Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Partner Wants to Move Out and Open Our Relationship”

I am a father of three and have been with my partner, “Marie,” for over ten years. Everything was good for the first seven or eight years, and then things started to slow down in the bedroom. She was having hormone issues, so I gave her space and wasn’t pushy. Last week she told me she was thinking of getting her own place and wanted to know my opinion. I told her to make me a list of pros and cons, and we’d go from there.

I love Marie lots and have no pros for her moving out, but I have a laundry list of cons. From her own list, I gathered that she was bored and has NO mom friends or any friends in general (most have moved away over the years since we met). She said she loves me lots but the passion isn’t there anymore because it isn’t new and exciting any longer. She said she wants to explore opening our relationship or something. I told her I honestly wasn’t sure about opening our relationship. Her last two relationships were with women, and while maybe I would open our relationship for her to be with another woman — because I don’t know if I could fill the “needs” she has there — I definitely am not ok with her being with another guy. She said she really has no interest in another guy.

I have been working and going to school and trying to be super dad, so our relationship has not been a big priority. Since our talk, I have tried to make big changes to fix myself and be a better lover and partner. I got a haircut, decided I’m going to get a few tattoos I wanted to get anyway (we’ll see if that makes me a bit more exciting) and grow my beard out more. Also, this week I have been working out and eating better and am making better life choices to better myself.

In addition to all of that, I also found Marie a friend with kids who is near her age. The friend and Marie haven’t hung out yet, but she was cool when I used to know her and she’s local. I have been helping Marie with stuff around the house, have been taking more interest in stuff she’s doing, and have looking for ideas on how to fulfill her emotional needs. I tried to set up a surprise date for Tuesday to take her ice skating, but she was sick and so I rescheduled our babysitter for next week. I got excited today and told her my plans for having a date night once a month, and I was devastated when she only said “we can see how that goes.” I don’t know — I am trying my best to do what I can to reignite something, but do you have any advice for other things I could do or focus on?

We are both great parents to our kids and never fight. I love her a lot and still find her beautiful. Any advice to help save my relationship will be very much appreciated. — Refocused Frank

Oof, I feel for you and can tell you are desperate to save your relationship with Marie and to meet her needs. Your effort to do so is commendable, but there are a couple issues: First, it’s been a few days and that’s not long enough to see if the efforts will make a difference. You haven’t even had the date yet that you’ve planned and Marie is already acting disinterested in the prospect of a monthly date night with you. And that brings me to the second issue: The fact is, YOU may not be what Marie needs or wants, and no haircut or tattoo or working out will change that if that’s true. Sure, this might be a case of her having lost attraction and your investing in your health and fitness could help, but when you mention that Marie’s last two relationships were with women and that she says she has zero interest in being with another guy despite wanting to open your relationship, it makes me think that she’s not interested in men, period.

Regardless of whom Marie might be interested in – if anyone — what is clear is that her life right now isn’t fulfilling her. She may be depressed, be lonely, or feel like her sexual and emotional needs aren’t being met. The person who has to make the biggest steps to solve these issues is Marie. Your working out and finding her a friend to hang out with isn’t going to fix what’s going on inside of her. Even your prioritizing your relationship isn’t going to solve the issue when the issue is Marie’s dissatisfaction with her current life. You’ve asked me what you can do to save the relationship, but have you asked Marie? When she made a pros and cons list for moving out and getting her own apartment, did you explore how the issues she highlighted could be addressed without her moving out? Did you ask what she hoped she would gain from opening your relationship and what the effect she imagined such a change would have on you? Does she even care?

If you are serious about trying to save this relationship — and I do believe you are — you are going to have to have more than the one discussion with Marie that you had last week, and you have to be willing to invest more than a few days to see what effect some changes you’re making might have. You also need to ask that Marie invest some time and energy as well into salvaging the relationship. If her heart isn’t in it – if she is willing to walk away from you, to move into her own apartment without exploring other options first, then it doesn’t matter how much you want this relationship to last and how hard you work to make her happy. It may be that the relationship has simply run its course. It may be that Marie has realized men in general don’t do it for her. It may be that whatever efforts are made now are too little, too late. Marie will have a far better idea if that’s the case than I do, so talk to her. Ask her if she’s willing to re-invest in your relationship and if she can see a future with you. Unless she can answer in the affirmative — even with some conditions that you can both agree to try — I’d certainly hold off on getting a tattoo to impress her.

