to the fact I have been disabled. He has been very supportive, he has never blamed me for our situation and I can see where he has needs I can’t meet. The problem is that he wants to have an open relationship and while the thought repulses me, I can understand. What I can’t understand is that he wants to be able to be with someone without me being there. Why would he want to not make me a part of the act? I don’t buy into that it due to him feeling guilty that it can’t be me only since we’ve had 3-ways in the past. I didn’t like it but I didn’t not like it either. He has no real answer for this so can you shed a little light on this? We are beginning the process of discussing this but he has a network of friends that he can talk to to gather his thoughts. I don’t have the same. 15 years is a long time, our situation with my disability has been a source of other problems as well and we’ve gotten thru them. I value what you have to say. How can I understand the need for him to fly solo unless he has become a part of a sexual group I would never want a part of such as the darker side of pleasure. We are in the very beginning stages here so any advice as to how to get thru communication openly would be appreciated.

    Reply
  20. Ty

    Dear Adam,

    My boyfriend and I have been dating for almost 8 months now and as of right now we’ve begun a long distance relationship. It’s not easy being able to see each other when we want, but I think we have been handling it well. Anyways, we recently started talking about an open relationship. My boyfriend wants a friend with whom he can cuddle with and be himself with as well as occasionally getting sex out of it when he’s in the mood. I understand that he may need that relief, but I feel like that goes against the whole reason we put promise rings on one another. I love him to death and I want him to be happy, but at the same time, I don’t want to share him(I realize he is not my property, but I feel a strong bond with him, and I’m worried by him doing this he would make that bond with someone else.) He assured me nothing would change our relationship, but it still worries me. I’ve talked to a few others about open relationships and for the most part it’s been negative with responses like “it’s an excuse to cheat”. Is it cheating with permission? He seems frustrated by it all, but I don’t know what to do or say. I love him to much to let something like this be an issue. Any advice?

    Sincerely,
    Ty

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Ty,

      You seem clear that you do not want an open relationship. I think it is important that you honor and respect those feelings. I’m concerned that some gay men feel that they can’t insist on a monogamous relationship–that somehow they feel that they are not cool or too old-fashioned when they want the pleasures of monogamy with their partner. I urge you not to let yourself feel pressured into an open relationship. As you already seem to know, they can involve great risks for the relationship unless both partners are fully committed and interested. Your relationship is already experiencing the challenge of living far apart. This sounds like a risky time to consider something that you are not comfortable with.

      Reply
  21. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

    Dear Andy,

    I want to challenge you to reconsider your belief that your disability prevents you from having a satisfying one-on-one sexual relationship with your partner. The most important sexual organ is the brain. With enough creativity, trust, self-esteem and gumption almost anything can be sexually exciting. Striving to maintain a sexual connection with your long term partner is important. Due to your disability your sex life might look different than it was in the beginning of your relationship, but it still can be hot.

    Only your partner can tell you why he does not want you to be present during sex with others. The fact that he can’t tell you why may indicate that he is afraid of hurting your feelings or being judged by you. You clearly don’t feel like he is telling you the truth which indicates a concerning lack of trust in the relationship.

    The best way to begin to building skills at talking about difficult subjects and to build trust is to follow the outline in my June 2012 blog article “How To Talk About the Tough Issues.” If that seems too daunting then I would recommend you seek out a good local couples counselor. In addition, you can search online for ‘sexuality and the disabled” and find plenty of good resources to inspire you.

    Reply
  22. Tyler

    Hi,
    I’ve been with my partner for 6 years now, we live together and generally have a great life together, but our sex life is awful from my point of view. It only seems to happen when we are on holiday or weekends away, and when it does happen its quite one sided, with me often left to sort myself out. Neither of us are very good at talking to each other about sex, I have managed to talk to him in the past about it and he has said he knows he is not that interested in sex at the moment but this seems to be related to him managing depression, he says the alternative would be him going to go on antidepressants. 
    As you can imagine him telling me that sex with me would lead to him having to take antidepressants was a horrible thing to hear. Anyway I would love to have an open relationship just so I can satisfy my needs without it eating away at the rest of our relationship. But as I say I  don’t have the self confidence to have this conversation.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Tyler,

      The ability to talk about sex is an important element of a healthy sex life. This is true for all parts of a good relationship: the ability to talk about problems leads to the resolution of those problems.

      I’d advise you to refocus your attention on building your skills at talking about your sex life with your partner rather than focusing on getting sexual satisfaction with someone else.

      It doesn’t sound like your partner is trying to meet your understandable need for sex and it doesn’t sound like you are advocating for this need. While depression can make it more difficult to enjoy sex, it does not make good sex impossible. Like anything else important in life it requires attention, intention, commitment, communication and support.

      Depression is treatable and I hope your partner is working with a licensed psychotherapist to reduce his symptoms. It’s an important form of support.

      It sounds like it will be your job to focus on the attention part of the equation. This means you will need to bring up the topic regularly so that your partner can understand what it is like for you not to have mutually satisfying sex with the man you love. Your job is not to blame him but to simply state how it feels to be in your shoes. Do you ever feel rejected, lonely, hopeless, or unloved when it comes to sex with your partner? If so, let him know.

      Loving a man who is dealing with depression has special challenges. One of those challenges is making sure your own feelings get heard and attended to even when your partner is dealing with significant challenges of his own. This can take energy and courage but is essential for a good life together. You may benefit from extra support from a couples counselor, individual counselor, or trusted friends who can help you learn to advocate for what you need and deserve.

      Reply
  23. Andrew

    I have been dating my guy for almost 9 months now. We met online. Im 18 and he’s in his 30′s. I am currently at college and have always liked the idea of an open relationship. He has said before that that kind of thing isn’t for him and that If I ever cheated and he found out, it would be over. He expects the same from me. I never got to explore. I have a very high sex drive. I would love to explore and stay with him, but I don’t know if I could even bring up this topic, let alone convince him that everything would be ok. I am comfortable with the fact that there would need to be a lot of communication. I don’t get to see him too often. My college is only about 40 minutes from home but I only see him about once a week. I love him more than my own life, but I really want to explore and make friends who want to have “fun” from time to time while still keeping my man back home. It would be amazing if he felt the same but he’s expressed before that he doesn’t. Sex can be beautiful and fun, even with friends. How can I even break the ice for this conversation to come through, or even get him to maybe see my side of this. He had his fun back in his college days. I’m here for six years and looked forward to it since high school. They we met before and now I’m chained to the man I love with no wiggle room. Leaving him is not an option. I really do like him and can imagine a life together very easily. I just want to have an openly sexual life.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Andrew,

      I don’t think there is an easy, win-win solution to your situation. Sometimes when couples have very different values on key life issues like monogamy, child rearing, or finances they make the difficult and wise decision to end the relationship.

      As a partner, your job is to avoid intentionally hurting the man you love. If he won’t agree to an open relationship then it would be cruel for you to sleep with other men while still dating him.

      However, you can continue to state your case and explain to him why an open relationship is important to you. You can try to engage him in a conversation about rules and guidelines. Perhaps there are a limited number of situations that might be okay with him. For example, maybe he would be more comfortable with sex with others that occurs on vacation, or when he is present, or only with people you will never see again.

      If over time he doesn’t agree to any options then you will have to make the tough decision about how important is it to you to have the freedom to have sex with other men. Some couples break up for a period of time and then take the risk that they may both be available to rekindle the relationship at a later time, after one partner has had the opportunity to explore.

      You may benefit from taking some time to really look at your vision and values for your life. Consider taking long walks alone and talking to trusted close friends about what is important to you now and what you believe will be important to you in the coming years. Use that vision to help guide you on this tough decision.

      Reply
  24. Bill Doyle

    Dear Dr. Blum,

    I am 58 and my lover of 6 months is 32. It had been since 1980 that i had a boyfriend. I really dont like or trust some gays and have been at odds with Gay Pop Culture so I have avoided having any real relationship for the 32 years since my last BF. Now suddenly last March a young man “chatted me up” at an after hours club and I have seen him since and we are serious and I am in love for the first time in my life and he says he is too…and i believe we both are in love. But its not all that simple and I am afraid we are headed for trouble.

    When he met me he was in a two year relationship which i didnt know at the time> his Lover was at the club too and he went home with me without letting me know his lover was there and without telling his lover he was leaving. Foor three months he visited me without telling his lover.

    Shortly after he broke up with hios lover for me and told all to his EX. We are now together, but have not managed to come up with rules. he lives in NYC and I in Philly. WE manage to see each other 2 days a week at most. We are very similar in some relationship attributes. We ar eboth Scorpios and both jealous. But not crazy. He has talked about his sexual needs that are a problem since he is young and constantly interested in sex….but is so fare from me. But as far as I know he has not been with other guys. I omn the other hand have been. Thhey were litarlly blips that happened under influence of cocktails and flattery. My lover asked me about wheter I had had sex and I told him> but nnot all details.He still loves me but he accuses me of having dual standards. I know he is right. I love him and mo one else could ever be a threat. I know that and that is why I didnt relate to his anger. I knew my intentions….he didnt. But worse is that he knows that I am very jeallose and would not be so forgivving to him if he would cheat.

    I really want to make this work. We have had a few threesomes and they varied some good some not.

    I need to find a way to truly trust him enough to let him be free with rules while we are seperate. And I need to find a way to make up what I have done and regain his trust.

    I am hoping i havent messed it all up. You dont get many 2nd chances at my age. And he really is the most lovean
    ble person I have ever met or ever will

    Bill

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Bill,

      I’ll do my best to be helpful in my response but since my information is limited to what you have written above, I’ll have to make some leaps that may or may not feel congruent with your experience. You state that you want your partner to trust you but that you betray that trust when you drink. The reality for most people is that drinking more than one or two drinks in an evening can make us untrustworthy. If that is true for you then it wouldn’t be logical for your partner to trust you. Perhaps it is time to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol, bars, and clubs. You also state that you don’t like or trust some some gay people. If you are meeting most of the gay people you know at bars and clubs then you are only interacting with a portion of “gay culture” — a portion that is much more likely to have problems with alcohol and drugs and therefore less trustworthy. It is very difficult to have a loving, trusting relationship–whether the relationship is “open” or “closed”–if one or both members are dependent on drugs or alcohol. Reducing chemical dependency is difficult but also extremely rewarding. Doing difficult things becomes so much easier with support and that is why therapy and support groups are usually a key component in successfully moving towards a life of less alcohol, better relationships, and more love. I suggest that If you start with this issue you will find that the other problem areas in your life will get much easier to solve.

      Reply
  25. Simon

    My husband and I have recently started a open relationship however my husband can’t do casual sex. He has advised that in order for this to work for him he will need to be able to meet people and have them become friends he sleeps with rather than just random encounters.

    I have tried to explain to him that I’m really worried this is more likely to make him fall in love, but he simply gets defensive and says that mean’s I don’t trust him not to fall in love with other people. I tried to explain that falling in love isn’t a conscious thing and I want to avoid the possibility of it happening accidentally but he still feels this is a lack of trust.

    I really want the open relationship to work if it can however I an concerned about my partner’s desire to become friends with the people he is sleeping with.

    Am I right to worry about this? Is there a way around that can please both of us?

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Hi Simon,

      You are feeling really worried and your husband is feeling defensive. These are important feelings that must be respected, validated, and processed. All feelings have their own logic and make sense when we take the time to understand them. In order to feel better both of you will need to truly empathize with the other guy’s feelings and be able to express that empathy again and again. Your conversations will need to take place in a non-pressured environment where either one of you can say “no” to the proposed guidelines about an open relationship with complete freedom and with an expectation of understanding by the other guy.

      You two will need to discuss your partner’s defensiveness and get to the vulnerable, tender feelings below it. And you will need to be deeply heard about your understandable fear that your partner may fall in love with someone else. If you are able to have these conversations and repeatedly feel closer at the end of them, then you might be ready to start discussing what each of you may need to feel safe in an open relationship. For example, perhaps there may be certain situations, with certain powers of veto and other limitations, where you might feel comfortable with the idea of your husband sleeping with someone he knows. Do not say “yes” until you are sure you can be comfortable with what he is proposing and how he is including your feelings into the equation. Open relationships require a great deal of work. WIthout this work there is a high risk of hurt feelings and an ultimate destruction of the relationship. If the conversations are not going well then the actual behaviors will also result in greater problems. I suggest you do not move forward until these conversations regularly end with closeness and warmth.

