Q: My husband and I have been in a monogamous relationship for six years. I’m still in love with him and can’t imagine life without him, but our sex life sucks. It was great for a few years, but despite everything we’ve tried to do, it’s kind of boring and it doesn’t happen all that much anymore. I’m not going to break up with him, and I’m scared of talking to him about opening the relationship, because I don’t think he’d agree to it. I haven’t gone out on him yet, but I’m wondering if honesty is always the best policy. What should I do?
A: You’re facing a reality in relationships that most people don’t discuss very openly. We don’t talk about it because it isn’t pleasant and doesn’t sound very romantic, and because even mentioning it can feel insulting or disloyal to the partner. This reality is this: that no matter how hot the sex is in the beginning, eventually, with familiarity, the passion begins to cool. The frequency decreases; hot sex becomes warm sex, and in some cases ends altogether. Couples adopt all kinds of strategies to keep the fire burning, and these can have limited success, but anyone who hopes that their lovemaking will continue indefinitely with the blistering intensity of the first few months is bound, eventually, to be disappointed by this fact of life.
Couples who stay together and remain monogamous after this happens typically do it because they’ve found other values in long-term relationships which make the trade-off acceptable, if not entirely what they’d dreamed: loyalty and trust, mutual respect and affection, the happiness of companionship and shared lives and memories. If Romeo and Juliet had been able to set up house and live to see their twenties these are the values that would have sustained their relationship. Fortunately for the theater they died shortly after meeting; a warm, uncomplicated relationship may be gratifying, but there’s not much in it to grip an audience.
My very subjective impression is that our straight brothers are a little more resigned to these realities than gay men. Maybe that’s because most of them can’t count on a steady supply of hot and wild the way most of us do. It isn’t as easy as it is for gay guys just to order it up on the Internet, and when they do get it, it’s often pretty expensive. Giving up what’s difficult and infrequent for a stable relationship doesn’t seem like such a bad trade-off for many of them. (And yes, I’m aware that a lot of straight guys are only officially monogamous, and that they’re doing a lot of playing around on the side.) But for gay guys, committing to monogamy often means a huge change in lifestyle, and can feel like dropping out of the party and out of gaydom altogether.
Another difference between gay and straight men is that open relationships are a much more realistic possibility for gay men. Most of the gay men I know who are in long-term relationships eventually make some provision for outside sex. This is easier to do in a community where it’s common to think of fidelity more in terms of emotional commitment than sexual exclusivity.
At the same time, I don’t think that it’s quite as easy for gay guys to manage open relationships as many would like to believe. Jealousy, possessiveness, anger and fear of abandonment are not uncommon experiences in open relationships. Still, many guy men seem to be able to make it work for them. Open relationships seem to work best when it’s what both parties really want, not when one party is just agreeing to it to accommodate the other. They also work better when the ground rules are explicitly defined, and when outside sex is not used to hurt or compete with a partner.
If you’re committed to staying with your husband, I think you really only have two options. The first is to accept the fact that your sex life isn’t as great as it was, and live with it for the sake of all the other benefits you both derive from the relationship. The second is to take the risk of discussing with him the possibility of opening the relationship to outside sex.
You mentioned a possible third option – sneaking around behind his back and lying to him. I think that it would be unwise for you to consider this a realistic option. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” just isn’t true. If you lie to him, even in the unlikely event that he doesn’t eventually find out, you’ll be poisoning the relationship with an atmosphere of deceit that will damage it in all kinds of ways, and your own sense of integrity and self-respect will also be hurt. Whatever you decide to do, honesty is always the best policy.