I Told My Husband I Didn’t Want to Be His Wife Anymore
I didn’t want a divorce, but polyamory showed me I wanted to leave other people’s relationship paradigms behind
I can still vividly remember soaking in our hot tub several years ago, trying to bring this up in a relaxed setting, but perhaps I should have chosen my words more carefully.
“I need to tell you something,” I said to my husband James. “I don’t want to be your wife any longer. This absolutely does not mean that I want to break up, but I really want to be your partner instead.”
All James could hear was that I didn’t want to be his wife anymore, and that felt like a huge rejection to him.
It did not go well that day. All James could hear was that I didn’t want to be his wife anymore, and that felt like a huge rejection to him. But what I really wanted was simply a realignment of our relationship. We did eventually head in that direction, although it took a lot of work on both our parts. Now we have a wonderful polyamorous relationship that makes us both very happy and that has led to increased closeness in our marriage as well as individual growth on both of our parts, but it didn’t start out that way, in large part because of the programming that we’d received and unconsciously bought into about what it means to be a married couple and what the terms husband and wife signify.
Let me back up a little bit. About 6 years ago, I asked James what he thought about us inviting another man into our bed. I floated it as more of a fantasy than a request, but he was all for it, as long as we could also do that with a woman as well. I’d never been with a woman before and he wasn’t interested in sexual contact with another man at that point, but we were both excited to add this bit of sexual exploration to our already very spicy and connected love life. We agreed to only see other people together and then we played with a couple, and then a woman, but were having difficulty finding a man.
In retrospect, I believe that this is because we weren’t looking for a man; we were looking for the right man — Nat. When we did eventually find him, I knew right away from his ad that he was the guy — even before I’d seen a picture of him or knew anything else about him. I could just feel it in my gut that this was the right man for us to play with. We got to know each other a little bit more via messaging and really hit it off, so we planned a date. Physically, he wasn’t really my type — kind of a big, hairy lumberjack sort, but I felt very drawn to him none-the-less.
It was like finding a long-lost love that you didn’t even know you’d been missing.
The first time that Nat and I kissed, it was all that we wanted to do. It was like finding a long-lost love that you didn’t even know you’d been missing. James told me later that he’d said to himself, “I thought we came here to have sex, and all you two want to do is kiss!” We did eventually have sex that all three of us enjoyed immensely, and we continued to see Nat about once a month and I talked to him pretty much every day.
Our supposedly casual sexual relationship with Nat revealed itself to be one with a lot of deep feelings and this initially took a toll on my relationship with James. He liked Nat and was for the most part on-board with it all. James had no issues with the sexual part but still was having a hard time adjusting to the fact that I also loved someone else besides him. I was his wife. My loyalty and love belonged to him. He could decide to share me sexually, but that was as far as it was supposed to go. I certainly took no pleasure in hurting my husband, but I also couldn’t deny that Nat and I had a primal connection that had nothing to do with sex.
I began to feel really comfortable loving two people at the same time and to enjoy the greater sense of individuality that I felt as not so much half of a couple, and more as an individual with two different love connections. I wanted to keep exploring this, and James would agree, but then his fears would get activated and it would all devolve again into pain and anger again although we did keep seeing Nat and always had a great time together when we did.
It was one step forward and two steps back, and although I most definitely did not want to lose my marriage, the door had been opened to a way of living that felt really natural to me, and I could not envision myself going back to monogamous marriage. But more importantly, I began to see things about the societally defined role of wife that I was no longer willing to play, whether I was seeing anyone else or not. I was pretty sure that James felt the same if he could just get beyond his own societal programming. Sometimes he was OK and sometimes he wanted things back the way they had been before but I realized that for me, this was not actually possible.
I was able to find more of myself in each of these relationships, rather than subsuming myself into couplehood, as I had always done in the past.
It wasn’t so much about Nat as it was about living in a different relational paradigm. I was able to find more of myself in each of these relationships, rather than subsuming myself into couplehood, as I had always done in the past, and that wasn’t something I wanted to lose. I was really clear that even if I never saw Nat again, and we resumed being monogamous, that the past was gone, and could never be reclaimed.
I desperately wanted and needed to be an individual person who was deeply interconnected with the man that I shared a home and a child with, but I didn’t want to be his wife anymore. Until we’d begun changing our relationship style, I hadn’t realized how bought into those roles we truly were. We’d never talked about how we intended to go about being married once we’d walked down the aisle, and therein was the problem. We didn’t create our relationship intentionally — instead we mostly just fell into the expected norms, even though we thought of ourselves as modern and egalitarian. In many ways, we really weren’t.
There were things I just did because I thought that as the woman, that was what I was supposed to do, and I’m sure that James felt the same about things he felt he should do. It led to a certain amount of resentment, but for the most part, we still didn’t really challenge these roles, because it was all taking place so subtlely that we didn’t even realize that was going on or that we could. This only intensified after I stopped working when our son was born. James was the breadwinner who went out to the office each day, and I was the homemaker who kept the rest of our lives working and on track, including being the most hands-on with the raising of our son.
It’s not that James wasn’t a very involved dad, because he absolutely was, but particularly after our son regressed into autism, and needed a lot of additional care, I became the point person for Hugh’s needs even more than I had been. I did the research to find promising therapies, I scheduled the appointments with the specialists, and although James sometimes was able to come along to those, for the most part, I handled it all. I read all the books and became the expert on techniques to handle some of Hugh’s most challenging behaviors.
