Dear Ms. Peirano,
A few months ago I (27, doctor) got to know a colleague (Daniel) who is significantly older than me. He is 46, married and has 2 children. When he started making advances to me, the first thing I asked was what was wrong with his wife. He said the two had an open relationship and so it was okay. We then continued to meet and developed strong feelings for each other. He often spends the night at my place, we go running together and have already taken a few short trips together.
At the beginning I thought that he had a more friendly relationship with his wife and that therefore they were both "allowed" to have other partners. But when I asked, he told me that they have been together for 20 years and love each other very much, and they still have sex with each other regularly. They also sleep with others because they both agreed from the start that exclusive relationships weren't for them.
I wanted to know if his wife (Katja) knew about me and he beamed at me and said, "I'll tell her everything." Apparently his wife was even happy for him at first that he found me. She's currently having something with another woman, which probably goes a little further, and sometimes also shorter stories with other men. I wanted to know if the two of them talked about what was going on in our bed, and he said that they agreed to do so and that it "enriches" their relationship.
I was completely confused and didn't know what to think about the fact that there are, so to speak, no secrets or intimacy between the two of us, but that everything is discussed by the two of us. And I read between the lines that these stories also make both of them hot, so they'll probably try things that we've both done before. That didn't feel good.
I'm actually an open person and I try out new things before I form an opinion. But here I have the feeling that I have little say, that Daniel and Katja decide things together over my head and for me it's just: Take it or leave it.
Katja even wrote me an email a few days ago and said that she would like to get to know me and invited me to a little party at her place. Apparently there are also other women who Daniel once had a relationship with and with whom he is now friends.
That's not how I imagined it. I thought it would be some kind of affair with the wife's permission, but that we would do our own thing more and be independent. Now I feel like his wife is pulling the strings and I feel a bit like a toy. And if I'm being completely honest with myself, like a toy of both of them.
Am I exaggerating or can you understand that? Are there other options besides breaking up? When Daniel and I are alone, it's just beautiful.
Kind regards, Marilyn G.
I work as a behavioral therapist and love coach in private practice in Hamburg-Blankenese and St. Pauli. During my doctorate, I researched the connection between relationship personality and happiness in love and then wrote two books about love.
Information about my therapeutic work can be found at www.julia-peirano.info.
Do you have questions, problems or heartache? Please write to me (maximum one A4 page). I would like to point out that inquiries and answers can be published anonymously on stern.de.
Dear Marilyn G.,
Yes, your story sounds very unusual and falls outside the usual categorizations we know such as "monogamous relationship" or "affair". Open relationships are a different type of relationship and therefore follow different rules that you first have to recognize and try out.
As you probably know, there are different motives for having an open relationship, and in every open relationship there are different rules for how exactly a couple wants to open their relationship. Some couples who have an open relationship do this because it is no longer a sexual fit and they still want to maintain the relationship. The couple then lives together amicably and allows each other to have sexual experiences with other partners, which are either discussed or handled discreetly.
Other couples who have decided on an open relationship have a lively sexuality, but are clear that they would also like to have sex with other people and, out of respect for each other, under no circumstances should they do so secretly behind their partner's back partner want to do. And when a couple opens the relationship, the two negotiate with each other how they imagine it and what is "allowed" and what is not.
It then comes down to questions such as: Do we tell ourselves everything, or only what has meaning? Is it okay to start something with someone from your circle of friends (or family), or should it be strangers? Does the partner have a kind of veto right if interests collide? Can you bring other sex partners home for sex if the other person is away or is that taboo?
An open relationship requires more negotiation and agreement than the typical monogamous relationship in order to succeed. Daniel and Katja have obviously given a lot of thought to their open relationship and seem to be coping wonderfully with it. This is a great success for both of them!
You first have to manage to love each other over the years, keep sex alive and at the same time give the other person the freedom to have sex with other people. And Daniel and Katja exchange ideas about it without there being any arguments or even a separation. There seems to be a lot of trust involved. At the same time, they seem to get quite a kick out of imagining the other person having sex with another person or hearing details about it. This fires up the passion again.
So the two of them get everything they want: a strong bond, a family, and at the same time sexual variety and the freedom to live it out - and thus rekindle the passion at home.
If I put myself in Daniel and Katja's shoes, the two of them have done a lot to shape their relationship according to their wishes and they will therefore probably not be willing to change anything about this model that they find satisfactory.
And that’s why it’s difficult for you.
Your situation sounds like you have a sublease agreement for a room in a couple's family home. The couple decided everything: how the house is furnished, who has what duties (cleaning) and rights (having parties), how long the sublease agreement is and what freedom you have to design your room. Can you bring your guests into the living room or garden or should they just stay in your room? As a subtenant you have no say in this matter, you have to comply.
From your description, it seems that no equal decisions are made in the relationship structure between Daniel, Katja and you. The rules of the game were agreed long before your time by Daniel and Katja. And your only choice now is to accept it or leave. How you write: Take it or leave it.
It seems to hit you that there are no secrets or privacy between Daniel and you, because the two tell each other everything. And that feels strange to you, which I can understand. I can also imagine that, like the lodger in my example, you often feel inferior and think: "I have nothing to say here." This is certainly reinforced by the fact that the two of them are significantly older than you and have been together for decades.
This is not a relationship of equals, but rather a hierarchy. And as much as the two value their own freedom, yours is somewhat restricted by the arrangement. And at the same time you seem irritated and annoyed to me.
Especially the new challenge that Katja wants to get to know you doesn't seem to me to be of equal importance under these circumstances. You are invited to both of their homes, to their safe place where you are strangers. Here again: My home, my rules. As a guest you have to comply. On the evening you are supposed to meet Katja, who Daniel loves and has sex with regularly, you meet other of Daniel's ex-girlfriends. Doesn't this also fuel the thought: Other women come and go, but Katja stays? These challenges in a single evening would be enough to make most people nervous or even unnerved. Do you want to do this to yourself?
One question is whether you want to get to know Katja or not. The other question is whether you put yourself in this situation where you have the worse cards. I get the impression that Daniel and Katja really like their openness and willingness to experiment. They are so casual about having an open relationship and even inviting their own partner's sex partners home. No problem at all, everything was relaxed and without jealousy! And anyone who becomes jealous or doesn't feel comfortable feels a bit uptight and narrow-minded compared to the two of them. But every person is different, and this type of relationship doesn't suit everyone. Not everyone finds it exciting to play games like this and listen to what their partner is doing with others in bed!
If you can follow me here and agree with my personal view of the situation while reading, then I recommend that you first take time for yourself and get back in touch with your own values and boundaries. Ask yourself what predominates at the moment: curiosity, a desire for adventure, the joy of experimenting - or the need to live as equals and on an equal footing and to be able to decide the rules of the game for yourself.
So: Live as a sublet or have your own empire? You decide. And both are perfectly fine. It just has to suit you.
Herzlich GrüßeJulia Peirano