Heartbreak

An Open Marriage Didn't Save Our Relationship — It Nearly Destroyed It

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woman looking shock when talking to a guy

My open marriage began with a desperate plea over dinner.

I had just turned 37. My husband and I had two difficult children. I had become so desperate for connection, so in need of an escape from the drudgery of our day-to-day lives, that I begged my husband to let me sleep with other men. 

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I thought there was a chance it would be good for our marriage. I thought it might pump some life back into us. 

I wish I could say that I researched the ins and outs of an open marriage before proposing one to my husband. I wish we developed some ground rules before agreeing to sleep with other people for the first time in our 15-year relationship. 

But I wasn’t that wise. I dove head first into a risky experiment with non-monogamy that nearly destroyed my marriage. 

Our marriage had been unraveling, little by little, for over 6 years. There were years of resentment and years of pushing away from each other instead of coming together. There were years when our bodies rarely touched, even as we passed each other in a hallway. We hadn’t slept together in over three years. 

So I asked for an open marriage one night at dinner, and my husband agreed reluctantly. 

Just a few days later, I created my first online dating profile. I was soon sleeping with multiple men on a single weekend.

One afternoon I left work early to get felt up on a park bench in a city arboretum. I had transformed myself from a tired, resentful mother into an alluring woman whose dating profile said I was up for "something casual."

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The surge of life I felt during this time was rejuvenating. But my husband was far less enthusiastic. He felt jealous seeing me straighten my hair or line my eyes for other men’s approval. He slept with one woman during this time, but he was more cautious about this new lifestyle I’d forced him to adopt. 

During these months of physical freedom, I slept with men I would never have met in my normal life.

I met one man who traveled to my city from rural Virginia to repair espresso machines. I slept with a divorced dad who later ran for U.S. Senate. I went salsa dancing with an Ecuadorian biologist who gifted me a vibrator on our first date. These dates with other men made me feel alive. They helped me escape from my life as a working mother and an unsatisfied spouse until everything came to a sudden halt. 

In March 2020, our sons’ schools closed, and then our offices. We suddenly found ourselves grounded at home by the COVID-19 pandemic. I had only just been let out of my cage, and now I was stuck back inside under lock and key. 

My husband and I did what most parents did during this time — we survived day by day.

We juggled nonstop childcare with remote work meetings. We sprayed our groceries with bleach before placing them in our cabinets. 

And then I met Collin, and things unraveled even more. Collin and I had been texting back and forth on a dating app since before the pandemic shut us down.

Our conversations were light and flirty at first, but they quickly became serious.

Soon I found myself texting Collin hundreds of times a day, sharing stories from my childhood and selfies from my daily walks with my sons. I hadn't been able to meet Collin yet, and the tension was building.

After several heated arguments and reassurance about Collin’s own COVID precautions, my husband finally agreed to let me meet Collin in person. Very soon after our first meeting, Collin and I fell in love. 

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It was the kind of love I hadn’t felt since I was 17.

My husband let me visit Collin two nights a week after I tucked my children into bed. We often spent those nights making love for 5-7 hours at a time. When I wasn’t with him, I was longing for him. Sometimes I would call him on my drive home from his apartment late at night, just to hear his voice. 

Collin was a divorced dad himself, and he understood what I was going through. He held me in his arms with a tenderness that I had been craving for so many years. Collin was kind to me but dangerous for my marriage. 

I hadn’t expected to fall in love, and I surely hadn’t expected to want to leave my husband and children to chase a life with another man. Only 3 months after my plea for an open marriage with my husband, I was looking up apartments on Craigslist and plotting my exit. 

Except I never went through with it.

I didn’t leave my family for Collin. My husband came to me one night, tears running down his face, pleading for me to give our marriage another chance. He could no longer watch me fall in love with another man and continue our open marriage. 

In the end, I chose my family.

I spent a final night at Collin’s apartment and wept loudly in my car the entire way home, splashing water on my face before I greeted my sons again. My grief over Collin lasted months, and my husband was a spectator to that grief. 

But now, over two years later, I am still here. My husband and I attend virtual couples therapy, and we don’t leave at night to sleep with other people.

But our problems haven’t gone away, and we are closer now to divorce than we ever were before our open marriage. I wish I could say our open marriage was a jolt of life to my relationship. But instead, it nearly killed us. 

I realized too late that my request for an open marriage was about so much more than sex. It was about feeling alive again, and being held and cared for by someone else in a way I hadn’t been in years.

What I really wanted was to be loved again, and that need is more difficult to meet with a dating app and an open marriage.

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Michelle A. Cmarik is a working mom who writes about her open marriage, parenting, and love.

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