Opening a relationship is no simple task, Jenny Block explains.
When I found out that he had specifically ignored my very simple wish, I felt compelled to leave him, not because he'd slept with her, but because he'd betrayed me. My anger and frustration weren't about sex; they were about trust. I reminded him how betrayed he had felt when Grace and I were together, and with that, he was able to see my perspective. He apologized, but I still felt torn. It was obvious that he was genuinely sorry, but I was also incredibly upset. The bottom line was that we were just beginning to navigate how our open marriage was going to operate, and it dawned on me that the only way it could work would be if we caught each other when we stumbled, even if that meant supporting each other in what seemed like unusual ways. I had to juggle being the hurt wife and the friend to the guy who'd hurt his wife. It wasn't easy, but it also turned out to be a very deep way of better knowing someone I already loved.
Because most people consider being in an honest open relationship living alternatively, it's not always easy to get the support you need. I've been lucky enough to find it through the friends and family members I've told, as well as from online communities like Polyamory.org and PracticalPolyamory.com. (You'll find a more complete list of sites and publications in the appendix and the Works Consulted pages of this book.) No one has rejected me because of my choice to open my marriage. I also know that not everyone understands. Through the friendship grapevine, it has gotten back to me that some of my friends can't completely wrap their heads around it, but they have been supportive nonetheless. I believe that's because Christopher's and my friends genuinely care about us, even when they need some help understanding our choices.
People who choose open relationships have to be prepared to stretch a little, too, both to help other people understand and to support one another within the relationship. Sometimes the only person you have to talk to about what's going on is the very person you are having the relationship with, and you can often talk to each other in ways that might not be possible in closed relationships. For example, people in traditional marriages may not be "allowed" to express love or sexual interest, or perhaps any feelings whatsoever, for anyone other than their primary partner. Being closed necessitates hiding. Being open necessitates revelation.
Christopher and I recovered from our first big debacle almost instantly, simply because we decided we would. So much of navigating a new lifestyle involves letting go of the norms and meanings to which people have grown accustomed. We were figuring things out together, and we had to learn to talk to each other and to listen, not to what we thought the other person was saying, but to what they were actually saying. We continue to work at that. Of course, people in monogamous relationships must work at this, too, but because of the intricacies of open marriages and polyamory, being extra communicative becomes, or at least feels, more crucial.
Even though we know that talking is paramount, it's not always easy, especially for Christopher. For example, when things ended with Christopher and Lisbeth and we all went back to being "just friends," it was tough for all of us, as any change is. But Christopher suffered a different kind of loss than either Lisbeth or I did, and, I believe, a more difficult one. She and I fell back into our friendship easily, but he had had no real relationship with her before our sexual one started, and so he was left feeling like an outsider. He had been intimate with her, as physically intimate as any two people can be, and then suddenly he was back to being the husband of her best friend. Period.
"Is this too weird?" he asked me one night as he described his feelings of loss.
"Not at all," I answered. I'm the only one you really can talk to, and I'm happy to listen. It was an amazing affirmation of our choice to be open, and in terms of communication, the experience provided a bridge of sorts for us. We were talking as we never had before.