      Reply
  26. Dustin

    Hey Adam,

    I really have enjoyed reading everything you have to say. I am not sure that I have a question rather than just curious as to what you think about me and my partner’s situation.

    We have been together for just over 2 years. About 14 months ago, we had a HUGE issue, caused by myself, that we were very fortunate to work through and actually improved our relationship. I have always been much more adventurous with sex than most I dated. For the first 9 months my partner and I had amazing sex! But as I grew use to this amazing sex, I wanted to be more adventurous than what I assumed he would be. I ended up looking for the adventure elsewhere. I only attempted once, but that one time turned out to be a life threatening experience. When I HAD to tell him what happened, he of course was mad and hurt and anything else when you learn the one you love was chatting with others and possibily going to cheat and then almost dies. We lived together at this time and he wanted me out and gave me a month to go. Within that month I continued to try and talk to him and work on things.

    Eventually, he came around to the idea and we began discussing how we got to where we were. I didn’t want sex with another guy exactly, I just really wanted to fulfill my adventurous side without scaring him off. I opened up to him and told him what I wanted. To my surprise he said that had I told him these things, he would’ve tried them! Shocked at his response I just felt worse because I basically risked everything because I was afraid to talk to him about my needs.

    Now we are happily still together. Its been over a year since then and I know we are stronger now than we were before my lack of judgement. We have grown emotionally and sexually together so much! I have never had a better sexual partner, than with him. With all this opening up about sex, we both learned of our interests to bring in guys for fun. We have done so on several occasions now and it has been successful. We have had talks about not playing alone and only together with people we both agree on. About 6 months ago tho, we had opened it up a little further that we could now play with just one of our friends without eachother anytime he came into town and stayed with us. It ended up not working out with that guy, not because of us, but because he ended up getting jealous if he was not the only guy we played with.

    Now, my partner does do a lot of traveling for work. One of the last times he admitted that one night, had this random guy, that he was attracted to, hit on him, he would have had sex with him. We talked about this awhile and came to the conclusion that we both understand we both desire sex a lot. That we understand how hard it is for us to go 2 weeks without sex. I ended up saying that if he were ever in that situation again and he was going to “cheat” I want to know about it and I would want pictures. I did confirm that it wasn’t a “green light” to have sex with others individually and he agreed.

    Now it comes to today and the reason I found you. He is currently away for work again and was meeting up with an old friend (now a friend of mine too) that he use to have sex with before we started dating. I love this friend to death and he rarely has sex because he is constantly traveling and has a self esteem issue so he doesn’t hook up. Well, they were in their hotel room together and my partner and I were chatting dirty and our friend could see. He ended up asking if he could take care of my partner for me. I gave them the ok with the stipulation of taking pictures to send to me. They agreed. Once I got the pictures, I knew that had it been with a random guy without my permission, that I would not have liked it. This was the first time that one of us actually acted individually so of course we wouldn’t know exactly how we’d react. I played it off for the night but started wondering what this would mean. Would we now move into an open relationship where we could act individually? I started asking myself questions and looking online at anything that might have some insight. I found you!

    So after reading most of this site, my partner got online and we were chatting again. I was worried to bring up the issue, but found strength from your advice to others and went for it. I told him I had to bring something up. I asked him if he remembered our conversation about the possible last resort individual hook ups. He said yes. I told him that I don’t think I could handle that after last night. I reassured him that I was fine with what happened last night and enjoyed the pictures but that had it NOT been our friend, I wouldn’t have liked it. I didn’t think he would’ve given it much thought yet, but he said he felt the same way.

    I do still have questions and concerns because of last night about how our relationship might evolve from this, but my biggest concern I brought up and resolved immediately. We still need to discuss things, but I can now wait until he gets home.

    The common denominator in most of your responses has been communication. To share thoughts, feelings, concerns with eachother before they become resentment. I do feel like we are on the right path for us and hope we can stay this way. If issues ever arise again, I will always think back to you and your wisdom. Thank you for it and I apologize for the long letter.

    Dustin

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Dustin,

      Thanks for sharing your powerful experience. I’m sure it will inspire other men to take the risk of expressing their desires and feelings with their partner. It’s a big step but there really is no other way to deepen and protect a loving relationship. You’ve expanded your communication skills–congratulations.

      Reply
  27. Mike Plait

    Dear Adam,

    My partner and I have been in a relationship for 11 years, 9 of which married. We started off monogamous, but as time went by, started to have occassional encounters with other men, without being totally open about it. After my boyfriend was diagnosed with a STD he had contracted on one of his encounters, we started to confront the situation, and eventually settled for an open relationship with certain rules. One of these rules was not to have sex more than once with the same guy, unless we would specifically ask for each other’s approval of a repeated encounter with the same guy. I have to admit this rule was more my idea than his, and the reason I want to have this rules is because I’m afraid regular sexual encounters with the same guy may lead to something more than just sex, and would put our relationship in jeopardy. My partner however never really felt comfortable with this rule, and would much prefer to regularly have sex with the same guy, instead of having many different sex partners.

    Soon after we settled for an open relationship, my partner started to see another guy, whom he is now having sex with this regularly. He is honest about it, which I appreciate, and at point one I gave my permission for having sex a second time with this guy, but I really do not approve of him seeing him regularly now. The problem is also that he is having more than just sex with this guy: they meet up for coffee and dinner, have long and deep conversations, love to go out together, and all of this makes me feel jealous and hurt. My partner insists I should not worry about our relationship, that he does not want to leave me, that his love for me does not compare with his affection for the other guy, and that the other guy (who is also married) is determined to stay with his spouse as well. He even wants us to go out together (i.e. the 4 of us) occassionally.

    I am uncomfortable with this whole situation, and don’t know what to do. We have talked about it a lot, I have told him how this makes me feel (jealous, hurt, offended, angry) and that I am afraid of the possible consequences (basically us drifting apart eventually), but he tells me he sees no reason in stopping to see this guy, as he loves to spend time with him, and the sex they are having is good. He also says he is pretty sure it will just last a couple of months (after which he will probably find someone else for a couple of months).

    All in all, the whole situation causes a lot of different types of emotions in me: jealousy, and feeling offended and hurt (why does he so much enjoy spending time with him, if he could spend time with me as well?), anger (I can’t show my affection to my partner in this situation, and am avoind physical contact), disappointment (this was not just what I expected marriage would be like), anxiety (what will be the next step, and where is this going to lead to – perhaps the little sex we were having is definitely going to be a thing of the past, as I don’t feel like having to compete with this other guy, whom I know is better at satisfying him sexually than I am).

    Any advice you can give to me?

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Mike,

      Without guidelines that both partners respect and understand, an open relationship is doomed to cause hurt. That hurt often leads to the end of the relationship. It is not a good sign that your husband continues to sleep with someone when you have told him that it hurts you. The most important question to ask yourself is why are you staying in a relationship with a man who is essentially having an affair but refuses to stop. A key component of any loving relationship is to avoid hurting the man you love. It sounds like it is time for you two to reevaluate your relationship. You might want to do this with the support of a local couples counselor. One idea is to “close” the relationship for several months and use that time to jumpstart your communication skills. This process can help you two reignite your sexual passion for one another.

      Reply
  28. Roger

    Adam, thank you for your thoughtful responses to all these questioners.
    My partner and I have been together for 21 years. We met in college. It’s been mostly really good. We have had sex on average once a week for all those years, which I feel is a pretty good track record. People have told us, straight and gay, that they model their relationships on ours.
    This past summer while I was traveling for work he told me he met a new friend. He said the friend was in a bad place and really needed help. I felt a little jealous, but thought he was doing a pretty cool thing for this guy. He helped him find an apartment and a car, and gave him relationship advice. Eventually my partner told me that he was developing feelings for the new guy, but he said they never did anything sexually. Well, I freaked. We went to couples counseling which brought us closer together and it seemed to work really well for us. But my partner kept a secret that whole time.
    This past week I found a condom on our living room floor. It had fallend out of his winter jacket he just took out of storage. I new it wasn’t mine, we haven’t used them since early on. I told him he better tell me everything. He said that last winter he had hooked up with six different guys he met online for sex. He was looking to be dominated by someone much larger than him, and much larger than me. And of course, that guy he helped out was one of the guys he met online.
    I’m more of a romantic, sensual type person. Being dominated and dominating just doesn’t really do it for me.
    I’m just so shocked and hurt and I feel like an idiot for not seeing this before. It feels like our whole relationship is built on a big lie. The thing is, if he had just come to me at first and suggested three ways, or even an open relationship, I probably would have been willing to try it.
    But I think he enjoyed the sneaking around, almost getting caught, the danger of not knowing who would open the door at his hook up.
    I just don’t know what to do. I love him still. Which probably sounds hard to believe. But we’ve built an awesome life together and starting over just seems overwhelming.
    If my partner is willing to do this to me, to us, wouldn’t he do it in the future? How could I possibly trust him ever again?
    Of course, my friends (who are also his friends) believe that I deserve better, and I agree with them. But it seems like people in gay relationships are generally more forgiving about this type of stuff. Maybe I need to take a more open view. I go from getting ready to dump him and walking out, to trying to figure out how to make it work. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Roger,

      Couples can recover from the trauma of infidelity. You can read more about this in my entry “How Couples Can Repair After an Affair”. (http://gaytherapist-sanfrancisco.com/blog/2011/07/how-couples-can-repair-after-an-affair/) Essentially you will need to talk about your feelings of betrayal and your partner will need hear those feelings and truly empathize. This conversation can’t just take place once. It needs to be repeated many times and this will require patience from both of you. This difficult process can take many months and is easier to do with a couples counselor. Before you can move forward as a couple trust needs to reestablished, and that can only happen when your partner truly understands what you are experiencing and takes responsibility for lying to you. After this process has been completed and your relationship has reached a new level of emotional intimacy and deep communication, you can start talking about your sex life and how to keep it growing along with the relationship. Do not jump to that step–make sure trust has been reestablished first. It is possible that some of your partner’s needs for exploration of power and sexuality could be a part of your enjoyable sex life together if other dynamics–such as a joint commitment to honesty–are present.

      Reply
  29. Austin

    Hello Adam,

    Thank you for posting so many great thoughts on this topic! I felt a bit alone in my feelings until I read here so many others with similar experiences.

    My situation is that I have been dating my boyfriend for about 2 months. He is 20 and i am 27. It is still early on, but he has already expressed that he is a highly sexual person. He has a history of hookups and looking around on craigslist and online dating sites while in relationships. He has not cheated on me, but he has looked around. He has expressed that he does not want to do anything that will hurt me. We have just spent 2 weeks apart for Thanksgiving break, and he has not cheated, but has looked around online. We have actually had a really good phone conversation during that time about this topic. However, I found that he had created a profile on an online hook up site. We have talked about why he has pursued sex in the past, and he has concluded that it is not so much the sex act as it is the idea of excitement and taboo. It has been difficult, but I am getting to a place where despite the fact he has looked around on some website while we are together, I don’t believe he will cheat on me. I am still a bit uncomfortable and nervous that his doing this is a sign that he will loose interest or “kick me to the curb”, but I feel I understand that even if he did hook up it would not be to find another partner, but to get his “fix” for taboo/excitement.

    Additionally he is still very close to his last ex. He has expressed that his Ex was the one who ended it and that he is not really over his ex. He has described it as loving both of us in different ways and has expressed the idea of dating both of us at the same time. This brings about feelings of insecurity, jealousy, uncertainty, fear, anger, and sadness in me. I have always needed a good dose of security and reassurance in all relationships, and even friendships, and the idea that I would not be the sole focus of his love and affection scares me. After reading some replies on here I feel that we are just too early in our relationship and still in the process of building trust, security, and stability for me to even entertain the idea of this. I have told him open relationships and polygamy are not for me, but I honestly could see myself being ok IF that trust and security and open warm loving communication were built first.

    My plan at this point is to openly and carefully express to him what my emotional needs are, and how the idea of an open relationship or polygamy makes me feel, as well as explain to him that i feel we are too early in our relationship to consider this given that we have not yet fully built a strong base of mutual trust and security.

    I do not know if even once that base is built if I will be ok with the idea, but I do know that without that base of security I would NEVER be ok with it.