***************
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

14 comments… add one
  • avatar

    cdobbs January 31, 2020, 12:58 pm

    it doesn’t sound like she is putting any effort into saving the relationship….she might have already checked out…i would see how it goes but without both of you contributing to making the relationship work i think it might be doomed….sorry LW

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark January 31, 2020, 1:04 pm

    She sounds like somebody who is simply not worth saving. Your relationship died long ago. Move the fuck on. You are only spinning your wheels and wasting time here, I am afraid.

    “You’ll be much better, baby, on your own…”

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  • avatar

    anonymousse January 31, 2020, 2:11 pm

    Are the kids your AND hers or??

    I think you should pump the brakes on getting tattoos and have another conversation with her. Ask her if there is a chance for you two or if she wants to break up. It sounds like she’s trying to leave the relationship gradually and perhaps a little cowardly without a larger explanation or drama. She also could be confused about what she wants but knows she’s unhappy. Maybe if she is interested you could go to couples counseling together.

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  • bittergaymark

    Bittergaymark January 31, 2020, 2:38 pm

    Yes. Hold on the tattoos. They never make anybody ever sexier. Talk about false promises…

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  • avatar

    Essie January 31, 2020, 3:14 pm

    I’m sorry, it’s hard to read this as anything else but her wanting out of the relationship..

    You call the kids “our kids,” so I’m assuming that she’s their mother, not just co-parenting your children from a previous relationship. If so, it’s kind of striking that she wants to move out of the family home. She’s not just taking a step away from you, she’s taking a step away from her children.

    You’re kind of focusing on the superficial (tattoos, beard), when there’s something huge happening here. Even if they’re not her bio-kids, she’s been functioning as a mom for them for 10 years, and her moving out is going to come as a real blow to them.

    A lot more (and deeper) conversations are needed. About what she’s feeling, what her plans are for the future, what happens with the kids. And honestly, I’d ask her point-blank if she’s trying to let you down easy, and this is really a slow-motion breakup.

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  • avatar

    ron January 31, 2020, 3:52 pm

    I agree that your relationship is over and you should move on with your life. Couples live together and open their relationship so that each partner can have a fwb or more significant secondary relationship with another person. Couples split up and in that case one of them generally moves out. Sometimes they have a trial separation with one moving out. In my experience, couples opening up their relationship to others does not involve one of them moving out. I think Marie is blowing smoke because she isn’t sure what is out there for her and wants to keep you leashed down as a safety blanket. Don’t do that to yourself. If she moves out, treat the relationship as effectively over and date other womeh, explaining your situation and indicating that you are moving on.

    Note what Marie did not say: ‘let’s get couples counseling and work on saving our relationsip’ or, “I’m not satisfied with the way things are, this is what I’d like to see change’. No, what she would like to see change is no longer living with you. That should sound pretty final to you.

    It sounds like you have let your attention to the relationship slide and that has caused some of the problems, but I don’t think your making changes will fix things. What she has asked for is to get out. Are you sure about the hormonal problems, or was that just as excuse to pull away from you?

    What you and Marie need to be talking about is how you are going to jointly care for the kids. If she’s already decided to move out, than this rather than discussion of growing out your beard, getting tats, or you doing more housework is the top priority.

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  • avatar

    FYI January 31, 2020, 5:05 pm

    Many times when someone says they want to open the relationship, they already have. They just didn’t tell you. I hate to be the one who says this, but if the genders were reversed here, it would be seen very differently. More suspiciously, I think. Before you try to tap-dance your way back into Marie’s good graces, try to find out if she’s been cheating.

    I hope that’s not the case, but I sure would ask.

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  • avatar

    brise February 1, 2020, 4:49 am

    I agree with FYI. In these situations, there is always someone else in the picture.
    But I don’t think that your marriage, LW, is necessarily over, and I wouldn’t question her too much. It resembles a midlife crisis, and this can last for a good while, but your couple could go through with some patience and positive energy. She asks for opening the relationship, not for a divorce. I wouldn’t accept the opening, personally, but then you have to work on your couple, otherwise it can’t last. You are right to give a good try, and to be the best version of yourself. It is this involvment of yours, these signs of love and attachment, which are your best chance. Show love and concern, but do take in hands the resurrection of your couple. You have to reconnect, to recreate some intimacy. One date a month? but this is very very little. So you weren’t going out at all? Ask her to please give a chance to your marriage to make sense again. Do make plans for couple’s activities, and propose it to her. Nice things, not necessarily expensive, but where you can have some time as a couple, not only as parents. It can be a walk in a forest, it can be a little week-end away just for the two of you. Yes, you have to take your share of the chores, but also to hire a baby-sitter or organise something with the grand-parents so that there is less pressure on her, and some time for your her, and for you both to exist as a couple.
    And again, you have to hold on. This won’t go away in one day. And she is probably depressed as well. If so, there will be symptoms. If she is, perhaps she could have an doctor’s appointment?
    But if she does open the relationship, don’t stay. You have to measure how long and with what level of energy, and what level of self-preservation, you are going to fight for your couple. Give a good try, but give also yourself a limit.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom February 1, 2020, 9:09 am

    It sounds like Marie is leaving you without actually telling you she is done. She’s leaving you and the kids. She’d rather be single.

