I’m Zachary Zane, a sex writer and ethical manwhore (a fancy way of saying I sleep with a lot of people, and I’m very, very open about it). Over the years, I’ve had my fair share of sexual experiences, dating and sleeping with hundreds of people of all genders and orientations. In doing so, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating issues in the bedroom (and a bunch of other places, TBH). I’m here to answer your most pressing sex questions with thorough, actionable advice that isn’t just “communicate with your partner,” because you know that already. Ask me anything—literally, anything—and I will gladly Sexplain It.
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Dear Sexplain It,
I’m a 41-year-old man who’s been with my wife for seven years. Three years ago, my wife asked to open our relationship. I was a little reluctant, but eventually, I agreed to a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. We rarely speak about our relationship dynamic, and I’ve never heard about the other men she’s slept with. So far, it’s been completely fine. Most of the time, I forget that we’re in an open relationship.
Until last week, when I accidentally saw the text exchange between her and this guy she’s been sleeping with. He sends her full body nudes and he’s so much more handsome (and well-endowed) than I am. My wife reciprocates with nudes. I went back and saw that they’ve been messaging and having sex regularly for over a year. I guess I always assumed that she was sleeping with a guy once and moving on. I never thought she’d be full-on “seeing” someone else. Also, how is she texting this guy all the time without me knowing? It feels so secretive and I feel so naive for having absolutely no clue up until now. What should I do?
—Didn’t Ask, Was Told
Dear Didn’t Ask, Was Told,
You should lay out some damn ground rules in your open relationship, because you just figured out your policy of secret-keeping isn’t working for you. Not only does your wife’s outside relationship make you uncomfortable, but you also felt compelled to go snooping through her phone. (No, I’m not buying the “accidental” scrolling through months of texting, sorry.)
You say your arrangement used to be “completely fine.” I think it’s more accurate to say you were living in denial that your wife was actually having the outside relationships you gave her permission to pursue. It’s evident you lived in denial because you mentioned that you often forgot that you and your wife were not monogamous. I understand you don’t openly talk about your relationship dynamic often, but I don’t talk to my dad often, and yet I still remember that he’s there, twiddling his thumbs, waiting for his youngest, ungrateful son to return his call.
“The goal here is not to live in a place of denial,” said sex and relationship therapist Todd Baratz, LMHC, when I showed him your question. “It is to use the challenges non-monogamy brings up to deepen emotional intimacy.” This may be particularly challenging for you two, since most couples who have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to sex typically take the same approach to “most emotionally vulnerable content” in their relationship, Baratz explained.
But guess what, Didn’t Ask, Was Told? You’re going to have to get vulnerable and agree on a new, detailed policy with your wife. There’s no going back now. That cat’s out of the bag, and by cat, I mean that big dick on your wife’s side piece. If you don’t speak up, your jealousy will fester. Your insecurities will become worse. You can never go back to the way things were before—and honestly, given that your wife was having a relationship you now realize you’re not actually comfortable with, I’m not sure you’d want to.
“It’s going to be uncomfortable, as it seems like emotional vulnerability may not be a regular part of your interactions, especially around sex,” Baratz warns. But it’s in your best interest to do it sooner rather than later.
I would say, “Hey, so I accidentally saw your texts and then read your exchange with [sexy man’s name]. I know I shouldn’t have, and I’m sorry for snooping. I know we didn’t talk about this stuff before, but now that I know about him, I want to talk about our relationship dynamic. Otherwise, I fear I’ll grow jealous of this guy and resentful of you. I don’t want that to happen.”
From there, you can bring up everything, including what you want out of your open relationship. (Are you even sleeping with other people? I have no idea.) You shared numerous things you don’t like about your current relationship dynamic: the fact they’ve slept together repeatedly, text each other constantly, and are, essentially, dating. But what do you want? You didn’t mention how your ideal relationship would look. Open relationships go both ways, my friend.
Perhaps you want to set a rule where you can only have sex with a person once. Or you can’t be emotionally intimate with other people. Or you’re not allowed to text when you two are spending quality time together. Whatever it is, you need to express that to your wife. She has no idea you’re upset and thinks everything is going swimmingly in your relationship—and why wouldn’t she? She hasn’t broken any rules, because you two never established any.
You could even ask her to stop seeing Mr. Big Dick. Although that is somewhat of a big ask, I think it’s in your right. However, don’t be closed off to alternative options, too. Maybe you compromise and say that they can’t text anymore, unless if it’s for the sole purpose of setting up a time to have sex. Or they can only see each other one every few months. I really don’t know what you’d be comfortable with; I’m just spit-balling here. But if your wife really doesn’t want to stop seeing him, then you need to find some form of compromise in order for you two to remain together.
You can also discuss recommitting to your own sex life. Is your sex life with your wife good right now? It’s easy in open relationships to get your sexual needs met elsewhere, so your sex life with your primary partner can be at risk of going stale. To be honest, I’ve actually been guilty of this. I get so excited by all the new folks I want to bone, I forget that I can and should still be fucking my partner. So you can tell her, “I want to be more sexually intimate with you.” Then you can list all the ways to improve your sex life, like using sex toys, anal (on both you and her), some kink, etc.
“There is a lot here for you and your partner to explore,” Baratz says. “If you are able to do so openly and be vulnerable, there is great potential for the relationship to deepen and grow.”
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