    Your thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Austin,

      Congratulations on identifying and valuing your own needs for security. This is a healthy need in relationships, one that you need to respect. From your blog post there is certainly much evidence that your boyfriend does not share your relationship values. Therefore it would be wise to move slowly in the relationship and to be extra sure that you continue to develop other parts of your life (such as friendships, interests, career) so that you will have plenty of resources to support you should the relationship end. Your plan to express your emotional needs to your boyfriend is very smart. You might also want to detail your needs around honesty in relationships. For example, it sounds like he posted a sexual hook-up ad without telling you. If in the future you want to know about his online activities you should make this clear to him. If he does not agree to this or continues to hide his sexuality from you, he probably is not a good candidate for a healthy long term relationship with you.

      Reply
  30. Jason

    Hi Adam,

    I have a unique situation that I want to share. I have been with my partner for 15 years. For the first 3 years of our relationship we had a 3rd partner that lived with us and shared our lives to the fullest extent. They were a couple before I met them and they were open and invited me in to play. We played several times and when they approached me with the idea of a “relationship” with them. I happened to be at a pint where I needed to move so I moved in with them. We actually fell in love and shared a monogamous 3way relationship. The times were good and the sex was great. We all enjoyed sex with each other…or so it seemed. The guy that is no longer in the relationship became distant and sex was less and less with him. The sex with my partner was out of this world. An amazing connection. There were infidelity issues with my partner cheating on us using the reasoning that he could detach love from sex. We worked through those tough times but over time the relationship deteriorated and the other guy announced he was leaving. Come to find out, when I entered the relationship they were having many problems and apparently I was going to make it all better. Didn’t happen! So he left and the remaining partner and I decided that we loved one another and wanted to try and make a go of it. For the next two years we grew closer and stronger and have built a wonderful life together. But, during those years, he has ventured out again – online sex sites, steam rooms, hooking up – but we’ve managed to work through all that. We are supposed to be a monogamous couple. Yet, I KNOW we are not. We have a wonderful sex life, really turned on by each other but for some reason he continues to dabble on the side. I’ve caught him a couple of times and he swears he’s never done anything, but i am aware that he does. We have only played together with others a couple of times when we were on vacation. And have lightly discussed inviting another in to play. Thing is, I am open to the idea, but he keeps saying he’s not sure he’s ready, and then goes out and seeks sex from others behind my back,

    My question here is I am open to playing with others, but how do I communicate this any clearer than I already have, and get him to stop going behind my back to play?

    Thanks,
    J

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear J,

      Let’s reframe this issue as problem around lying rather than a sexual issue. When someone we love lies to us there is a certain violence done to the soul. If we can’t trust the words of the people with whom we are most intimate then our feeling of trust becomes damaged. It is very difficult to reach the next level of emotional intimacy with someone who is afraid to say what is true.

      I suggest you start talking to your partner about what it feels like to be lied to by the person you love most. Rather than attack him, just stay focused on the vulnerable places you go when you realize that you can’t trust his words. Make it about you and your feelings, not about him. Repeat this conversation several times, each time exploring more of the subtleties of your experience. Let him know how it impacts your emotional connection to him. Are you ever distant and angry with him? Is there a link between these feelings of distance and your experience of being lied to?

      Ultimately your partner will have to be willing to explore these issues with you and within himself for change to occur. You can’t change him but perhaps your commitment to honestly sharing your own feelings may inspire him to look inside. Perhaps he has a tendency to look outside of himself when the inevitable problems occur in relationship. Does a third partner or a hook-up relieve some of his anxiety around emotional intimacy? These are issues he could look at with you, in therapy, or in couples counseling. If he is unwilling to explore his inner self with you then you will need to make some difficult decisions around enforcing your own personal boundaries in this relationship.

      Reply
  31. TY

    Hey Adam,

    I am 21 living in New York City and I have been dating my boyfriend, 26 who lives in Maryland, in a long distance relationship for 2.5 years now monogamously for the most part. We have had 2 threesomes and they were fun.
    For the most part the past 2 years have been great and we have grown together. I know I am young but I can definitely see myself being with him later in my life. I have come to the conclusion that I would definitely like to be in a open relationship at some point in time. I just know that I cannot commit sexually to one person. I love him greatly and want us to continue, but he is a little weary about an open relationship. He has insecurities etc, and seems to go back and forth about what he wants in regards to an open relationship.

    We have talked about living in the same city and living together within the next year, but I really dont feel comfortable setting plans like that if ramifications are not set for some type of open relationship or understanding about sexual practices for our relationship.

    Any advice would be great.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Your job is to be honest about your needs and to advocate for them. You’ll need to push against any inclination from either of you to avoid this difficult topic. You can attempt to find out from your boyfriend if there are any guidelines or restrictions that would help him feel safe and loved in the context of an open relationship. Common guidelines that can sometimes help couples are limiting the activity to three-ways or to hook-ups with partners that won’t be seen more than once. Vacations are sometimes a safe place for couples to explore new forms of sexual expression. You may also need to accept that ultimately you and your boyfriend may not have a values match on this topic. Couples often wisely break up for having different values on core issues like child rearing, religion, or sexuality. Above all, remain honest with your partner and avoid secret sexual activity since it will ultimately cause great hurt to the person you love.

      Reply
  32. Chris

    Dear Adam,

    I have an unusual question, at least I think it may be unusual.

    Do you know of any gay couples who are completely monogamous and celibate within their relationship? With spirituality and service to each other as the mutual goal?

    I came out when I was 21 to family and friends and have always desired this – a companion on the same page- now I’m 30 and still single. I don’t feel at home in the gay scene so don’t go to bars/clubs.

    I don’t feel like i’m repressing sexual desire but finding an truer expression of it. But do crave a companion

    Chris

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Chris,

      One of the advantages of our new internet-based technology is that people who share specific interests and values are now much more able to find each other. There is a burgeoning asexual movement and you can read more about it and find resources on the web. Some cities have “meet up” groups arranged through the website meetup.com, specifically for this purpose. Yes, there are other gay men that share your values, and no, you won’t find them in the bars. Finding any relationship does take a lot of time and energy so if you want a companion be prepared to make it a priority.

      Reply
  33. Dave

    Dear Adam,

    Thanks so much for writing this article and and for taking the time to respond to each of the comments. I got something out of what everyone shared and what you responded with.

    I have been with my fiance for almost three years and a few days ago, we started talking about the possibility of threesomes and potentially a limited open relationship while we are apart. He is going away for two months in the near future and the last time he was away for that long, I found it difficult and I was always jealous or worried something might happen.

    We went away on vacation recently and almost had a threesome or were at least open to it. It was kind of a fun adventure but nothing happened in the end and we’ve still never crossed that line yet.

    When we talked openly about our sexual desires a few days ago, it felt great and I felt we had reached a whole new level of honesty and connection. The last few days, we’ve both been busy and haven’t had a chance to talk more about it and haven’t really discussed in depth what the boundaries are etc. but are planning on doing that more tonight. Actually, I just called him and told him I’ve been reading this and that we have to be prepared to communicate like that all the time.

    I guess I just wanted to share this and mention that today, since we hadn’t got a chance to talk about it more yet, I started feeling a bit of sadness because I felt like I was almost mourning the end of one part of our relationship… even though I have now been honest about all of the desires and attraction to other people because they are real, I just was a little sad that this is where we are at – even though I’m happy we’re being so honest.

    The reason is because I was once in a 6-year relationship, and the last few years of it were threesomes and then it ended. Not because of the threesomes, but we were just kinda mutually wanting to move on. I really don’t want to lose this guy and value our relationship so much so the main thing I’m getting from all of this is honesty and lots of communication… so at the very least, that’s where we are at. Any other advice at this point – especially regarding our two months apart – ?

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Dave,

      Thanks for your comments. I enjoy these dialogues. I’m glad that you are acknowledging that communicating honestly on difficult subjects like sex is essential, especially if you decide to open the relationship. Without that commitment to constant processing, open relationships can easily break apart a relationship. It’s great that you are tracking your own sadness. That kind of tracking leads to greater intimacy with the self, which then leads to greater intimacy with your fiancee. I would encourage you to tell him that you noticed you are feeling sad and are mourning the loss of your monogamous relationship. I suggest you get a solid commitment from him that he would be willing to return to monogamy if this experiment in an open relationship doesn’t work for you. Make sure you really believe him on this commitment before moving forward. My suggestion for the two-month period of separation is to use it as an opportunity to become even closer to your fiancee. Make a plan to use modern technologies like Facetime or Skype to talk in new ways on daily basis. Stretch yourselves to talk about personal, vulnerable topics in some of these calls. Consider writing each other frequent letters that express your feelings towards each other. This is an opportunity to experience the sweet feelings of longing and appreciation. And of course, before he leaves, have several conversations that outline your shared guidelines about how to experiment with opening the relationship without hurting each other. The intention to not hurt each other must be the number one commitment and must trump any personal erotic objectives.

      Reply
  34. Rich

    Thanks to anyone who responds to this issue in my case. I recently came out of the closet after discharged from the military and found my self, as a gay man romantically involved with another gay man who has been partnered for the last 18 years. According to this gay man I am involved with, he caught his partner in bed with another guy years ago and since then their relationship has gone down hill meaning they sleep in separate rooms and the sex has died out. This guy i am seeing, wears a ring on his right hand, whatever that means, however, has had several affairs since he and his partners sex live deteriorated. Nonetheless, this guy and I have a terrific sex every time he sees me. He also makes every effort to see me, calls me and text me daily. And we are talking text early in the morning when he cant sleep and is thinking about me or looking at my pictures. He is a very passionate man and so I’m I, and whats important is that we enjoy each others company every single time in and out of bed. We have been at this affair for the past 2 years now and during this time i have tried to distance myself from him, but his eagerness to be with me made me cave in once again to his passion. I had distanced myself from him because I was afraid of being hurt and don’t understand this type of situation. I feel that I will never be first in this relationship because of his supposedly long-term relationship with another gay man. He has stated that he does care about me tremendously and I admitted the same too. I am worried that one day he will say he and his partner decided to find each other again. Not to think after 18 years with 10 years no sex and plenty of unsuccessful therapy that reconciliation is going to happen. He has admitted his jealousy and I too and talked about it and dealt with it as well. I care about him so much, but I don’t see anything becoming of this affair (relationship). I have been pulling my hairs trying to figure out why gay partners stray from each other. I know all this sounds overwhelming, but so much is on my mind. I already told him he would never get out of his long-term relationship and he gave no reply. In almost every conversation we have had when we are together he brings up the instance when I told him I was falling in love with him. Now, I tend to shy away from it when he brings it up because I don’t want to be setting myself up for failure. I envy his partner and I would give anything to be in his partners place to be closer to him rather than this 3 times a month thing we have going on now. I do miss him every day and time and let him know that and he tells me the same too. Our phone conversations last for hours and it feels really good to hear his voice every time. Friends tell me to get out of this relationship because I will never come first no matter what or to make it clear to him that its strictly straight sexual satisfaction and nothing more, but we both him and I agree that it is not. I am so confused and need some advise and help on this issue….how do i handle this issue. He will be visiting next weekend……HELP!

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Rich,

      If you are satisfied with the current situation then do nothing. However, if you long for being “number one” in a relationship then you have chosen the wrong guy. It is unrealistic to assume that the man you are having an affair with will leave his partner of 18 years for you if he hasn’t done so already. Part of the reason that the sex and the connection between you too is so strong could be due to the affair. For many people what is unavailable becomes more attractive. (See my recent blog on this topic: http://gaytherapist-sanfrancisco.com/blog/2013/01/what-keeps-sex-exciting-in-gay-relationships/)

      It is scary to leave someone who gives you part of what you need. An important question you can ask yourself is why you limit yourself to a relationship that doesn’t give you the experience of receiving a full commitment from a partner. Stay focused on examining your role in this dynamic, especially since it is the only dynamic that you have full power to change.

      Reply
  35. Tim

    Dear Adam, your column is very interesting / insightful, however I don’t see ANY articles on what happens when “I DECIDE TO SAY NO” to an open relationship. At this stage trust is no longer the issue but the truth is. I will NEVER succumb to the need of an “open-relationship” nor do I find it to be a “healthy” need. I suspect my partner has already done something w/ someone else because I told him NO and he now acts very strangely when I bring up the subject … a subject I NOW HAVE TO BRING UP because I TOLD HIM NO and I now have to do constant “relationship processing” crap and check in to see where his head is at any given moment – never had this crap for 16 out of 17 years and now I feel like I am raising a child. I am considering leaving him after 17 years because I no longer feel comfortable w/ his answers nor his demeanor. I feel I am I wasting my time with someone that cannot be honest w/ me about what he is doing – I cannot get a “straight answer” (that’s ironic) from him. All I want him to do is own up to whatever he is doing so I have the relevant information to make an informed decision. Perhaps my leaving will do that, maybe not, but I am willing to find out.

