I was in a bed-death relationship for 5 years. As someone with a strong libido, I was angry with him a lot. I tried the fixes, of course: books, videos, encouraging talk. I asked whether his far lower libido was the result of childhood sexual abuse. I asked if perhaps he was gay. I could work with yesses to either of those. What I couldn’t accept, though, was that he had a wife whose earnest and joyful sexuality he really didn’t want to share in. I resented him for it.
The turnaround happened when I stopped blaming him and instead accepted the mantra “my body, my choice” as something that he too could and should claim. That is: He has a right to feel good in his sexual choices, one that matches his desire not some stereotype of what he as a man *should* want. And so do I. When those rights match, great! When it does not, it’s also great because I still have my rights!
Yes, yes, the marital contract was broken. But, as I belatedly realized, that was because it was based on a lie: namely, that a spouse/partner is and should be solely responsible for his/her partner’s sexual pleasure. When I realized that, no, my pleasure was ultimately my own responsibility (my body, my choice) and one that I *could* choose to share but *need not*, I came back to what *my* rights were and what I could and should do to fulfill them, whether with him or not.
I did not forgive him because there was nothing to forgive. I stopped blaming him. That was key. It wasn’t his fault that we had *both* been suckered by a lie that’s doomed and duped so many relationships. But, then aware, we had other (better, more realistic) choices for how to proceed.
If he had reached the same conclusion, we would have remained together, celebrating each other’s sexual lives and navigating together the seeming threats that new relationships bring. It’s because he refused to see that the lie was wrong AND couldn’t bear both the responsibility of that premise NOR my fulfillment of my rights without him that we fell apart. Or, rather, that I said “no harm, no foul” and stepped away from that relationship to honor myself again. We are both better people for that hard choice.
Others handle this differently. (See my shout-out to rougedmount below.) Many people cheat because they believe there’s no other way to fulfill their relationship vows and the often-undeclared-and-unacknowledged vows they have had with their own bodies since sexually maturing. (Those vows came first, mind you, and trump all that follow, IMHO.)
You do, in fact, have better choices than to cheat. Choices that let go of blame. Choices that stop belittling. Choices that release you from the web of lies and disguise. Choices that, instead, reframe and reclaim what is possible.
Yes, these are socially harder choices. And choices that continue to challenge. No more assumptions, that’s for sure.
It’s just after 4 in the morning. I woke with a tummy ache from a night of too much drinking and a day of too much walking. My beloved partner is snoring. I can hear him grunt in his sleep. I can also hear the occasional sleep-cough of the woman sleeping at his side. I went to bed early, so offered to sleep on the spare bed so that they could stay up talking and cuddling and fucking in the too-small-for three bed. My husband is out of town visiting his parents for the holidays, mind you. He knows who I am with. So do his parents.
I’ve come a long way since I broke with the old model of living. All three of us have and talked about it this weekend. I know that this model (open, nonmonogamous) doesn’t work for everyone either. I accept that just like I accept that closed and monogamous doesn’t work for many. Having made “my body, my choice” real for myself, however, I feel better. I also accept the whole range of choices — safe, sane, consensual — that people make to feel whole in their bodies.
So my story is a shout-out to rougedmount [blog deleted], whose blog and comments about her own bed-death responses prompted this post. I wish you well.