Christopher's loss was real, but it was also strange and uncharted in terms of my helping him to work through it. How do you comfort your husband when he has broken up with his lover? The same way you would help anyone else you love survive a difficult time: You listen and love them and appreciate what they are experiencing for what it is. And you don't insert yourself. It would have been easy for me to say, "How can you be so upset if you love me?" or, "What does this say about how you feel about our relationship if you're so worried about losing her?" But I had nothing to do with what he was feeling. And seeing him through—watching him, listening to him, helping him—helped me, once again, to see him as a whole person, and not just as who he was in relation to me. It's a marvelous human and intellectual challenge to think solely of someone else, and to not interject yourself into their particular scenario. It is not something we do often enough. Open marriage and polyamory have given me that opportunity at many turns, but it's not for the faint of heart.
If you do want to give open marriage a shot, you have to be strong enough to deal with all of the new feelings, problems, and experiences that it might throw at you. You have to know that jealousy is bound to rear its ugly head. This is the second issue on my list, because it's the unfortunate sibling of the supportive lover. It's a dangerous relation, and you'll need to decide what you will do with it when it inevitably arises: allow it to eat you up or make you question yourself and your relationship? Or can you use it as a chance to address why you're feeling jealous in the first place? We feel jealous when we feel insecure, so it's imperative that we examine our relationship's security, or lack thereof, and where it's coming from. Is it you? Is it your partner? Exploring your reasons for feeling jealous can help you gain some perspective on it.
I'm not suggesting this is easy—not by a long shot—but I do believe that it will allow you to see yourself and your partner differently—as individuals, not as wholly defined by each other. And that can result in your creating a space where more love can grow, instead of one in which resentment insinuates itself as it does when jealousy, rather than understanding, is your guide. Not being jealous has to be a conscious choice, and it's a choice I have to work at and remind myself of, one that requires years of deprogramming.
Acknowledging, assessing, and discussing each issue, challenge, and question as it comes up has taught me things about both Christopher and myself that I could not have otherwise learned, and that, to an extent, I did not previously imagine were possible. It's not easy work, but the pleasure is in the challenge. When Socrates was on trial for heresy for prompting students to think for themselves and challenge what they had been told, he responded by telling the court, "The unexamined life is not worth living." I couldn't agree more. It might seem easier, but what's the point? When I started looking at my own life and my marriage was when I figured out how to get to where I wanted to go—that is, how to continue my journey toward having a happy partnership.
Even when you do have a relatively easy time transitioning into an open marriage, it's highly unlikely that everyone around you will see your choice as something they understand, or even consider legitimate, either socially or romantically. Despite having my family's and close friends' backing, I have had plenty of experience with people whose responses to my lifestyle have been anything but supportive. These include being aggressive, condescending, and just plain mean-spirited. As I mentioned earlier, people who see open marriage as deviant feel perfectly comfortable labeling me a whore. It makes it easier for them to rationalize and compartmentalize my life. Thinking of me as a bad person and a bad wife and a bad mother is convenient and facilitates their separating themselves from me. Otherwise, they could be just like me. And that's simply too scary a proposition to address. The best thing I can do for myself, then, as well as for others who choose to live in open relationships, is to own being open, and to respect it as I would any more traditional arrangement. Normalizing open marriage among its participants is the first step toward gaining acceptance in the community at large.
For me, it's not so important to meet the standards that other people impose upon me as it is to be able to live in harmony with my neighbors and friends and acquaintances, particularly where Emily is concerned.