    Angry, yes. Hostile, yes. My life over, NO!

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Tim,

      Congratulations on being clear about what you want in a relationship and insisting on honesty. Without honesty on such an important and vulnerable subject like sex, a relationship is doomed to be unsatisfying, hurtful, and lonely. Sadly, sometimes it takes a willingness to leave a relationship to make it better. Either way you win. If leaving becomes the wake-up call required to inspire your partner to honesty, then there is hope for change. And if it does not then you will know for sure that you two have irreconcilable differences. Unfortunately there is no escape from “processing” in an intimate, loving relationship. However, processing without honesty is not processing–it is abusive to the person receiving the lies.

      Reply
      1. Tim

        Thank you Adam for responding to my last comment. Processing without honesty is not processing – it is abusive to the person receiving the lies is EXACTLY on point and I could not have said it better myself. The abuse you speak of I now realize started with having the inital “honest” conversation, I in turn vehemently said “NO”, he in turn “shuts down” and here we are now a year later. He refuses to have any more conversations about how he feels on the subject or the fact I said NO or why I said NO. He said he doesn’t want to talk about it anymore because it always turns into “drama” and let’s “move on”. Now that this subject is brought to the forefront I find myself constantly “emotionally cutting myself” wondering “did he do something behind my back” / “did he use a condom” / “what’s next”? I never thought I would feel such contempt for the man I have loved for 17 years. I am moving out this weekend to a friend’s house until my apartment is ready at the end of FEB.. Thank you so much for the clarity and validation.

        Reply
  36. Chris

    Hi Adam,

    Me and my partner have been together over a year now but known each other for three. We quickly became best friends and started to develop strong feelings for one another although we still only remained just friends, but with benefits.
    Eventually we decided to get together and established a relationship. But unfortunately only a long distance relationship was possible as we both lived on the other other side of the world.
    Then eventually we spent an amazing 7 months together but faced yet another challenge with more distance separating us yet again.
    Now we have not seen each other for 5 months and most likely wont be able to get together for another 5 at least.
    We have two options. We either break up or do an open relationship.
    I am not sure how an open relationship between us would work but neither of us is able to let go of the other as we love each other way too much and we are definitely a hundred and ten percent sure that we are meant to be together and one day we would love to get married! I believe our love is very strong but I am afraid an open relationship could destroy what we have. We are both very honest and open and we communicate daily and tell each other all our fears, insecurities and express how much we love each other.
    We do not want to loose one another but I fear that the distance and open communication will cause us a lot of pain and struggle. But on the other hand this is the only choice we have for now and neither of us wants to break up this amazing love and connection we both have.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Hi Chris,

      You write that you fear that an open relationship could destroy your relationship and yet you say you must have an open relationship in order to sustain this amazing connection you have with this man. From your post I don’t understand why you are limiting yourself to the two options you mention. It seems to me you have a third option which is to maintain a monogamous relationship. If you have truly found the man you want to marry then I’m not sure I understand why you want to risk ending that relationship. You could consider meeting your sexual needs for the next five months through creative phone sex with your partner. You could also send each other erotic stories or videos. The anticipation and longing over the five month period could be very exciting for you two. In your post you haven’t shown much interest in an open relationship. Why push yourself to do something that doesn’t feel right to you?

      Reply
      1. Chris

        Dear Adam,

        Thank you so much for your response and your advise and suggestions.

        I understand why you would say that I shouldn’t push myself into an open relationship as it definitely does not feel right neither for me nor my partner. We are both very jealous and possessive of one another and even though we are perfectly open and honest about our thoughts and individual needs we both understand that perhaps an open relationship is not right for us at this point.
        I have been doing a lot of research and red everything I could possibly find about open relationships and the more I read or learn the more I am convinced that we are just simply not ready for this.
        The only reason I suggested this is because of our situation in a long distance relationship.
        As I mentioned above, me and my partner have already spent 5 months apart without seeing each other once. And now we are to face another 5 maybe even 6 months apart yet again. Unfortunately we both live on different continents of the world which makes it very difficult to see each other and with both our jobs we constantly travel and it is hard to even find a time to arrange a phone call because where we both might we located throughout the planet and time difference also plays a massive role and challenges us.
        We are both very sexual and since neither of us has had any physical contact or had any affection we both crave it so much and we are both reaching our limits and sexual frustration kicks in from time to time.
        We are trying to work out how to be together but unfortunately even if everything goes well and planned being together and reunite will most likely not happen for at least one more year.
        We might perhaps we able to see each other once or twice for a very short period of time within the next 5 months but even that is not a guarantee.
        This is why we both thought about opening our relationship purely for pleasing our own sexual needs and desires.
        The other option is sadly to end our relationship because our circumstances won’t allow us to physically be together just yet and looking at this issue realistically we both will have to have sex eventually as we are men and both sexual but telling each other I think would destroy and damage us.
        Although breaking up would be much more painful if we are unable to wait out another year on top of spending 5 very long months apart.
        I really do not want to lose him and we are madly in love with each other but I am scared that the distance and the above mentioned issues will affect us drastically and we might even grow apart and lose what we have completely.
        I feel like both me and my partner have been going around in circles and are unable to decide what would be the best thing for us both, beneficial for us an individuals and maintain a relationship for a year which would be only based on a few occasional very short visits and phone calls and text messages.
        I hope this more detailed info will give you a much better insight and you will be able to understand our very difficult and challenging situation.
        Thank you

        Reply
        1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

          Dear Chris,

          You have some difficult decisions to make. There is no risk-free decision for you in this situation. What are some good ways to make critical decisions in our lives? I suggest two approaches. Good decisions are supported by periods of silence. I recommend you take a series of long, peaceful walks in relaxing, natural environments and ask yourself what is right for you. Begin a dialog with yourself on these walks that has a spirit of curiosity and self-compassion. Really listen to yourself deeply and wait for the response to emerge. Additionally, if you have good friends who know you well and have the capacity to listen deeply, I would discuss this decision with them. The process of conversation with people who can put their own needs aside and really listen to you can be invaluable. Notice how their advice resonates and then leave it behind and continue the journey of discovering what your own intuition has to say to you.

          Reply
  37. Sean

    Dear Adam, it is so admirable that you respond to questions and help so many people. Thank you!! My issue is that my boyfriend and I have been together for a little over a year, and we were having really regular sex (like every day). However, I initiated it most of the time, and it was starting to feel like 95% of the time, which was making me feel undesirable, and as if I was forcing it on him. So, I had a conversation with him about it, at which point he told me, “Well, what I need is for us to have sex with other people (three-ways, he says), and if you know this is something you cannot be open to, then this isn’t going to work long term”. This came at me during a time when I was feeling more and more like I had found someone I could be with happily and not feel the need to seek it out elsewhere. When we first started dating, we both said that we didn’t know if we each wanted any kind of open relationship or not, but this announcement came as a total surprise to me. So, I said I would give it a shot… but it just feels like it has really ramped up any insecurities I may have already felt. And, part of me feels bad that this need is more important to him than all the incredible things about our relationship, and how we are together. And, it makes me question if he is that attracted to or interested in me. We haven’t had a three-way yet. Part of me is nervous about it, and sometimes the idea excites me.

    However, since our conversation, we are having less sex, and feel less connected. AND now I feel like I am thinking about sex with him constantly, which makes me feel like a sex-starved and nuts. Sometimes I feel like if I had a smaller sex drive, none of this would be an issue. In my past long term relationships, I have always wanted sex more than my boyfriend, and it has always been an issue–just not quite like this.

    Other than this, the relationship is fun, loving, and supportive, and I know he is a wonderful, caring guy. How he presented this to me didn’t “feel” very caring, but I also know that he was being honest about what he needs, and wasn’t willing to cheat on me to get it, which I appreciate and respect. I still feel confused though.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Sean,

      I can understand why you are feeling anxious. A very significant moment occurred in your relationship when your partner revealed that he is not prepared to commit to you for the long term unless you agree to something that may not be right for you. As he said those words a lot of the safety–and hence the emotionally intimate connection–was lost in your relationship. Until this moment is processed between you two you will continue to to feel less connected. To resolve this you’ll need to talk about how that felt and he’ll need to listen with empathy. You’ll also need to hear more (and that means deeply listening without reacting) about his motivations for wanting three-ways.

      Without knowing you it is difficult to speculate what might be underlying your dynamic together but I will give it a try and you can decide if this resonates. In many relationships one member can fall into the “pursuer” role and the other into the “distancer” role. The goal for each partner in these roles is safety: the pursuer feels safer when pulling for contact and the distancer feels safer when creating a bit more space. You two may fall into these roles sexually but perhaps this dynamic occurs in other parts of your relationship. If that is true for you, consider taking a look at the anxiety you feel and how that influences you in the relationship dance. Sometimes when you are anxious you can pull for your partner but at other times you can chose to look inside and try to self-soothe your anxiety with comforting, supporting self-talk. I predict that if you two successfully explore these larger themes in your relationship the answer to your questions about sex will become clearer to both of you.

      Reply
      1. Sean

        Hi, Adam, thank you so much for taking the time to answer this. It really helps. I think your comments about pursuer and distancer are spot on. I do notice his need for space, and your speculation about this dynamic affecting other aspects of our relationship is true.

        I have tried to talk with him about his motivations for three-ways, but I just get “because I don’t want to have sex with just you”. He tells me that I am repeating the same questions and he has already told me the answer. But honestly, I am just not getting it, and I feel like I cannot talk about it with him, because he seems to get really frustrated and annoyed/angry.

        I told him I would be open to it, and I am, and we plan on doing it (three-ways). But I also want a lot more sex with him, and especially if we are going to start bringing other people into the mix, I think it would feel a lot healthier if I felt more assured that he was still really “hot” for me. As is, the idea of watching him be totally turned on by somebody else when he doesn’t seem that turned on by me concerns me.

        And then I wonder, perhaps I need too much assurance, and do I need to do more of the “work” to get a handle on this… and if so, how?

        I don’t want to be the pursuer all the time. I really don’t. I also don’t want to Need to be pursued. If you have any tips or resources for self-soothing and supportive self-talk, I am all ears. Thank you again for taking the time to help so many people.

        Reply
        1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

          Hi Sean,

          All of us can benefit from additional self-soothing skills. Here are some books on that subject that might be helpful: Self Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, by Kristin Neff. Or There is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by Cheri Huber.

          Reply
  38. Simon

    I am in a long term relationship of 6 years (living together for four, getting married in 2014 and in the process of buying a property) with the absolute man of my dreams. My soul mate. We have been playing around a bit with other gius for a little while, although its not excessive. Our number one rule is total disclosure – no secrets, we have to tell the other shortly after it happened and disclose who it was, how it came about and what we did. It also has to be opportunistic (to a degree), and no meeting someone more than once, no dates or catching up for casual coffees or beers. The other person has to absolutely be a stranger, not that hot friend-of-a-friend we’ve been lusting over who one day gives you the nod. Exchanging numbers is a general no-no (the gay apps mean you don’t really need to these days). Bringing anyone back to our home is absolutely strictly forbidden. Any amount of play in a sauna is fine because its a bit like a gay playground, you go, get your jollies and leave. We also absolutely swear to always ask the other person we are playing with their HIV status. This seems to work for us. We have a pretty good sex life, but I travel a lot and can be away for a months at a time with only brief visits in-between and I believe we’ve found this place in our relationship where we can get our jollies but operate in an environment of openness and trust while doing so. I can honestly say that its not damaged our relationship. Because I travel with work a lot, we are practically insatiable for each other when we are together and we both agree that whilst we’ve both had some very hot encounters with strangers, it never quite hits the spot when we have sex because we are in love and sex between us is for different (or more) reasons that just scratching an itch. I have to say though one of the first times he played with a guy and told me about all the details, I did feel quite emotional about it (and probably a bit jealous) and it surprised me that I reacted this way (I didn’t tell him this but I think he sensed it). I don’t feel like that now, and we both fully appreciate that we’re just normal guys who like to get their end away from time to time and we can easily separate sex from love and I guess that we are very lucky to have such a solid and mature relationship that allows us to do this. If anything it may have actually led to a slightly better sex life between us because I feel like we’re both working hard to ensure we both feel loved and desired. I’m not saying that this arrangement works for everyone, or in every relationship but I’m glad it does for us and actually I think it’s actually an aspect of our relationship that has kept us together.

