Confessions From An Open Marriage

On the verge of separation, Nat and Tom decided to try something 'unconventional'. Photo: ThinkStock

Nat*, 38, from Noosa Heads in Queensland, was on the verge of leaving her 46-year-old computer analyst husband, Danny*. The arrival of two children in three years had left the couple frustrated about their non-existent sex life and on the verge of separation.

As a last resort, Nat made a startling suggestion.

NAT: It was a winter of discontent in our home. After seven years of marriage, Danny and I had reached a crisis point in our relationship. We were constantly arguing and our domestic problems spilled over into our sex life. Months would pass before we had sex and when we did, it left both of us unsatisfied – once we even argued during the act! I was unhappy, frustrated, exhausted and ready to give up. Motherhood was the most wonderful experience, but it was also incredibly testing. Our two sons, now aged three and six, brought me such joy, but I’d lost myself to some degree. Six months earlier, I had started to look into my own sexuality and even took a Tantric sex course.

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I wanted to do this alone because I needed space from Danny. I had a girlfriend who was in an open relationship, which intrigued and excited me, but scared me at the same time. I wondered if that was the radical shake up Danny and I needed, but didn’t put too much thought into it. Then, one night after putting the boys to bed, there was a shift in atmosphere and our home felt calm enough for us to actually talk.

We both admitted we were frustrated – and then the truth emerged.

We were bored and tired of having sex with each other. “Danny,” I said, tentatively, my heart beating against my chest, “how would you feel if we had an open relationship?” Danny was stunned. While his reaction was understandable, we were hardly conservative. Once, at the start of our relationship, we’d experimented with another couple, but when we got married convention took over. It felt like hours before he found his voice.

“Yeah,” he said, quietly. “I’d love to.” “But you do know we’d be opening up Pandora’s box …”

Letting other people in frightened me, but it also filled me with an erotic excitement I hadn’t felt for so long. I’d fantasised about having sex fuelled by passion, with none of the relationship baggage that came with seven years of marriage and babies, but I would never betray Danny by going behind his back. We’d originally met at a yoga retreat in Sydney and were friends for a couple of years. Danny was very attractive: he had a lovely open face and sparkling green eyes, but he was 38, 173cm, and balding – hardly my type. The truth is, I’d always been attracted to tall, young, hot guys, and relationships that went nowhere.

We stayed in touch and hung out whenever Danny came up to Noosa. Then he decided to move from Sydney and rented my spare room. Over the next three weeks, I found myself enjoying his company; he was fun and funny and we just clicked. I was 30 at the time, and marriage and babies were on my mind, but I hadn’t met the right guy. “You’ll know when you meet him,” my mother used to say, but I didn’t believe her. Then I did a meditation about the man I wanted to draw into my life and a voice said as clear as a bell, “It’s Danny”.

It was an absolute shock, but it somehow made sense and, like my mum had said, it felt right.

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DANNY: Nat wasn’t my type either. Although she is gorgeous, the same height as me with curly blonde hair and a voluptuous body, I never got any sexual vibes from her, so I thought we’d just be mates. When she told me about her meditation, I started to see her in a different light … as a possibility. We started dating and hanging out. It was a real connection and the sex was great. We were also aligned in a lot of ways: we were amazingly compatible, liked to party, and both wanted a family. We fell in love and things moved really quickly. We were married within six months and soon had our first son. It was then that our sex life took a turn for the worse. Nat struggled to orgasm, which was frustrating for us both. I thought it was just one of the areas that wasn’t working, but overall the relationship was great.

NAT: Initially, sex with Danny was passionate, but motherhood had robbed me of my sex drive. I’d stacked on the kilos, and for the next two and a half years, our focus was on our son, Tom*, who was always in our bed. Then, just as I lost my baby weight and found my old sexy self, I became pregnant again. When Charlie* was born, we were under immense financial pressure and with two small children to look after we hardly had time for each other. As the pressures piled up, I became a cranky bitch and Danny stopped even trying to initiate sex. We were constantly on the verge of breaking up. It got so bad that I secretly looked for somewhere to live. Then Danny rang me from work one day and said: “We’re not breaking up Nat. It’s been completely shit for me too, but we’ve got a family and I love you.”

He said it in such a loving, strong, masculine way that it really pulled me back to what was important: our relationship and our kids.

DANNY: The family unit was the important thing – the thing we had lovingly created and that I wanted to hold on to. While we had issues with our sex life, I didn’t believe there was anything fundamentally wrong with our relationship beyond the usual stresses of having small children. But I was as sexually frustrated as Nat. Many of our friends were experiencing the same thing and breaking up. The idea that Nat was open to me sleeping with other people was fantastic. I like to experiment, but after we got married we were bound by monogamy and convention, even if we were both dying sexually inside.