It wasn’t that James consciously thought that he knew better than I did, but he was enmeshed in a paradigm where he thought that he was supposed to take care of us and keep us safe.
The problem was, James was used to being the leader in our family, even if only in the most subtle of ways. There were times when we clashed over how to handle Hugh, and I resented that although I had done all the reading and research, and talked with professionals that he hadn’t, James didn’t necessarily defer to me on that subject. My father had been the leader in our family growing up, and his father had been as well. It was what we were both used to, even though we didn’t realize we were perpetuating that dynamic at the time. It wasn’t that James consciously thought that he knew better than I did, but he was also enmeshed in a paradigm where he thought that he was supposed to take care of us and keep us safe, and he had his own thoughts about how to do that.
Once I started to experience myself as an individual who was interdependent with my partners, I was no longer willing to tolerate that outlook. I didn’t want to be kept safe. I wanted to work together to create the family and the life that we wanted to be leading — together. I didn’t want him to tell me not to turn the sausage over in the frying pan with my bare hands, because I might get burned, even though he thought he was just looking out for my wellbeing. I wanted to make my own decisions without paternalistic oversight. Even if I made a mistake, I wanted that to be mine to make. I was an adult. I didn’t need another father-figure.
That is what I truly meant when I said that I didn’t want to be James’ wife anymore. I wanted to have a real partnership of equals who were actually talking about what we wanted our life and our relationship to be like, rather than just slipping into patterns that had been laid out hundreds or even thousands of years ago. It took time and a lot of conversations, but as James began to challenge the roles that he had unconsciously adopted, he started to feel less possessive of me, and less threatened by the fact that I had strong feelings for Nat as well.
I remember him asking me once if I loved Nat as much as him, and I told him that although it was a slightly different thing, that yes, I really did. He said it wasn’t fair that he’d spent all these years with me, and done so much to try to make me happy and here was this other guy who just showed up and in a matter of months I loved him the same. But that isn’t what love is about. You don’t earn love. It just is (or isn’t). And once James and I both stopped buying into the idea that we had this bargain where he provided for me and protected me, and in turn, I belonged to him, we both were a lot happier. The love between us went to an even deeper place.
I believe it’s always better for the people in a relationship to determine what works for them both, rather than to plug into someone else’s relationship paradigm.
It really is a set up that doesn’t actually serve either party — this patriarchal bargain. It can breed resentment on both sides, and I believe it’s always better for the people in a relationship to determine what works for them both, rather than to plug into someone else’s relationship paradigm. It took a lot of work to really dismantle that way of thinking about our relationship because we’d been doing it like that for over 20 years. Sometimes it went great, and sometimes it didn’t go smoothly at all. It’s hard to change gears, and more than once I had to say to James, “You seem to be under the impression that I’m your wife. I’m not — not anymore.”
Fast forward to today, and we still aren’t 100% free of that old baggage, but reasonably close, and we’re both really glad that we have gotten this far. It makes room for a kind of honesty and a kind of transparent communication that didn’t seem possible before. Maybe it was, but we didn’t know how. Opening up our marriage and embarking on a very different kind of relationship paradigm was what helped us to talk about things we might never have discussed if we hadn’t done that — things about beliefs and expectations — about what we really want our relationship to be like. It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t always fun, but the benefits always outweighed the hard parts and so we found our way forward into an actual partnership.
As James likes to say, “Once you’ve gotten used to your wife loving and fucking other people, whose job it is to bring in the mail matters a whole lot less.”
It wasn’t even just the way that we used to view each other that was the problem in the past; it was also the way we viewed ourselves.
For the most part, we don’t have specific jobs, although James has taken over the bulk of the cooking because he’s better at it than I am. Since he retired from his 9–5, I’m actually the one bringing in the most money now. Nat and I are coming up on 5 years together, even though we now live in different time zones, and James and I are in a threeway relationship with Tamara. Our son who is a young adult still lives with us, and James and I share the caretaking duties, of which there are still many. My elderly mom has also moved in recently, and so there is a lot that we share on that front as well. Being real partners has made all of that much easier.
It wasn’t even just the way that we used to view each other that was the problem in the past; it was also the way we viewed ourselves. Of course, we still use the terms husband and wife because that’s easiest for other people to understand, but to me, James is my partner — the one I live with and have built my life around. Nat is my partner too but in a very different way, and that’s OK because that’s what polyamory is all about is having different kinds of intimate connections.
Because it’s so individualized, there are no road maps. You have to find your way with the other people that you are involved with. But for me, the extra work to do that is infinitely better than plugging into someone else’s relationship paradigm and hoping it will work for you. I love James with all my heart. I love our life together, but most of all I love that we make that life together as two individuals who have chosen each other and keep choosing it.
We are not a matched set or halves of a whole. He’s him and I’m me and we do not own or control each other. He’s my love (one of them) and the father of my child, and the person I sleep next to every night. We have parameters that we’ve agreed to in our relationship but we don’t need fences to keep other people out and that makes us both really happy. It’s an on-going process, fostering this partnership, but I’m so glad that I am no longer James’ wife, and he is happy about it as well. I was never rejecting James. I had simply outgrown a role that I had not designed.