    Reply
  39. George

    Dear Adam, my boyfriend and I have been together for almost 1 and a half years now.He’s 30, and I am 26 years old. I am very happy being with him, and love him dearly. The other day I was talking to him on the phone and he asked me about my thoughts about playing with other men. Not that he wanted to, but I think he just wanted to hear my opinion. He told me he was guessing I would say no, but I didn’t say no. I told him that for right now I am content with our relationship, but that I would like to eventually invite other people to play with us. His previous relationship was with a guy, and they had an open relationship. But his ex played more with other people and even alone with other people. This was to the point where his ex had a side relationship with one of his FWB’s. I guess I am getting a little off track here. I have lustful feelings for many men that I see. I feel bad that I don’t have such an intense lust for my boyfriend. I love him and I want to be with him for the rest of our lives. I do want to eventually start playing with other guys while still being in a loving commited relationship with my boyfriend. I’m nervous to tell him that I want to play with other men. I don’t want to lose him over this. He is a such a blessing to my life. What should I do?

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear George,

      There should be little risk of losing your boyfriend over this as long as you follow some basic ethical guidelines of open relationships. These are common-sense approaches based on respecting the person you love. One core guideline is that both partners need to agree to an open relationship. The other is to avoid lying to the man you love. If your partner has no interest in an open relationship then you will have to make the choice between him and your desire to play with others. If he is on the fence about the idea, he will be more likely to agree if you can assure him that you will respect any limitations he needs to place on the activities. Perhaps the key issue here is your lack of lust for your boyfriend. This is an important issue for you to address as a couple. It does take work to keep sexual excitement alive in the context of a long term relationship. We are wired to be excited by the “new”. You can read more about this issue in my blog post entitled “What Keeps Sex Exciting in Gay Relationships?” (http://gaytherapist-sanfrancisco.com/blog/2013/01/what-keeps-sex-exciting-in-gay-relationships/). You may need to develop skills about talking about sex and experimenting with fantasy in order to bring deeper lust into your experience with you partner. The skill of talking to your partner about difficult subjects can definitely be learned and will benefit all aspects of your relationship–including your sexual communication. Good luck!

      Reply
  40. Psychically constipated

    I’ve been on this downward spiral with my partner of 14 years. About 4 years ago, I found he had ads on online dating sites. I was upset that he would leave, but he claimed that it was just for entertainment. Over the last 4 years, he progressively keeps getting more into the dating sites. Friends were warning me it’s not normal.

    The weird part: I kept letting him know if he wants to open up the relationship, it’s ok, but I only demand honesty. In fact I wouldn’t mind participating or going out on my own every once in a while. He freak out and says no, he only wants me. He becomes more worried about how I spend my time, asking about my schedule and I have started having no life at all.

    As months go by, I keep finding things, showing that he is lying and having more sex activity, he keeps getting more crazy in swearing he’s not doing it and worrying about my schedule. (yet, he keeps leaving things in the open on our joint email account or there are obvious files on the computer.)

    As this is progressing, he claims he is getting bad depression and anxiety. (I do not doubt it, if I was running a double life and lying to a lot of people, I would be super depressed and anxious about getting caught.) I keep offering counseling (even set up 3 appointments and he made up reasons at work where he couldn’t attend. He’s the manager, so his schedule is flexible.)

    about 2 years ago he had to go to credit counseling because he had racked up a lot of credit card debt. But we split all the bills evenly and I make less than him, so I knew something was up. It progressed to the point where about a year ago I found a “rate sheet” for prostitutes/escorts he kept in his computer case, which I only found because he asked me to get him something from the case. I was going to leave, he begged me to stay and swore he wouldn’t do it again. This is how he got into money troubles.

    Then a month ago a professional friend (she has gay friends) pointed me to a FB profile that has his photo and is talking about all these parking lot hookups at an address near his work.

    We have a house together, our families are loving and supportive. I have a great relationship with his parents and nieces and nephews. We go on vacations and plan long term for the future. At the same time, he keeps saying he is happy and doesn’t want an open relationship. My bottom line/deal breaker is lying/deceit. In all my prior relationships, we’ve been pretty straight forward. Yes, there might have been jealousy or issues, but we would fight or talk and get over it. He just keeps denying and not wanting to talk or change, yet he can’t stop acting out.

    I feel completely idiotic. Is he just a lazy sociopath? Is he a sex addict? Is he having split personality? Do all depressives commit adultery just to have the thrill and in his words “finally feel something?” In a way, I feel on the fence between doing a psychiatric intervention on him or just leaving.

    I am so tired of being a parent figure to someone I would like to have a relationship with. Or at the least, wish he would let up the control and let me go play around. (my work schedule has no open time to do it discretely.) I’m in really deep here, especially with a house involved and family. I feel trapped, because I can’t tell any friends, since they are all mutual friends and he is very lovable, I feel like they would not believe. Yet, if I just leave, without a reason, I’ll definitely be the bad guy for walking out on a 14 year relationship.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      It sounds like your partner is trapped in a compulsive cycle that he can’t get out of by himself. When compulsions result in negative consequences (debt, lying to loved ones) and yet continue, they are usually out of control. One common primary feature of compulsions and addictions is denial, which means your partner may not be able to look objectively at what is happening to him and to you. The most effective strategy for dealing with loved ones trapped in this cycle is limit setting. You’ll have to decide what consequences you are willing to enforce. For example, a limit could be “If you don’t seek treatment for depression and anxiety, I will leave you.” It’s possible that he is trying to “treat” depression and anxiety with sex, and that’s not an effective treatment. Psychotherapy, sometimes in combination with medication, is what research tells us is the most effective treatment. Your current situation is not healthy for either of you and is unlikely to get better without a lot of focus and help. Do not tolerate lies and secrets in your relationships.

      Reply
  41. Azaad dxb

    It was a great article. Open relationship has been working with my partner for almost 3 years now ….we are almost 5 years in the relationship. I actually like the idea that my partner is deemed attracted by others for sexualencounters. I actually dont fee any sense of jealousy nor insecurity when it comes to sex outside the relationship. Should i be concerned?

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      There’s no reason to be concerned. Many of my clients feel the same way. All that is important is that it works for you and your partner, and it sounds like it is working well.

      Reply
  42. unsure

    Hi, I’ve been in a closed relationship for about 12 years. We are much in love. And care deeply for each other. Recently my partner wants to “experience” an open relationship. On the surface, im ok with it. But deep down I’m worried he’s going to find someone else as I don’t look like I used to when we started dating. He says I’m just too insecure. How can I deal with this. I’ve tried talking and everything, and he just thinks I don’t want him to have fun. Am I over thinking things?

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      No, you are not over thinking things. You, like millions of other gay men, do not want an open relationship. You are entitled to your feelings and need to validate them and become an advocate for their protection. It is also your partner’s job to respect and care for them. Once you know that your partner truly honors your feelings and will respect all of your guidelines, you can then decide whether you are willing–or not willing–to certain specific activities. You can ask yourself if there are any situations that would not trigger you. For example, some couples might be comfortable with a three-way on a vacation, knowing that they will not see the third person again. Ask yourself: “What would I need from my partner to feel safe?” If nothing arises then do not agree to any outside sexual activity.

      Reply
  43. Roger

    Adam,
    I’m facing a slightly different twist in my relationship. I have been out for only one year after a 22 hetero-marriage. I have developed a very serious 6 month relationship with a man who is just out of a 20 year partnership/marriage to a man. We are 50 and 52, we are perfect matches and I adore him (people call us twins.) He cheated on his husband, and I cheated on my wife. My cheating was strictly an exploration of my sexuality (but still a violation of the marriage), his was cheating because he was no longer sexually attracted to his husband. We both come to this relationship with some history and I have asked for a monogamous relationship, which he agrees with. But I sense he anticipates this will change one day and for now he’s placating me. I am insanely jealous of him in gay social settings where there is a lot of kissing and touching going on with other men. I know I need to adapt, but I never know if this is an ex lover he’s being affectionate with or just a friend. He always confirms later when I ask, but the interactions and my reactions are becoming a bit of an emotional roller coaster for me. We talk about all these things.

    My real problem is that he has ongoing friendships with ex lovers, some going back decades. He has a lot of these people, having been very sexually and socially active all his life. He want’s to maintain their sleep over visits when they come to town or when he is in their town. This is a deal breaker for me even though he claims there is no longer a sexual attraction or component to the relationship. My feeling is that can change under a close sleepover environment with perhaps a little alcohol, etc, etc. I don’t want the temptation to be present and he tells me that I am asking him to change his life and “who he is.” We are at an impasse and any advice would be helpful.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Roger,

      Thanks for your post and for sharing a situation that I imagine that many men can identify with. It’s great to hear that you and your partner are talking about these issues rather than avoiding them.

      Right now it seems like you two are locked into your positions., unable to come to a compromise.

      This tends to happen when couples are not communicating about the underlying, vulnerable feelings that the disagreement evokes. Without this deeper level of communication, disagreements can feel like a battle of wills and our partners can feel like the enemy rather than our best friend.

      When partners are emotionally attuned to each other and know how to reach for each other when in distress and receive comfort, then compromise and flexibility almost magically and easily occur.

      Learning to communicate on this deeper emotional level is easier to do with the guidance of a couples counselor, especially one trained in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, founded by Sue Johnson. Her book, Hold Me Tight, could be a good resource for you.

      While I can’t walk you through the entire process in the space of this blog post, I can suggest that each of you take turns expressing some of the underlying vulnerable feelings that this disagreement evokes for each of you. You can use the communication format I outline in the blog post: How to Talk About the Tough Issues. (http://gaytherapist-sanfrancisco.com/blog/2012/06/how-to-talk-about-the-tough-subjects/)

      Learning more about expressing our vulnerabilities with our partners without triggering their defensiveness is a powerful process that requires patience and compassion. It offers immense rewards by creating experiences of intimacy that bring deep meaning and trust to our most important relationships.

      Readers: do you have experience with this issue that you’d like to share?

      Reply
  44. Roger

    Adam,
    Thank you so much for your response and your wonderful blog. What a great resource! Just a quick follow up. Last night before I read your response, I sat my partner down and did just what you described (years of therapy in my hetero marriage left me with some skills here.) I was able to describe my sense of feeling unsafe and lonely and he was a really great listener. He had time to talk about some of his feelings on issues with me. We made some headway, validated each other, came up with some interim solutions, and really connected lovingly. Our relationship is a little stronger today than is was yesterday. Of course we have work to do, but we are both big on talking and very skilled at it, so I’m feeling good. It was so helpful to talk on your blog at a time when I was stressed and worried. And then to feel “validated” by your response! :) Thanks again!

    Reply
  45. kristian ortiz

    Me and my bf been together over 4 years.the first few months we knew that both of us are bottoms.we use to have sex as I was trying to top but in my heart I knew this wasn’t for me.recently the bf told me he feels we should have open relationship with no strings attach to satisfy our needs.I don’t like the ideal of a thresome or toys.we been fighting for a few days regarding this issue I don’t really want to do it.but I don’t want to break up or run the risk of him cheating.we just move to fl from va so we knew here not knowing much people.how should we handle this.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Please don’t let yourself get talked into an open relationship if you don’t want one. That is a pathway to resentment and more distancing in your relationship. It would be especially dangerous to try this when you have moved to a new city where neither one of you have the social support you need. I suggest you think about what is making it more difficult for you and your boyfriend to bring more creativity and fun into your sex life together. It sounds like you both are locked into your positions, much like Roger and his partner were in the previous post on this blog article. Take a look at my advice to him. Are there resentments that have built up over your four years together that need to be processed? Once that work is done it should be much easier to find a path to compromise that will allow you to bring your sexual communication to a new level. When you are feeling close and connected to your boyfriend then the spirit of cooperation and fun will take over and may surprise you.

      Reply
  46. Ken

    Hi Adam.

