Dear Dan: A few months ago, I started dating someone. I made it clear early on that I didn’t feel comfortable being in a nonmonogamous relationship. They said that’s not usually what they’re into but they weren’t interested in seeing anyone else and they had no problem being monogamous. It’s not that I don’t trust them, and they’ve never given any indication that they’re unhappy with our arrangement, but I can’t shake the fears that, though they won’t admit it (maybe even to themselves), they’d prefer it if our relationship were more open and I’m taking something important away from them. Can someone who usually doesn’t “do” monogamy feel fulfilled in a “closed” relationship? Can it work out, or will they just slowly grow to resent me for this?
— Deliriously Anxious Monogamist Nervously Inquires Today
Dear DAMNIT: If you stay together forever — what most people mean by “work out” — your partner will definitely grow to resent you. It could be for this reason, DAMNIT, or for some other reason, but all people in long-term relationships resent their partners for something. So if monogamy is the price of admission this person is willing to pay, let them pay it. There are a lot of people out there in closed relationships who would rather be in open ones and vice versa. And remember: What works for you as a couple — and what you want as an individual — can change over time.
Dear Dan: My relationship with my husband is bad. We have been together for twelve years, and we were married for eight years before getting divorced last year. We have small kids. We reconciled four months after the divorce, despite the affair I had. I have a history of self-sabotage, but in my relationship with him, it has become near constant. Everyone thinks I’m a smart and kind person that occasionally makes mistakes, but I’m not that person with him. With him, I’m awful. I make promises I don’t keep and I don’t do the right things to make him feel loved even though I do loving things. We have been in couples therapy a number of times, but I always derail the process. I have been in therapy solo a number of times with similar results. I always get the therapists on my side and no real change happens. I want to change but I haven’t. I want to stop hurting him but I keep doing it. He doesn’t feel like I have ever really fought for him or the relationship. Why can’t I change?
— My Enraging Self-Sabotaging Yearnings
Dear MESSY: It’s unlikely I’ll be able to do for you in print what three couples counselors and all those therapists couldn’t do for you in person, i.e., help you change your ways — if, indeed, it’s your ways that require changing. Have you ever entertained the thought that maybe there’s a reason every counselor or therapist you see winds up taking your side? Is it possible that you’re not the problem? Are you truly awful, MESSY, or has your husband convinced you that you’re awful in order to have the upper hand in your relationship? (Yeah, yeah, you had an affair. Lots of people do and lots of marriages survive them.)
If you’re not being manipulated — if you’re not the victim of an expert gaslighter — and you’re awful and all your efforts to change have been in vain, MESSY, perhaps you should stop trying. You are who you are, your husband knows who you are, and if he wants to be with you, as awful as you are (or as awful as he’s managed to convince you that you are), that’s his choice and he needs to take some responsibility for it. By “stop trying” I don’t mean you should stop making an effort to be a better person or a more loving partner — we should all constantly strive to be better people and more loving partners — but you can’t spend the rest of your life on a therapist’s couch. Or the rack.
If you truly make your husband miserable, he should leave you. If your marriage makes you miserable (or if he does), you should leave him. But if neither of you is going anywhere, MESSY, then you’ll both just have to make the best of your messy selves and your messy marriage.
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