NAT: Once the cards were on the table, I felt an incredible need to have sex and about a month after our discussion, I met Robert, a 51-year-old man I was fiercely attracted to. Danny was interested in doing a Tantric workshop in Bali, so I told him about Robert and said he could do the course with my blessing and if that meant sleeping with other women I wouldn’t mind. The thought of actually making love with someone else actually overrode any feelings of insecurity or jealousy about Danny making love to another woman.

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I slept with Robert before Danny went to Bali. It was mind blowing and I surrendered to the passion without the story attached. When I came home, Danny was hurt and it felt awkward. Then the guilt set in. I questioned myself about how it was going to affect the children; how it was going to affect us. But I never thought for a moment that I had done the wrong thing. I just felt so relaxed; like a coil that had been unsprung. When Danny went to Bali, I saw Robert a lot and I felt like I had come out of a dark sexual cave.

DANNY: When Nat told me she had met someone she wanted to have sex with, I felt OK. I wanted her to be happy and I could handle the idea of her being with other men, if we both knew our relationship and our family unit were secure. The really hard part was that we didn’t talk about how to deal with it. When Nat left, it felt really strange for both of us, and when she came home, she thought she was going to get into trouble. It was strained between us, but as we settled back into our domestic routine I saw how relaxed and happy she was and that night we had the most loving, intense sex. My honest rationale is that I’ve got a family and a life with Nat that we’re both 100 per cent committed to, so if some other guy can have a night with her for her pleasure, I’m OK with it. That said, I don’t want to know the details. I slept with a woman when I was in Bali. At first, it was different feeling the curves of another woman, but I was suddenly free to express myself sexually without the context of a relationship weighing me down.

NAT: My very close friends know about our open relationship, and the most common question is, “Are you worried about either of you falling in love?” My answer is, “I want to make love with other men, but I don’t want a relationship with them.” In the past year, we have worked through a lot of our issues and I know how hard it is to be in a relationship. I have no intention of going through the whole process with somebody else. The more open and honest Danny and I have been about our feelings, the deeper our connection has become. Now I’ve got a beautiful man, beautiful children and a beautiful home and we have a family that I have the most incredible respect for. Now, we are so real and honest with each other, I have complete respect for him as a human being who has his own individual experiences. The fact that we spend intimate time with other people just reiterates who we are as a couple and as individuals.

DANNY: I don’t get nervous about Nat falling in love with another man. We love each other and I trust her integrity, but it is always a possibility. But it’s also a possibility in a monogamous relationship. My own sexual experiences have been great; I’ve slept with a handful of women. Sometimes in life you meet a woman that you have a connection with, and now I’m able to follow it through to its natural conclusion. However, I’m very open with the women about my relationship status.

NAT: If you’re going to open up your relationship, you’re going to have to deal with your “stuff”. It has bought up my jealousy and my competition issues. Once we were at a party and Danny was having an amazing time with this beautiful woman. At first, I couldn’t watch, but then I made myself tune into the fun they were having and it made me think, who am I to stop another human being having pleasure because I’m dealing with some drama in my head? Admittedly, I still get twinges of jealousy and insecurity. Sometimes I’ll think, she’s hotter than me and I’ll feel competitive, but now I don’t buy into it or let that emotion rule me. I’ve had two wonderful lovers and I had a threesome that was one of the best sexual experiences I’ve had. If I were doing the married monogamy thing, I would have missed out on that experience.

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While neither of us is running around town looking for sex – I’m a busy, time-poor mum with little spare time – opening up our relationship means that sexually I’m at ease. I’m not relying on Danny to fulfil every part of my life. As a result, our sex life has changed dramatically. We’ve left whatever we had before in the past and it’s like new people coming together. Once I took all the drama and the frustration away, I could just focus on the act of making love with the man I love.

DANNY: We don’t publicise the fact we’re in an open relationship, but I also wouldn’t lie as I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of. And I won’t hide it from my children when they’re grown up enough to understand. I believe it has actually allowed us to remain together. I’m not hunting for sex, but if the opportunity presents itself, I’m free to take it up. This has taken so much pressure off. The brutal truth is [that] most married guys, if put in a position where they wouldn’t get caught, would cheat – but they risk everything. I no longer have that pressure. I can now see 20 years into the future because we allow each other to be individuals. It’s a much easier framework.

NAT: We prefer to call it an appropriate relationship rather than an open relationship because it’s appropriate for us. While it may not work for other couples, it has brought us so much closer and there’s a deep sense of honesty and trust that I never thought was possible.