    Thank you so much for such an interesting and useful article. I’m wondering, however, isn’t there isn’t perhaps more value in trying to dissuade people from creating an open relationship rather than helping them to manage the consequences. During the last couple years of our 9-year relationship, my ex and I had several 3-ways and, by the last 6 months, we’d both begun to have encounters with other people separately. Basically, it DEGENERATED into an “open relationship”, which is something neither of us would have ever even considered when our relationship was solid since we both felt very satisfied and content and really had no interest in other people. In our case, the “open relationship” was really just a prelude to divorce which, in retrospect, was really about 3 years overdue. My point is that if someone has to go OUTSIDE of a relationship to find someone who satisfies their needs, it can only mean their needs are not being satisfied WITHIN the relationship. If that’s the case, then the obvious question is why they’re in the relationship to begin with and whether they wouldn’t be better off simply ending it so they could then be free to find someone with whom they CAN have a satisfactory relationship. Divorce is clearly difficult for anyone, but it can also help clear the way for much better things in the future. I understand that people are unique and what might not work for me could potentially work for others and vice-versa. At the same time, having recently been through it myself, my personal experience is that an “open relationship” is really just a failed relationship which the participants are simply holding onto to avoid the difficult and often painful task of moving on.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Hi Ken,

      Thanks for sharing your story. It’s one we haven’t seen before on this blog but I imagine it’s a story many people can relate to and have experienced. Moving to an open relationship is not a good way to try and solve a relationship problem. The only way to solve a relationship problem is through deeper communication with the self and your partner. I wish you the best as you go through this big transition.

      Adam

      Reply
  47. Travisty

    My partner and I have been together for 3 years. After 1 year together we both tested HIV+ Since then I have had an intense desire to explore a more uninhibited sexual lifestyle. I’ve talked to my partner about this and he says he is into it, but seems hesitant. We agreed to open our relationship with 3ways and did so a few times. They were great, but I find myself uninterested in sex with my partner, not because I dont find him him attractive, or because my libido is weak, but because I enjoy anonymous sex with strangers. I have simply grown to accept that about myself. I love the affectionate snuggling and kissing with my partner but crave sex elsewhere. I try to be very open with him about my feelings but this if course leaves him very insecure, which is understandable. Is my relationship doomed? I don’t want to force him into anything, and he says he is interested but why am I not? It is simply impossible to have both satisfying uninhibited sex with lots of people and still have that affectionate relationship based on love with one person?

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Travisty,

      There is a reason that you no longer want to have sex with your partner, and it is important to find out why. Feelings and attraction have their own logic and once we understand the mechanisms that drive them, they make “sense”. Because you still find your partner attractive it is likely that you can find your way to great sex with him. I suggest you go on an internal journey, perhaps with the guidance of a therapist, to discover the reason why your passion is blocked. Undiscovered feelings of fear or anger tend to get in the way of passion. Once they are cleared, sex usually gets more exciting. Your partner–and future love partners–will want and need to have sex with you. Once you have found your way back to each other sexually you will have a much better platform to begin the process of opening your relationship to other sex partners. Your partner sounds willing to experiment with additional partners. Are you willing to experiment with rediscovering your passion for the man you love?

      Reply
  48. Jared A.

    Hello. I have been in a very loving and great relationship for over a year now. I want to be with him forever, and he has said the same about me. We love each other very much, and would do anything for each other. I’m 26 and he’s 22, and in college. We recently admitted to each other things that we have done outside the relationship, which weren’t many. We don’t want anymore secrets because we feel that we need to be honest with each other if we’re going to be together forever. He recently brought up the subject of having an open and honest relationship. We agreed to make rules for each other if it were to happen, and we would both respect those rules, but this is hard for me. I understand that he’s young and still in college, and the idea of never being sexual with anyone but me seems to him like he’s missing out, but the idea of it just makes me feel jealous and scared. I don’t want our relationship to fizzle out and die. I think a lot of the problem for me is the fact that I am working and older, and have no other friends but him and his friends, while he has many friends. I want him to be happy without losing him to lies and dishonesty, but it is so hard for me. I really don’t know if this can work, and don’t know what to do, any suggestions on how to deal with this?

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Sometimes we need to make the difficult decision that we don’t have a “values” match with the person we fall in love with. Not matching on something as personal as whether we want an open or closed relationship is a perfectly good reason to break up. You are not happy with an open relationship and if your partner will not agree to a closed relationship then it is not healthy to stay in the relationship and suffer. I can’t and won’t coach you on how to get over your jealousy. Your jealousy is legitimate and needs to be respected by you and by the man you love.

      No matter what you decide to do regarding the relationship, building your own friendships is an essential task for you. It may take time, but having your own friends is a terrific way to build self-esteem and strength. The very best way to find quality friendships is to join clubs and organizations that meet weekly.

      Reply
  49. Joseph

    Wonderful blog! I was hoping you could help me with a problem I am having with my friend. He and his partner have been together for 10 years and have opened their relationship on and off for the past few years. I recently saw my friend’s partner on a gay app and when I looked at his profile, he lists that he is monogamous and just “looking for friends only” and “networking”. My problem stems from the fact that I saw him again on a different app, where his profile states that he is looking for hookups, and no strings attached sex.
    My suspicions are that my friend’s partner is cheating on him and I feel terrible about this as I believe my friend has no idea what is going on, nor is he likely to find out as this other app is not one he would ever use given the type of guys they have, which may be precisely why my friend’s partner chose it.

    Part of me wants to tell my friend and another part of me says “stay out of it” because I don’t know for certain what kind of arrangements they have in their relationship. If I say something, it could be baseless, but if I don’t say anything it will be hard to look my friend in the face when he tells me how wonderful everything is with his partner.

    If I did decide to tell him, I wouldn’t even know how to approach it–and I worry I could endanger my friendship with my friend if I am the bringer of this bad news. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you for all the good work you do.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Joseph,

      Generally speaking, most people do not want advice unless they specifically ask for it. This is a good boundary to respect in most relationships. In addition, it usually best to keep the difficult conversations in relationships focused on issues between you and that person, rather than on issues related to that person and other folks. So I suggest that you don’t bring this up with your friend unless you are specifically asked. And yes, being the source of unwanted news unfortunately can hurt the friendship. Readers, do you have additional thoughts for Joseph?

      Reply
  50. Daniel

    Hi Adam, I hoped I’d find a blog where I could discuss my situation. Approximately a year ago I landed in emergency room and two weeks later come home with a devastating prognosis. My partner of 20 years then began to distance himself and told me last week he wanted to open our relationship. I’m still trying to build my health up and suddenly he wants to have sex with other men. With lots of probing and trying to get him to communicate with me, he finally told me of his sexual needs not being met because I fell ill. He gave me an ultimatum. Either I agree to an open relationship, or I need to leave. Being on disability now and in financial ruin, I feel devastated, afraid, worried and generally stressed out. I reluctantly agreed to his demands, but am having a very difficult time coping with this turn of events. I don’t want to have sex with anyone else and my heart breaks when he speaks of the men he’s thinking of hooking up with. I’ve tried to discuss my feelings with him, but he becomes defensive and looks for reasons to ask me to leave. How do I handle this?

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Daniel,

      It does sound as if your partner is having difficulty facing the pain of your medical emergency. Sometimes people look to open relationships as a way to avoid dealing with problems in their lives and in their relationships.

      Most of us are afraid of pain. We sometimes look to escape it but unfortunately this just causes other problems. We all have a natural healing process called grief, but in order to benefit from it we have to be willing to let it occur.

      Rather than focusing on the issue of sex, which seems to shut him down further, I would try to engage him in honest conversations about what it feels like to love someone who is ill. If he feels assured that you will listen non-defensively as he talks about how painful the last year has been for him, perhaps he will begin to open up.

      If you two don’t have a tradition of talking about difficult subjects without getting into a fight, then you might need a good couples counselor to help you navigate this territory.

      I’m sure this has been an extremely stressful year for both of you. Difficult situations become more manageable with support. I hope you both are reaching out for help from therapists, support groups, compassionate friends and family, and through increasing your own learning and habits of self-support.

      Take care,
      Adam

      Reply
  51. Joseph

    Thank you so much Adam, for your thoughtful response. I agree with you. I guess in some way, I thought I would be protecting my friend from any future pain he will go through by letting him know about the cheating sooner. Now I realize that my getting involved will not change the future between the two of them. If he finds out or if he doesn’t, their relationship will still need work, which they have to do themselves. I don’t want to be a catalyst for events that need to play out on their own timetable and within the context of their relationship.

    @Daniel—I second Adam’s advice on seeing a counselor to work out these issues. As someone who is familiar with the toll illness takes on relationships, I can tell you that there are struggles on both sides and having the benefit of an objective opinion to sort out the problems so they can be solved is an enormous help. If your partner won’t go, then please see a counselor yourself. Ilness can be a tremendous stress and you will benefit from the support and guidance of a good therapist to help you work on feeling better. Good Luck to you.

    Reply
  52. Daniel

    Hi Adam,
    I spoke to my partner about seeing a therapist, but he dismissed the suggestion immediately. He invited this man over and we did engage in a three-way but I felt like a reluctant participant. He and Mr. M were very into each other and the passion between them was/is very palpable. They text frequently from morning to night. My partner also has made himself available on “hook-up sites”. I’ve asked him to let me read the texts between him and Mr. M because I would like to be privy to the context of their dialogue. He does not want me to read them, but offers to me one or two with pics, I think just appease me. When we are together at home or at friends, he is very involved in the text/chat with Mr. M as well as strangers. He does seem a bit happier, but I feel it is at my expense. I wish he would talk to me…show more concern for me…feel passion for me. I try talking to him about this but he does not respond. I am looking for a therapist or group that I can join to express my feelings, but here in the “Deep South” it’s very slim pickings. He does not seem to be concerned with my feelings, or talking about our relationship, or showing me any affection. He is almost giddy with anticipation of Mr. M’s next visit. I’m trying to be upbeat and positive about the entire situation, but it is beginning to wear on me physically. Do you have any more advice that may help me or him at this point.
    Thanks so much for your help.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Daniel,

      Your options are limited if your partner is unwilling to talk about the problem. If you continually bring up the subject in a non-threatening manner over a period of months and you see no progress over time, then you have to ask yourself if you want to be in a relationship with a man who does not respect you. Whatever you decide to do it could be helpful to do some research about what resources you would need to live independently. It will take some determination, but your local Department of Social Services can inform you about financial, legal, medical, housing, and emotional support that may be available to you at no or little cost. Local non-profit organizations can also help. Even if you ultimately decide not to leave, you will feel more empowered knowing that you can leave if necessary.

      Take care,
      Adam

      Reply
  53. Nick

    Hi Adam,

    First, thanks for the great article. I’ve read it a couple times over the last year or so. My partner and I have been together for nearly six years. When we first got together, he was 19 and I was 27. I’m now 33 and he is 25. We’ve been through lots, made tons of memories, we moved in together almost immediately (we had known each other for a year as friends prior to the relationship), and things were just awesome for a long time. He finished school a few years ago and we are both professionals, live in a great area of town, etc. We couldn’t ask for much better, everywhere else in our lives together. Enter the open relationship….

    About three years ago, he first approached me on the topic of opening the relationship. I’m his first and only sexual partner, so I understood his desire to experience other people. But I really didn’t like the idea. We dismissed the idea for some time, until it came up again a few months later and I suggested a threesome, which we tried, but neither really liked. Fast forward to present. He has brought up opening the relationship every 5-6 months for the last three years. Each time after discussion, I have declined to consent to an open relationship, because I like the commitment of monogamy, and I have fears about the consequences of opening the relationship, such as him falling for someone else, him not wanting me sexually anymore, catching an std, etc.

    The last go round, he told me that he gets so worked up and desires other men SO much, that it is all he can think about sometimes, and its making him unhappy that he can’t act on his desires. I should mention that trust him 100% that he hasn’t gone outside the relationship. I told him, as I’ve told him before, that the thought of him with other guys is very painful to me. We left it kind of unresolved for the next two months, and I processed. I went on vacation with my parents, siblings and their kids, without him (he didn’t want to go) where I was determined I would figure out what I wanted to do. Stay and fight the open relationship idea, stay and allow it, or leave.

