Queeries: is my marriage over?
A reader experiences a seismic event in their relationship, and wonders: can we come back from this? Our Fagony Aunt advises.
23 Mar 2023
Welcome to Queeries, Aisha Mirza’s advice column at gal-dem. You can follow more of Aisha’s writings and work on Substack here.
My partner and I have been together ten years and married for three, which has for the most part been amazing. We have spent our formative twenties together, and I moved to a different country to be with him. Problem is, things have been a bit dead for us in the bedroom for a while, which got really obvious during lockdown. It seemed like while everyone else was having pandemic babies, we fell into housemate mode. I was like, what the fuck! I’m too young to have lost interest in sex already! All the blame for this was put on me even though I was really actively working on it – talking about it in therapy, going to see an endocrinologist, herbalists – trying everything I could. Meanwhile, my husband was carrying on doing the bare minimum, leaving me to do the work and making me feel like shit about it. There was no flirtation, no romance. I’ll be sending him nudes and his reply would be like, “do we need toilet cleaner?”
He asked if we could try an open relationship. I went off to do my research – started asking friends, talking about it in therapy, consulting Reddit threads, books, podcasts and more. Unknown to me, he dove straight in and immediately started making plans. At some point later, something didn’t feel right, you know, vaginally. I asked him if there’s something he wants to tell me. He replied “if I was you, I’d go get checked out.” It turns out he had waited for me to leave the country and had sex in our apartment –- a complete breach of whatever problematic boundaries we set in the first place. Brutal. Also, before this relationship I was dating women and non-binary people, and throughout this relationship I’ve been biphobic towards myself. I was excited to explore and he has expressed often that he’s interested in exploring his sexuality too, but he found himself another girl.
I’ve moved out to get some space and clarity. I’m feeling ok, but I’m heartbroken. My trust is shattered and I don’t know what’s next for us. I wonder if I could get over the affair, or if it’s actually just a symptom of much deeper problems between us? I don’t know if this is the end, but I’m enjoying my freedom; travelling, eating, praying, loving and everything else my partner was holding me back from. What’s more, since I left he’s continued doing less than the bare minimum, only really making contact with me to ask for the money he spent on dinner while we were trying to figure this out…
Sometimes in life you have to say, fuck this guy. Like, on the one hand this is a delicate and nuanced situation where “this guy” is your partner of ten years and everyone involved is deserving of the utmost compassion. And on the other hand, fuck this guy. If this question was about reigniting the sexual spark of your relationship’s damp tinder, a really common desire in many (especially long-term) relationships, we could talk about that. But this feels like it’s about something else, which I think you know, based on the thorough (and hilarious) way in which you’ve explained the predicament to me, and how many other things have come up for you in the process.
Clearly you’re a jokester, someone who finds air pockets of cheek to get through life’s difficult shit. I’m so glad you have this gift, to keep you breathing, to afford you the moments of relief you so badly deserve, to care for yourself (and others) by softening the searing edges of disappointment, betrayal and hurt that can only be felt in situations like this. But I want you to know that I respect how earth-shatteringly hard this must feel! Coming from someone who struggles to throw a concert ticket away, I truly can’t imagine what it must feel like to even hypothetically approach the end of a ten year relationship. Whatever happens, you’re really brave for advocating for yourself and asking these questions, okay?!
What I’m hearing is that you’re a hard worker, a researcher, a methodical and deep thinker who cares a lot about stuff. You moved countries to be with your partner. You went to great and vulnerable lengths to find out what you could do to deepen the sexual connection between you both. After ten years of monogamy, you accepted a request for an open relationship, marching valiantly into the pits of Reddit to learn and grow and act in ways that feel good for you and your relationship. Have you been met with this care? Half of it? How long have you been uncared for?
Open relationships can be a site of incredible adventure, freedom and unforetold depths of love and understanding of ourselves and the people we’re engaging with. But god, not like this. It’s work right? Work that you were willing to take on. Work that many people engage with for the benefits of busting open the parameters of enforced monogamy, loving their partners enough to not want to own them, challenging themselves to do the inner work of being able to hold and transmute unfortunate but very real instincts and emotions like jealousy, insecurity and control. That all requires communication and care and honesty, and unfortunately in this case, it would seem the boy is a liar. That’s tough.
“Open relationships can be a site of incredible adventure, freedom and unforetold depths of love and understanding of ourselves and the people we’re engaging with. But god, not like this”
The thing is, I don’t think this is stuff that can’t be repaired. You are clearly committed to each other and must have traversed so, so much over a decade spent as each other’s lovers. Throwing this into a ten year dynamic takes time and patience and it’s natural people will make mistakes. When you’re really honest with yourself though, are you with it? Do you want it? Is it worth it? With him? You do have options. Couples therapy can work wonders for aiding communication, overcoming hurt and guiding dynamics to shift and become unstuck. Even if you do decide to end this relationship, couples therapy could still be a good idea to ease the huge transition and leave things as soft as possible for both of you now, and for any future reconciliation. What do you want?
There’s excitement in your question, and to me, it does not seem like that excitement lies in the lap of your partner. Not right now, anyway. You’re talking about travelling, exploring your neglected sexuality, doing the things your partner was “holding you back from”. While I don’t think it’s necessarily appropriate or fair to police the gender of the people your partner might want to fuck outside of your marriage, I think you know that, and that you’re hurt by the way this has unravelled, and are possibly even looking for another reason to begin a new chapter for yourself.
“Sometimes closure is a sharp pain, rather than a neat bow”
Regarding the dinner money issue. I mean. I’m not sure I could actually reasonably approach that in public and keep my job. In terms of being helpful, all I can think is that perhaps, the brutality or carelessness or nonchalance (what do we even call it??) of his actions can act as some kind of closure? Is that helpful? I don’t know, something I’ve been thinking about recently, following a particularly deranged meeting with an ex-friend, is that closure doesn’t always come in the ways we may imagine or prefer it to. Like, peacefully, or something. Sometimes closure is a sharp pain, rather than a neat bow. A shock the body can internalise and use to keep us safe by finding something definitive to hold onto in a soup of empathy, broken trust and dissociation from self.
“Sometimes love means helping the person you adore the most on their way. Sometimes that person is you”
It sucks, but relationships don’t have to be horrific for them to end. Sometimes, paths are ready to diverge and sometimes love gives you the strength to be honest about that. Sometimes love means helping the person you adore the most on their way. Sometimes that person is you. Nothing that happens now negates the triumph of your love, the preciousness of your memories or the integrity of your personhood. That belongs to both of you, forever. The leap can be so terrifying, but it’s worth it to fly.
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