Stories from happy couples in nonmonogamous relationships

Why do most people assume that all nonmonogamous relationships are destined to fail? Because we only hear about the ones that do. If a three-way or an affair was a factor in a divorce or breakup, we hear all about it. But we rarely hear from happy couples who aren’t monogamous, because they don’t want to be perceived as dangerous sex maniacs who are destined to divorce.

This state of affairs—couples who experimented with nonmonogamy and wound up divorced won’t shut up; couples who experimented with nonmonogamy and are still together won’t speak up—allows smug and insecure monogamists to run around insisting that there’s no such thing as happy, stable monogamish couples.

“You know lots of couples who have had three-ways and flings who aren’t divorced,” I told the skeptics a few weeks ago, “you just don’t know you know them.” In an effort to introduce the skeptics to some happily monogamish couples, I invited coupled people who’d had successful flings, affairs, three-ways, and swinging experiences to write in and share their stories. The response was overwhelming—I may do a book—and I’m turning over the rest of this week’s column to their stories.

My husband and I have issues like any couple, but I still smile when I see him walk into a room, and he still takes my hand when we’re walking down the street. For the past seven years, we have been “monogamish”. It started off with a discussion of “If you ever cheat on me and it’s a one-time thing, I wouldn’t want to know.” Then, when he turned 40, we had a threesome with a female friend. When I actually saw him “in the moment”, I didn’t have the jealous feelings I had always feared. There is no question that our relationship is our first priority, but just the possibility of a little strange now and then makes him feel like a stud. (And I reap the benefits!) I don’t much care for sex without emotion and affection, so my flings have been rather limited. We haven’t told our families or more than a couple of friends. I don’t want to deal with the judgment of others.

For the first five years of my marriage, everything was great: lots of sex, both GGG, lots of love. Then my wife’s libido failed. Whatever the problem was, she couldn’t articulate it. After a year where we’d had sex twice, I reached out to someone else. I used Craigslist and I was honest: I explained that I had no intention of leaving my wife and that I was looking for someone in a situation similar to mine. It took months to find the right person. We struck up a years-long affair. At the same time, I had a wonderful-yet-sexless marriage. Then, after nearly four years, a strange thing happened: my wife’s libido came back strong. To this day, she cannot explain why it left or why it came back. With the reason for my affair gone, I ended things with my fuck buddy. And you know what? Years of honest talk made this easy. She understood; we went our separate ways.

So I had a four-year affair without getting caught. Here’s how I pulled it off: I never told anyone about it, ever; I chose a partner who wanted exactly what I wanted; we didn’t film ourselves (as hot as that sounded); we used condoms; I kept my computer clear of any evidence; and we never called or texted each other.

My husband and I are monogamish but also LMGs—legally married gays. We feel tremendous pressure to be perfect. The thing is, we are perfect. We love each other; we support each other; and we have amazing sex with each other—and the occasional cameo performer, who is always treated with respect. (We have a rule about not inviting someone into our bedroom who we wouldn’t be friends with outside the bedroom.) That said, the fact that Ron and Nancy down the street are swingers will raise eyebrows, but it won’t impact the perceived legitimacy of mixed-gender marriage. But if Ed and Ted happen to invite a third into their bedroom, that would prove the gays are destroying marriage/the country/the fabric of the universe. Even other gays get judgmental. So, at least for now, our monogamishness is on a strictly need-to-know basis. And who needs to know? Just our sex-positive doctor and the occasional hot third who gets a golden ticket into our bedroom.

I agree with you that we rarely hear about successful marriages that are open. How do I know? I just discovered that my parents are swingers—and they have been married for 26 years!