    I was unsuccessful in making that decision while on vacation, but over the next month, the idea of an open relationship began to bother me a little less. I’m not sure why, though I have some theories. At any rate, last week he again brought up the topic. We agreed to each make a list of potential rules, which we did, and we shared over the weekend. We agreed to the rules, and that, as they say, is that. Except… I still have nagging doubts. We’ve talked about them, and he has assured me that he loves me and wants to be with me for the rest of his life, and that having some sex outside the relationship is 100% about getting off. But the worries are still there. I’m a worrier I guess. And I’m a total hypocrite, because the thought of having sex with other guys is exciting, and I’ve been tempted over the years, though I have remained faithful.

    So I’m afraid he will fall for someone else, because he wants to have sex with people he knows, not people he will never see again. He thinks that because he knows them, that makes them safer to have sex with from an STD standpoint, which I’m not sure I agree with. But I’m also not sure I’m going to be ok with him having sex with other people. I might hate it, once it has happened. And again, total hypocrite here, because the thought of ME having sex with someone else is fine in my head.

    We agreed that if the arrangement isn’t working out for one of us, we can end it and go back to monogamy. But I also worry about the lasting resentment, jealousy, and general damage this could cause the relationship if I end up hating it.

    I’ve also wondered for some time if we are both just hanging on to the past and trying to safe ourselves and/or each other from the pain, grief and total mess that breaking up would cause.

    I’m so confused. I don’t know what to do. Part of me feels like trying this out is the best thing to do, because the alternatives seem to be A) he is unhappy while agreeing to what i want, B) we break up. I can’t imagine a future without him… He really is my very best friend, and not just my partner. I wish things would make more sense again. I don’t know what to do. But my gut is telling me this new arrangement will cause problems. And my brain is telling me that the alternatives don’t seem much better. I feel like we’re basically rolling the dice here, but I’m alone in that feeling. I know, because I asked him why this was so important to him that he would risk our relationship over it, and he responded that he didn’t feel he was risking the relationship, since he already told me he loves me and wants to stay with me.

    To him, sex is completely separate from love. Its purely physical pleasure and has no emotional charge. For him, the emotion, the love, they come from sharing experiences with each other, cuddling and chatting at the end of the day, etc. Sex is just sex – Physically pleasing, but nothing else. To me (and to many others, maybe the majority?) its more. Sex isn’t love, but it IS connecting with someone on an intimate level…and that is not devoid of emotion.

    Anyway – Bottom line, i basically decided to swing the bat and give it a try. I don’t know what else to do, and I know for a fact the topic will keep coming up until I agree or one of us leaves. Not ready to sacrifice the relationship, so I’m giving it a shot. Its only been 3 days since we made the agreement, and neither of us has done anything yet. Time will tell?

    Ugh…Sorry this became so long and disjointed. I don’t blame anyone if they don’t read it. I just have no idea where to go with this, what to do, etc.. Maybe typing it out has helped me a little.

    Nick

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Nick,

      Thanks for your thoughtful post. It’s great to see that you and your partner are putting a lot of thought and discussion into this decision. If you continue to check in with each other and reveal all of your conflicting feelings, you will dramatically increase your chances of good outcomes. One paragraph that stands out to me is your comment about “hanging on to the past.” If your relationship is feeling stagnant then perhaps you both need to put a little more time into exploring creative ways to connect. What new risks can you take together–in how you reveal yourselves emotionally, in the recreational activities you do together, in your sex life with each other–that can help your connection continue to grow in new ways? This exploration will take creativity, some bravery, and a spirit of fun. Good luck!

      Reply
  54. Kyle

    Hey Adam,
    I have read through your article and find it helpful that my situation is not that far off from others but I still could really use your advice.

    My partner and I have been together for going on 13 years. We have a deep love for one another and are the best of friends. That’s the trouble. For about four years now we have not been sexually intimate. We are now at a cross roads of both feeling lonely yet still in a relationship. We do everything together as a couple and thoroughly enjoy ourselves together, but we need physicality.
    He has avoided talking about our sex issue for a long time. I am bored with masturbation. Finally the last few months have been stressful. A move, job issues, etc., and now last night he finally tells me we need to break up but somehow remain friends. The physical aspect or lack thereof seems to be the great catalyst here. But neither of us want to really be apart.
    Is it possible for us to develop an open relationship?
    Can we be just friends?
    Is it something we can salvage by having a don’t ask don’t tell policy or something like that?
    Am I just being blind to the fact that we already are just friends who happen to be pretending to be in a relationship?
    If so how can I separate my true love for him from my idea of our relationship?

    A major part of the problem is that we just can’t afford to truly separate right now. We live together and are totally entwined.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Kyle,

      Avoiding talking about sex is one reason that sex lives may decline over time in long term relationships. Like everything else in strong relationships, sex requires the attention of good communication. I suggest you see a couples counselor to determine if you can restart the passion between you and to process whatever hasn’t been dealt with during these stressful months. There are reasons that you two have stopped having sex and it is important to really understand what they are.

      Open relationships don’t solve the problem of poor communication. In fact, they just make it worse. If you two are avoiding talking about sex then the likelihood of a successful open relationship is low.

      It sounds like you guys have a strong base from which to work. Use that base to take the risks needed to explore the uncomfortable topics in your relationship.

      Good luck!

      Adam

      Reply
      1. Kyle

        Thank you for your reply. He says he only thinks of us as friends and then went out on a date the next day. I am hurting and in shock that we couldn’t at least try to fix anything and now I feel like a crazed obsessed baby who is beng left behind like a girl just gave birth to me at prom. I realize we had been living as friends but now I am so confused about things. We live together and I don’t know how to deal

        Reply
  55. Mark

    Dear Adam,

    I’ve read your article a few times over the past few days to fully comprehend open relationships. My question and situation is a bit different, it comes from the other side of the relationship. I met someone who up-front said he’s in a very open long distance relationship, I knew that going in. We see eachother quite a bit now, more than just sex, but meeting eachothers friends and just relaxing together. I’ve even chatted with his partner and he’s excited to meet me.

    Unfortunately for me, even though I knew going into it the circumstances, I wasn’t expecting to spend so much time. I’m afraid now I’m growing attached to him. There isn’t much information out there regarding “the other person”, especially beyond a hook up. I’m having such a good time, I’m really happy, and he seems to be too, I just don’t know what I should do? I know it’ll end and I’m starting to dread the end and growing jealous of his partner. I feel terrible about it though.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Hi Mark,

      You are not alone. This issue comes up frequently for clients in my private practice. It is both natural and very painful. Now that you have identified that you have become attached to this man, your job is to focus on your own highest good. Most of my clients realize that the best way to demonstrate self-care in a situation like this is to break up with the guy so that the grieving process can be shortened. This is the fastest way to become emotionally available to a future man who is free to return your level of attachment. I realize that this is probably not what you are longing to hear. It is very difficult to pull away from something that feels good now but you know will not feel good in the future. It takes time, discipline, and support from friends. For more information on this process check out my article about how to break up: http://gaytherapist-sanfrancisco.com/blog/2011/10/ending-an-unhealthy-relationship/

      Your feelings are an indication that you are looking for a partner who can commit to you. This man is already committed. The faster you can let that reality sink into your heart, the faster you will be feeling better. It’s a self-loving, yet challenging process.

      Reply
  56. Tim

    Hi Adam,

    Thank you for the article and for all the responses to the blog posts that have followed – I have read countless articles on this subject and have yet to find anybody in my situation (I even struggle to find a definition that fits) so I hope you can help me out.

    My boyfriend and I have been in a relationship for many years now and it is a great relationship in every aspect including the bedroom – I would even describe the sex as outstanding. However… about two years ago he told me that he wanted to watch me have sex with other guys.

    After insisting for months that I give it a try (and with the help of a little alcohol) I gave in and had sex with another guy while he sat in the room and watched the whole thing. To me the whole experience was not only substandard as compared to having sex with my boyfriend, but it was awkward and not very arousing at all. To my boyfriend, however, it was an amazing experience. He told me that he loved it and only disliked the moments where I looked at him and made eye contact.

    This whole experience somehow lead to a happier boyfriend and an even better sexual relationship between the two of us. Since then (about once every other month) we repeat the process. It’s always with a guy that he picks (with my approval) and I don’t have any contact with the guy outside of the act itself, to avoid emotional attachment. I do not enjoy the sex with these guys very much, though it’s not as awkward as it used to be. Knowing that it makes my boyfriend happy and keeps things “fresh” I don’t mind doing it, and certainly prefer this arrangement to a boyfriend who goes behind my back and screws around to satisfy his sexual needs.

    What kind of behavior is this, what is it called? The closest thing I’ve found is the term “compersive” but even that doesn’t seem to accurately fit. How unusual is it, and is there any aspect of our arrangement that you think should be addressed or changed? I would very much welcome any information or advice you have to offer on this subject.

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Tim,

      Your boyfriend has a fetish and it is “normal”, common, and perfectly fine as long no one is getting emotionally or physically hurt. If you are okay with this arrangement, then all is good.

      It sounds as if you are willing to make some sacrifice in order to provide pleasure to your boyfriend. A little sacrifice is okay, but you want to make sure you don’t go past your own boundaries, which will lead to resentment. If you find yourself resenting your boyfriend for this then it is important to stop the activity until you can do it without resentment.

      The main “red flag” in your post is your statement that you would rather do this than have him go behind your back. That is not a fair choice. It is never okay for your boyfriend to lie to you about his sexual activities. It erodes trust. If you have a fear that your boyfriend is untrustworthy in this area then it is something you need to discuss and process.

      In addition, because you are making a sacrifice for his pleasure, you should make sure that you feel acknowledged and appreciated by your boyfriend for this act of generosity. Is your generosity returned? Does he respond to your important requests, in and out of the bedroom?

      You might also want to read Dan Savage’s column since he often writes about issues related to satisfying a partner’s fetish.

      Best regards,
      Adam

      Reply
  57. Tim

    Dear Adam,

    First off great article. It was very interesting to read, and further more to see your interactions with your viewers, helped so much. I looked up open relationship for gays just to see statistics and pros and cons of open relationships. See similarities in my situation but wanted some advice.

    My partner and I have been together a little over 3 years. I am 25 (26 next week) and he will be 29 next month. Our relationship has been great thus far. Arguments here and there but we work pass the little arguments. Our sex life is good. Could be better. We started out bring fully verse. About a year and a half in he decided that he didn’t like to bottom and bottom alot less now. I feel like I’ve become mainly a bottom. This issue has found its way in form of arguments on many occasions. He expressed that as he get older he likes it less, I feel that its unfair and it makes me feel like he doesn’t want it from me. We have had a threesome a couple of times and frequent our local bathhouse. I’m satisfied with this and would like to explore threesomes and mingle with other couples first. He however wants a open relationship. We’ve discussed it before and I wasn’t opposed to it, but thought it wasn’t the right time for us. The conversation is back on the table. I don’t want to have it but feel that I can’t prolong it.
    I believe we both want to be together. We are realistic and know that we’re both attractive and will get advances and that we will find others attractive and want to make advances. I’m down for threesomes and others couples but not fully onboard with open doors. First it was insecurities telling me he may fall for someone else. My biggest fear is that I feel if I say yes to opening up the relationship I would be saying yes to breaking up. We’re like best friends but sometime I feel that, it makes the relationship harder. We’re too much a like (is that possible). I think I can open it up as long as it is something we do together, but I am not sure about allowing us to privately do what we want. I trust him, I love him, and want to spend the rest of my life with him. And believe he feels the same way. Jealosy, never thought I was, but just thinking about it makes my blood burns. Why cuz I know he’s a good man and ppl would fall in love with him. I don’t want to open it up. But if I do only willing to do it together, maybe a third boyfriend. However I fear that if I say no, or ge wants more it may be the end if us. What are the benefits if any to an open relationship. I think we are close enough to handle it, but feel that we’re in a place where we should be focused on us and our next move, not putting ourselves in a situation that can complicate things. What are healthy rules to have in a place. How do you know the true intentions of someone wanting to open the relationship. Do I compromise my position at all, if he’s not willing to accept what I could and would accept NOW… If I say no to individual play am I saying no to his needs. Ultimately I could benefit from sex b the deal but I truly only want to be with him, and experience any sexual adventures together. What is my next move. I’m not pissed anymore. And after reading I see I am not the only one to mention jealousy and insecurities concerns. However I do think that if we handle this wrong it could ruin US. We communicate very openly for the most part, but this feels so different. How do we properly communicate our needs and feelings. What questions need to be asked and answered. Please help.

