How to Do It

I Made a Sex Suggestion to My Wife. I’ve Made a Very Big Mistake.

A man biting his lip.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Deagreez/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Every week, the team answers an extra question in chat form.

Dear How to Do It,

I made a sex suggestion that didn’t go over well with my wife, and now I’m trying to figure out how walk it back. My wife and I have been married for 12 years. During the height of the pandemic, we were both working from home, teaching our kids “school” from home, and it felt like we never even breathed separate air. It was exhausting, and at the end of the day, the idea of sex with her seemed like just more of the same. I wanted privacy.

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We went through a dry spell where I masturbated a lot instead, using porn and fantasies to get off. During that time, I thought a lot about other women, mostly as novelty, although I never crossed any lines. As our jobs went back to normal, my wife confronted me about our dry spell, and I explained that we’d been cooped up together too much, and that I wanted to explore casually with other women, perhaps opening our marriage. She lost it, and jumped directly to “if you want to have sex with other women, we should get a divorce.” It’s been several weeks of icy behavior, and now I realize that I would rather have this marriage (with enough space to breathe, not like the pandemic) than more variety of sexual options, but I have no idea how to tell her this in a way that she’d believe.

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—Oops

Stoya: This is a case of very poor timing.

Rich: It’s hard enough to undo socialization that holds up monogamy as the ideal, so this case shows how important packaging can be.

Stoya: And I don’t know any person who would take having “We’ve hit a dry spell” met with “that’s because I want to have sex with other women” well.

Rich: Totally. This conversation is best introduced when things are good or at least consistent in that realm with one’s partner.

Stoya: 100 percent agreed. And when there’s time to speak privately and dig into complicated stuff where people might have strong reactions—when everyone is well rested, well fed and hydrated, and generally in balance, not after we’ve all lived through the stress of a pandemic and things have already become strained.

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Rich: I think something our writer failed to take into account his the wife’s own frustration with her own pandemic stress and lack of sex.  So our writer just kind of tried her at a really bad point.

Stoya: It’s possible that instead of, “We’d been cooped up together too much, and that I wanted to explore casually with other women,” she heard: “I’m tired of you and want other people.” And I don’t fault her for that.

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Rich: Conveying the concept of retaining love for a person while being open to sex with others is often tough when the feeling isn’t mutual. What do you think is the path forward for our writer?

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Stoya: I’m not super motivated to be gentle with oblivious men. Maybe it’s the clinical PMS, maybe my patience is wearing thin. My assessment is that if he has a chance of fixing this, he’s going to have to prove, over and over, that he values this marriage.

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To start, one thing he can do is craft and deliver an actual apology. Here’s a checklist: What you did, the harm it caused, concrete actions you will take to repair the situation and prevent reoccurrence.

Rich: I agree. I think this is a matter of showing and not telling. He can revisit their conversation by affirming his commitment, and that he doesn’t want to get a divorce, and then he’s going to have to prove it.

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Stoya: But not like, prove it for a week. Prove it over and over again. Opening up the relationship is a dream he’s going to have to let go of for a long time, likely measured in years.

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Rich: One thing harder than convincing someone that you love that sex with other people will not affect your relationship is rebuilding trust. He has a lot of work to do.

I think it’s also important to note that our writer wasn’t thinking about what was going on in his wife’s head at the time and her various pandemic-related issues, and that he is now considering her. That’s a start. Now he has to show his work.

More How to Do It

A couple years ago—about 10 years into our marriage and amid our trying to fix some desire discrepancy issues—my wife confessed that she cheated on me with a good friend of ours, someone who was in our wedding party and has since made moves on her. This took place about a year before we were engaged, so a long time ago. While we have come a long way, it’s taken me a long time to get over this because of certain details. The biggest of these details is that she told me he performed a particular act for her, one that she enjoyed—an act she would never let me perform on her.

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