My husband, almost exactly 10 years older than me, confessed a cuckold fetish to me shortly before our fifth anniversary. I said no, but a seed was planted: whenever I would develop a crush on another man, it would occur to me that I could sleep with him if I wanted to. Five years later, my boyfriend of two years, who happens to be exactly 10 years younger than me, was one of the guests at our 10-year anniversary party. My boyfriend is a good-looking grad student who adores me and values my husband’s advice about his education and career plans. He treats my husband with the perfect blend of affection and contempt. (“Gratitude and attitude,” my boyfriend calls it.) I enjoy my boyfriend, but I love my husband more than ever. My husband is not allowed to have sex with other women (he doesn’t want to, anyway), and he’s not allowed to have sex with me without my boyfriend’s permission (which he usually—though not always—gets). Our families would be appalled. We simply don’t live in a part of the country, or move in social circles, where we could be honest about any of this with anyone.

From the outside, my husband and I look like a boring vanilla married couple. In fact, people have included me in judgmental conversations about open relationships. But the truth is, for nearly as long as we’ve been together (three-plus years), we’ve had a semiopen relationship. My husband is bi. When he told me after a few months of dating, years of Savage Love reading helped me to keep an open mind. Long story short: we worked out rules that were mutually agreeable. Now he can hook up safely with guys and come home to a loving wife with whom he can be completely honest.

I’m a happily married woman… and so is my girlfriend. Maybe it’s cowardly of us, but no matter how simple our relationship seems to us, the people we care about would not understand. Yes, we do this with our husbands’ blessing. (We even double-date from time to time!) No, there’s nothing lacking in our marriages. Our parents, relatives, children, friends, and coworkers know we’re close. But I don’t see the need to tell anyone the entire truth. I was on the fence about sending this email—that’s how little fuss we make about it. Then I thought, if I do send it, and if enough people send their stories, maybe one day we can go public and it won’t be a big fucking deal. That’d be awesome.

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The Georgia Straight presents Dan Savage live at the Vogue Theatre on January 21, 2012.


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Salty One

Jan 4, 2012 at 6:09am

Why can't I be married to somebody as understanding an open as this - why?

Sam Weerdo

Jan 4, 2012 at 8:59am

Thanks for this Dan. Add me to the list of people in very happy and fulfilling long term non-monogamous relationships. This won't really change anything though... the ignorant people will always believe what they want.

Just think, why the hell would anyone in a happy non-monogamous relationship tell their family or casual acquaintances like co-workers and open themselves up to serious judgment because of the ridiculous negative stigma? Only totally crazy people would do that, or the ones who are truly poly and it's impossible to hide.

I'd tell my parents if I was gay among other things, but I sure as hell wouldn't tell them that I'm openly non-monogamous with my partner. I'm not ashamed... there's just no reason for them to know and for them to worry about me.

Only my closest friends know, and until it's widely accepted in society, that's the way it has to be.

Post a comment

Jan 4, 2012 at 2:26pm

“couples who experimented with nonmonogamy and are still together won’t speak up—allows smug and insecure monogamists to run around insisting that there’s no such thing as happy, stable monogamish couples.”
By presenting the second letter as an example, Dan is saying that it’s a happy stable monogamish couple. But is it really? I have nothing against consensual nonmonogamous relationships (more power to them), but I have a problem with cheating which dan is glorifying.

Trust is the foundation of a healthy marriage.

Here the husband is taking the easy route and going behind his partner's back instead of doing the hard work of talking about difficult marital problems. If the wife had the opportunity to discuss the situation she might agree to an extramarital affair - or maybe not - but she never got the chance to decide. They might also have been able to sort out the sex problem if they talked/worked it out and thereby make their marriage stronger. It’s strange that he was so open and honest with the person he had an affair with but not with his wife with raises some red flags about their relationship.

If according to Dan, this is an example of a happy stable couple, I think I will pass on any forthcoming book by him on this subject.

Women's low libido is a complex and widespread problem which deserves better understanding and attention than immature and simplistic answers like the ones Dan gives.