    Timothy

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Tim,

      Here’s the bottom line: you, like 50% of all gay men, are not interested in an open relationship. That is perfectly normal, understandable, cool, and fine. Your job is to honor that feeling, validate it, and insist on the boundaries that make you feel safe and cared for in your love relationship. You don’t need to talk yourself into it or be persuaded by your partner. If not having an open relationship is a “deal-breaker” for your partner, then you are not meant to be a couple. The same is true if one of you wants to have children and one does not. Or if one of you want to lives in poverty and one of you wants to live like a king. Get the picture? It’s about a values match.

      My advice to you is to focus on improving your sex life together. Whether you choose to have sex one-on-one or in three-ways, the possibilities of expanding your sexual communication together are endless. It requires bravery, creativity, and very good communication skills to bring your sex life together to a new level. If you need support for that process don’t hesitate to contact a couples counselor, sex therapist, or the many books on this subject.

      Good luck!

      Adam

      Reply
  58. Tim Kay

    Hi Adam,

    I have a situation I was hoping you might be able to help me with. My partner and I have been together for 5 years now. We met online and we were able to hit it off quite well despite the challenges of him having to commute 4.5 hours to see me a couple times a month. I was in the process of having just moved back to NC, working and going to school full time. I felt great about how our relationship was and we had a healthy intimate and sexual relationship.

    However after about a year of being together (6 months of living together and me moving in with him), he mentions to me that I am no longer his “type” anymore. I had noticed for a couple months that whenever I would initiate the sex, he would say he wasn’t in the mood, etc. I also wanted to say that I am limited sexually (only into oral) after having a bad sexual experience. He had more adventurous tastes. After he told me that I was no longer his type, we opened up the relationship where we could play but only together. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly happy to do this but I felt in order to make this relationship work that I needed to agree to this. I also felt that the other aspects of relationship were great so I thought by opening it up, we would be fine.

    About 2.5 years into our relationship, I was dealing with my dad’s failing health and I had to be at home helping take care of him. I found out that while we had gone camping at a gay campground, that he had played with someone by himself without me around. I was so angry and when I confronted my partner over the phone about it, he said that he was so sorry but he couldn’t help it. Of course, he mentioned that he wouldn’t have wanted me to have done that to him. I was so angry but I told him that since he had already broken the terms of our relationship, that we might as well open it up completely. We then agreed on a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy”.

    About 2 years ago, he had told me that he was thinking of breaking up with me. He wasn’t happy where our relationship was going. I also found about this time that he had gone down to visit someone (I had known on Facebook) one weekend. He said that he realized that after that weekend, that I was the one for him. Another incident also “solidified” his desire to remain with me. He ended up going to the emergency room and I was there for him the entire time. Said that he knew from that day forth, I was the only partner for him.

    Anyways, my partner and I have been talking to someone we had known on Facebook for a few years (I will call him Jimmy). Jimmy had just gotten out of a triad relationship (with his main partner for 8 years before triad, 10 years in total) and the third (for 2 years). He had a mutual attraction to both of us and wanted to meet us. We met him during TBRU (bear run in Dallas) this year and we hit it off. We invited him over to visit us during my partner’s birthday. We had a great time despite my partner getting ill and getting a panic attack while he was here.

    Well, Jimmy and I continued to communicate via Facebook, chat and phone. We seemed to be developing a great connection. However, my partner and him seemed to be struggling with communication (with the other one waiting on the other to communicate). They seemed to be on the verge of trying to fix that when my partner found out his mother had brain cancer. During this entire time, I was continuing to have feelings for Jimmy. Jimmy told me that he felt we needed to put this potential triad on hiatus and that he needed some space. This got me to thinking about how amazing I felt with James and how natural, intense and how emotionally vulnerable I felt. I started thinking about how I wasn’t happy in my current relationship with the lack of intimacy and sex.

    I proceeded to tell Jimmy this and he has said that he needs some time away to think about things over. He hasn’t ruled out the idea of a triad but he said that might not be as much of a possibility as before. My partner and I have agreed to try to work on our issue of intimacy. However, my doubt remains since I haven’t had 1 on 1 sexual contact with my partner in almost four years. Also, my attraction and love for Jimmy has grown.I feel so torn between what I have had for 5 years with my partner and the amazing connection I have with Jimmy.

    Sorry for the long story. However, I just need some help to determine what I should do? I feel that I need to do the best for myself. There is still the small possibility that all 3 of us could somehow date in the future and end up a triad. However, it almost feels that in some way or the other, that I could lose one or both of them in my life. Please help!

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Hi Tim,

      You do have some big decisions to make. For me, the big question for you is not who you should be with, but rather “Do I want to learn how to communicate openly and honestly with men that I love?” Without that commitment I’m afraid your relationships may end in drama. There’s just no way to make this situation better without learning the skill of talking about your feelings in a way that brings you closer to the people around you. And these skills become even more crucial for people in triad relationships.

      In your post I do see an alarming trend of you getting your feelings hurt with your partner and instead of turning towards him and processing that hurt until it was resolved, you opened up the relationship sexually. Opening up a relationship is not a good way to resolve conflict and hurt in loving relationships. The only way to do that is to move towards the difficult feelings, in partnership with the man you love. My suggestion is that you seek couples counseling or individual therapy to help you learn this new, exciting, and challenging skill. Everyone can do it! It just takes commitment, a little courage, and some time. If money is tight, most mid-sized cities have low cost or free counseling resources. Good luck!

      Adam

      Reply
  59. Mohsen

    Hi dear Adam,
    I read your very helpful tips and I would like to thank u for them as they are amazing! I and my bf have been together for 6 tears now ( we live in Iran). I am versatile. I am 36 and he is 38. He had started his sex life very late ( only 1 year before we became boyfriends!). But I was experienced! and he had only soft sex before i and he became boyfriends. One of my conditions before becoming BFs was to be versatile in bed, which he accepted! In the first 4 years, he tried to be versatile! He could be top and enjoyed it, but he became bottom only at most 15 times in 4 years! At the end of the year 4, he insisted on me having free sex to meet my top aspect! It was hard, but i accepted after some time and it had a good result on our relationship!I also gave him the permission to have free sex occasionally,as he may want other men to try! But we agreed not to tell each other about the details of this open relationship! ( with whom and when we want to have free sex, of course now, I read in your site that we should tell each other with whom we are having sex!!! strange to me! I think it may be harmful to our relationship). My bf is a really busy person, a dentist . ( I am a general physician.) So he didn’t have time for free sex till recently. He has started free sex for a few months. My problem is that his sexual interest for me has decreased a lot during this time! He says I don’t know why myself! We have sex with each other every 2 weeks. But we used to have sex a few times a week before. Is there any advice for me ? I talked a lot. Sorry and thank u in advance!
    Mohsen

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Mohsen,

      Only your boyfriend can tell you why his sexual interest for you has decreased. If he doesn’t know the reason then he needs to continue to ask himself the question, and to keep discussing it with you. Some men may find it difficult to remain sexually connected to more than one man. His contacts with other men may be drawing some of this attention away from you. Because this is a problem for you it is important for you to continue to bring it up. I suggest you bring up the topic by talking about how you feel when he declines or avoids sex with you. What vulnerable feelings does that stir up for you? Does a part of you start to worry that he’ll lose interest in your relationship? If so, tell him. It’s much easier for him to hear “My feelings get hurt when you don’t show interest in me” than “You aren’t giving me what I need.” Talk about you, and your feelings, rather than about his behavior. Then he’ll less likely feel attacked and get defensive.

      This is an opportunity for you two to learn to talk about a difficult, and vulnerable, topic. It will take courage and patience. But don’t give up. It will help you reach a new level in your intimate connection.

      Take care,
      Adam

      Reply
  60. Gareth

    Hi Adam,
    Thank you so much for your insightful article on this subject, it’s clear from the number of responses that the “opening up” of a relationship is an issue that many people require support and advice on. I am one of those people and would appreciate your input on this subject.
    My partner and I met when I was 24 and he was 44, we knew within a very short period of time that we loved each other and quickly began a closed relationship, moving in together, buying a home and having a cival partnership. My partner came out very late, just a few months before meeting me and had no other relationships prior to us getting together. I had lived a little in London and enjoyed meeting dating other guys and learning about what I liked and didn’t like sexually. Sexually things were great for the first few years but over time we soon stopped having any real sexual engagement. A quick hand job once a month perhaps! Three years ago we started a business together and spend seven days a week in the same space. We work very hard and over time we have become less sexually active with each other (we haven’t really had sex for 2 years). I feel like I have parked all of my sexual feelings and I’m sure my partner has felt the same. I am now 33 and my partner is 53. Because of the age difference my partner has some anxiety about me leaving him for another person, dispite my assurance that I love him and our life together, I don’t want a relationship with anyone but him. Recently I have joined a gay app community and I’ve been contacted by guys who would like to meet me for sex. I have discussed the app with my partner and he has also joined another app and has been contacted by guys. We both have different sexual types, like my partner is, I find older men sexually attractive and my partner finds guys in their 20′s a turn on. We have discussed how we are feeling and the possibility of having sex with other guys. We have discussed what is acceptable, always safe, one-offs, no guests back unless we play together and that we should always know where each other is, even if we don’t need to know the details. We are both enjoying the thought of having other sexual experiences and have followed some of the advice within your article, affirming our love for each other, kissing more, showing each other how much we are valued and the relationship is valued. I feel honest and that a weight has been lifted from our shoulders, that exploring other men could indeed make our own personal lives more enriched. We are just starting out on our journey of opening up our relationship and hope that this will indeed bring us closer together.
    Best wishes and thank you again for your article.
    Gareth

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      Dear Gareth,

      Thanks for your thoughtful post. I’m glad that you two are staying in close contact about your feelings around sex. That will continue to serve you well as you experience the inevitable challenging and growthful bumps that all relationships bring to our lives.

      Take care,
      Adam

      Reply
  61. TheTuneMan

    Thank you for such a great article which has helped me considerably however if you have a moment I would very much appreciate any advice you could give me on my situation.

    My partner is 66 and I am 30. We met about 10 years ago and got married towards the end of last year. We have a great relationship, he is my best friend and lover, however the sex can be a little disappointing at times. This is nothing new its been the same for the past 7 years. He doesn’t like to do some of the things I like and we have talked about it however isn’t capable of bringing himself to some of the basics (bj’s etc). Most of it is based on just not liking to do the things however some of this is due to old age. We started opening up our relationship to 3somes in the last 8 months. We have had 3 guys to date (all older so far and he prefers younger) the first guy – my partner had an encounter with 15+ years ago, the second guy we met on grindr near us (won’t be a repeat with him) and the third guy is someone who I would like to encounter more often (He is truly a lovely guy and great in bed).

    The problem/complication is my partner feels threatened by the last guy in our relationship. We both are good friends with him now and enjoy talking to each other a few times a week. I have talk to my partner about this and told him – he will always be my #1. I’ve literally ploughed my everything into our relationship; I support him emotionally, morally, financially and moved in with him when we got married. I love my partner deeply and would never do anything to hurt him but the problem I have is he is a little insecure with this guy. Is there anything I can do to reassure him? When I asked him why he had the 3somes with the older guys with me – he said he would like to have one with a younger guy at some stage (however due to health reasons this might not be for a considerable amount of time). I have no problem at all with this nor do I have a problem with him having a 1 to 1 session with another younger guy as I’m not the jealous type – in fact I have actively encouraged him to have some fun with younger guys as I understand I’m not the most attractive person in the world and hey its only a bit of safe fun!

    Any advice would be very much appreciated. If you need any further clarification or have any further questions please feel free to ask.

    Many thanks for reading this. Warm hugs
    x :-)

    Reply
    1. Adam D. Blum, MFT Post author

      I’m afraid there may not be much you can do to reassure him. We are all different. My sense from your post is that you are good at demonstrating the depth of your love and commitment to your partner. If you continue to do that and he continues to feel insecure with this third partner, then you’ll need to respect that if you want to avoid hurting the man you love. You can take a look at this blog post for a few more thoughts on this topic: http://gaytherapist-sanfrancisco.com/blog/2014/07/i-want-an-open-gay-relationship-and-he-doesnt/

      Fortunately, your partner is showing a good deal of flexibility. Playing with men that you do not have a personal relationship with sounds much less threatening to your partner and may continue to be a great compromise for you two.

      Take care,
      Adam

      Reply

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