When I met my husband, Denys, 10 years ago, I knew I’d found someone special. From its early days, our relationship was fun, intimate and communicative.
But about a year into dating, Denys admitted that he’d noticed a pattern in his previous relationships: About two years into a new partnership, he’d feel desire for other people. That always ended badly. Sometimes he’d cheat; sometimes the relationship would wither as he grew restless. He told me he valued our relationship—he never wanted to violate the trust we had.
“Oh,” I said to Denys. “So you’re non-monogamous.”
The concept wasn’t new to me: As a sex and relationships therapist, I worked with couples opening up their relationships. I didn’t see anything wrong with non-monogamy, but I didn’t think it’d be right for me. Growing up in Kenya, my father was polygamous, and, though I know polyamory and polygamy are very different, I couldn’t help but draw parallels. I told Denys I wanted his stuff out of my house.
When I took a step back, I realized that I trusted Denys when he said he loved me and wanted our relationship to work. I also knew my fear of abandonment led me to try to control my relationships, and I wanted to work on that. So, cautiously, I told Denys I was open to talking. Over the next few months, I worked to figure out what I wanted. Denys and I drew up a set of rules surrounding safer sex and whether we wanted to explore things like sleepovers or falling in love with other people. He was patient and reassuring when I felt jealous or insecure.
I fell for someone first. I’d been friends with a man for awhile, and though we had crushes on each other, we never acted on them. Now my friend and I were free to explore a romantic relationship. We had a lot in common: He’s an African immigrant like me, and we bonded over our mutual love of African food, our shared cultural understanding and our familiarity with racism in Canada. Denys is white, so this was a connection I couldn’t have with him.
Through that secondary relationship, I learned that I could feel connected to someone else while maintaining my love for Denys. If I could do that, I felt confident he could, too.
That didn’t mean my insecurities disappeared. When Denys did meet someone, I still had to process a lot of jealousy. And as Denys’ connection to the woman deepened, I became insecure. Once, I even texted his date, telling her, “Get another boyfriend.”
I didn’t like that my jealousy made me feel out of control, so I went to therapy. Denys and I spent a lot of time negotiating a dynamic that worked for us. We’ve since had short- and long-term connections to other people.
At first I was afraid of judgment—from friends, co-workers and even my kids. But everyone has been supportive. The people in my life can see my relationships make me happy.
Denys and I have been non-monogamous for nine years now. We’ve stayed supportive of one another and deeply in love. While it was hard, opening up my relationship gave me a lot of freedom.
One unexpected outcome was that I was able to explore my sexuality. I’ve always been attracted to women but, because of my conservative upbringing, I’d never allowed myself to envision dating a woman. When I became non-monogamous, however, I started to explore that part of myself. Today I’m seeing a wonderful, supportive woman—she’s even friends with Denys.
Nowadays, when I feel jealous, I turn inward. I’ll realize that I’m tired, or I haven’t had time to connect with my partner, or I haven’t done my regular meditation and I feel ungrounded. I no longer look to my partners to ground me.
When Denys and I need to reconnect, we harness our love languages. Denys values physical touch, so he might ask me to hold him. I like quality time, so I make sure we set aside moments to be together. Being in an open relationship has improved our communication and our ability to set healthy boundaries.
I feel so lucky to have had healthy, beautiful relationships over the past decade. I’m thankful to all the partners who have come into my life and into Denys’s life, who have made us each happy. Every connection is a gift.