I see this question, or something like it, very often.
“How do you protect your relationship when you open it to others? How do you make sure that you don’t lose what you have to someone else? How do you deal with the pain of seeing that your partner is happier with someone else than they seem to be with you.”
Well, first and foremost, I want to make sure to acknowledge that pain is real. I don’t want anything that I am about to say to invalidate that or anything.
I don’t value the relationship itself and I don’t do anything to protect it or preserve it. As long as the relationship serves the interests of the people, the relationship will endure all by itself. If the costs of the relationship outweigh the benefits, then it needs to either be re-negotiated or ended. Because, to quote a book, “The people in the relationship are more important than the relationship.”
My approach to love and intimacy is to help my partner have the best possible life, even if that means I have a smaller role the their life than I wanted to have.
My wife lives with her other partner now. They are a better match for one-another, on many levels, than she and I ever were. That doesn’t mean that we don’t still love each other, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t still close, but to try and keep a vice-grip on her and prevent her from growing into the relationship she has found with this person would have deprived her of the amazing happiness that she has discovered with him. And I would never want to do that.
It’s sad that she is no longer within arms reach at all times, sure. I miss that. But I would never prioritize my feelings over hers by telling her not to be with him or to try and put a cap or limit on how far their relationship can grow.
So how do I deal with that pain? I start by making realistic expectations for the relationship from the outset. I make it clear to anyone that I am with that I will not make, request, or accept a lifetime commitment from anyone. We are starting off with the acknowledgement that any relationship, no matter how good it is, may need to end one day. So we enjoy the time we have together, make the most of it, and keep our commitments to small doses (a few years at most).
That doesn’t mean these relationships won’t last a very long time, or even forever. But, for me…
I never want to wonder why a person is with me. At any given moment, I don’t want even the possibility that they are with me out of some sense of obligation to a commitment or promise that they made. I want to have to earn their love each and every day, and I want them to know, without a doubt, that they could easily leave me if they chose to. The result is that I get to look at them, at any given moment, and know that they are there with me because that is where they want to be, that with me is where they are happy.
Other partners aren’t a threat to that. They are an opportunity to achieve my goal by helping my partner find happiness, even if only by encouraging and supporting their relationship with someone else.
Anyway. That’s just my approach. It may not work for others, but it has made me very happy and removed a lot of stress from my relationships.
This writing is posted on Fetlife Here, if you would like to love or comment on it.