Jan 4, 2012 at 5:30pm

If that cheating husband doesn't get caught then the moral of the story is that he's in a happy stable relationship. But if he does get caught, he runs the risk of his wife wanting a divorce and him losing the house and kids (if they exist) and half (or more) of everything he worked to accumulate (as well as his reputation). Thanks as always for the guidance Dan.

That husband should have been given advice on how to better talk to his wife by a competent sex expert. Marriage takes work and effort if you want to be part of a happy, stable couple.


Jan 5, 2012 at 12:57am

I agree that the second situation is a bad situation, but it became a bad situation when the wife unilaterally decided that the husband would be having no more sex with her - and, of course, no sex with anyone else - for years. I'm guessing that the husband wasn't "open and honest" with his wife, when he made a point of pride of being open and honest with his lover, because he knew from several years of living with her that there was no chance of her agreeing to him going outside the marriage for sex. Or perhaps they had that discussion, and she said "no", and it just didn't make the letter for reasons of space. So he had a choice of getting divorced, not having sex again for years into the future, if ever - he had no way of knowing that her libido would ever return - or cheating. You can certainly argue that he shouldn't have picked cheating, but none of those choices are good.

I also agree that him being able to be open and honest with his lover but not his wife is a red flag about their marriage. But we're not there.

That guy

Jan 5, 2012 at 7:03am

My husband is not allowed to have sex with other women (he doesn’t want to, anyway), and he’s not allowed to have sex with me without my boyfriend’s permission (which he usually—though not always—gets).

I think this is one is is a little messed up. i feel like the husband is getting ripped off and should the boyfriend should back off a bit but i dunno my opinion


Jan 5, 2012 at 3:32pm

Interesting comments. Speaking as one of the folk in a nonmonogamous marriage, it seems to me that there are a wild variety of relationship forms these days, and that the happiness level of the partners depends on the strength and commitment of the people involved, not the numbers or the exact details of how they relate. In my case, our marriage improved greatly when my wife finally fully accepted her bi side and hooked up with a woman. She's much happier, our sex life is dramatically better, and the girlfriend is enjoying her side of the relationship, one or two days a week. Not saying this would work for everyone, but in our situation everyone's a winner. A lot of our friends are aware of the relationship and we haven't had any negative feedback.

Ron A

Jan 5, 2012 at 6:04pm

My partner and I (gay) have been together for 17 years, I met another wonderful man on the ferry who was attracted to me. He asked to see me. My partner knew and said he had no problem. We saw each other and became intimate over a period of 5 months. I praised my partner and kept talking about him to this 3rd man. I urged this man to meet my partner. He was reluctant, but finally did. Soon, it was evident that the chemistry was perfect and that we all had fallen in love with one another, and thus a 3-way relationship developed, In the beginning, the struggle with this man trying to please myself and my partner sexually and emotionally equally was evident. We all were honest, non-possessive, not jealous. Since then, our lives (all 3) have become wonderful and we have sex several times a week - erotic sex... and enjoy each other's company socially, along with the understanding of our other gay friends; we also take trips together. Time has passed to over a year and a half. We're all glad to have started on this journey. All three remain truly in love. Our fantasy became our lives.


Jan 6, 2012 at 11:36am

I believe the only thing you brought to the attention of everyone on this thread is how sick and dysfunctional our American Society is. The rest of the world is no better. It really shows that political parties have no solutions. The solutions come from us. Sometimes showing restraint and discipline might be an attribute which grows and builds a strong society. Societies with a family based culture, steeped in a sense of social responsibility, having a moral compass, having values defined by relevance and a sense of purpose in fulfilling a common goal will succeed and grow.
Having no sense of purpose or direction in an every thing goes society leads cultures into decay, corruption and thievery. Dan Savage therefore is one who worships Gluttony, Greed and Envy. It will take a world calamity to fix this, where most of the world is wiped out and the remaining few, build a better society.


Jan 6, 2012 at 3:53pm

jtessler is right, giving into our sexual perversions is not the path to enlightenment as we are led to believe

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