    I’d ask how her moving into her own place will help her to make mom friends. It sounds like she is wanting to ditch the mom aspect from her daily life. That doesn’t sound like a woman who wants mom friends.

    I’d ask her to go to couples counseling. At the very least she needs to be honest about what her wants and goals are. Don’t put yourself and your kids on hold for years while you wait for her to decide whether she wants any of you.

    If you aren’t okay with this don’t pretend that it is okay. You can’t make her stay but you can tell her that if she leaves to explore life with other partners you will be done. You can tell her that you expect her to do her share to take care of your children. You can tell her that she needs to think about how she will meet the needs of the kids if she moves out.

    She probably already has the new partner lined up. That would be the motivation for the change. Are the kids even mentioned on her pro and con list? Is she thinking about how this impacts them.

    I’d talk to a lawyer without telling Marie what you are doing. If she leaves she should be paying child support to you. At the very least, your kids deserve financial support from their mom. If you could get by without that support you could put it in the bank for them to go to college. Do you own any property jointly?

    Right now you are being passive. You need to tell Marie what you expect if the two of you remain together and what you can handle. What are your deal breakers. Is it a deal breaker if she moves out? If she gets a girlfriend? If she gets a boyfriend? How long do you think you would be willing to consider yourself a couple if she moves out? I’d resist being her safe place to fall if she has failed relationships. You don’t want to be the revolving door where she moves back in when her romance fails and then leaves again when she finds the newest partner. That would be terrible for both you and the kids. Think about what, in your mind, will tell you that the relationship is over and what will mean that there is still some hope.

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  • avatar

    ron February 1, 2020, 9:21 am

    Brise — I think one reason divorce hasn’t been mentioned is that they aren’t married. He says partner, not wife. He says partner, not wife. She might not have brought up divorce, even if they were married, since she seems to want to keep him frozen in place as a security blanket, if the new guy doesn’t work out.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros February 1, 2020, 10:51 am

    I don’t have a lot to say, but getting a hair cut and tattoos that you wanted really have nothing to do with your relationship. It seems like things are a lot bigger than her just being unhappy with the relationship (sounds like she’s done altogether), but if the issue is that you spend all your time on other things (work, hobbies, kids) and none on her, then making yourself look better and spending more time on yourself is not going to do much. Committing to a monthly date night solely to keep her from leaving also is going to do hardly anything. It seems like she’s realized that neither of you is all that into the relationship and she’s ready to move on.

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  • avatar

    Syl February 1, 2020, 12:25 pm

    Committing to a monthly date sounds like a drop in bucket. That’s a few hours of couple, 12 times per year. I think your time and money would be way better invested going to counselling – if she’s willing. But I’m guessing she’s not, since she’s talking about moving out and not trying to fix your issues. Best of luck.

    Side note, my ex-husband asked me for an open relationship too about 10 years into our marriage. I declined. Turns out we already had an open relationship, I just didn’t know it :-/

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  • avatar

    Mrs. Danvers February 3, 2020, 11:52 am

    It appears that Marie has completely withdrawn from the relationship (studies have shown that when the woman in a male/female relationship withdraws from it, stick a fork in it, it is truly over. Personally, I have found this to be true as well). I know you have a lot invested in this relationship but it’s most likely over. Certainly you seem open to trying to make it work but I think at some point soon you may want to look at why you want to stay in a relationship that is over. You sound like a great guy, and I’m sure that you’ll find someone else who will appreciate you and your efforts to build a life together.

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  • avatar

    Rava February 4, 2020, 11:03 am

    Aw, this is sad to read. I’m sorry to repeat what already has been said: I also think Marie’s done with the relationship. I’m not sure she’s having an affair or cheating on you just because she wants to open the relationship, but I do know that her wanting to move out and be polyamorous are other words for “I’m breaking up with you”, without having to say the words. Normally when people open the relationship, it’s because they both want to and have talked about this in length. She’s imposing this on you and you can agree in order to save your relationship. That’s not right. Wendy’s advice is excellent. I’m hoping Marie will be upfront and honest with you (or herself, for that matter). Best of luck.

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