Q: I have had a loving, sometimes tumultuous, relationship with “Leslie.” We have had an unconventional relationship, I guess you’d say.
Leslie and I have an open relationship. We started out with a monogamous relationship, but a few years into our relationship, it changed. It all started when Leslie had a fling with another woman. I found out about it, but never confronted her. I was really hurt by it but afraid to say anything for fear she’d leave me. After about six months it was all over between the other woman and her.
Then I had a fling. I guess it was my way of getting back at Leslie. My affair went on for quite a while until Leslie found out about it. She wasn’t afraid to confront me, and did. I told her she had nothing to complain about because she had had an affair, too. It was a difficult time in our relationship, but we worked through it, and our relationship has not been the same since. That’s when we agreed that we would allow each other the freedom of other women on the side. Frankly, I wasn’t in love with this idea, but it was the only way I thought that Leslie would stay in the relationship. So, I went along with it, and I have to say, had a few more flings of my own.
We both have had lovers throughout our 16 years of being together. As it has worked out, our lovers have come and gone with no big problems. Though, for sure, there’s been some jealousy at times, resulting in instability in our relationship, it hasn’t been long lasting.
However, this last relationship of Leslie’s has gotten to me. She had been seeing “Ellen” for over a year, I’m guessing. (We don’t tend to announce, to each other, the beginnings of a new relationship.) The problem started about a month ago after Ellen committed suicide. I have no idea what happened, or why.
Anyway, the problem is that Leslie has become very depressed over Ellen’s death. She’s not eating or sleeping well, and is missing a lot of work. I understand that it is difficult to have someone close to you die, especially suicide. I’m not sure what happened to cause Ellen to commit suicide, or if Leslie feels guilty in any way about her suicide, but it has really put Leslie in a funk.
I have always felt it was my duty, as Leslie’s partner, to support her. She has supported me when I’ve need it. Neither of us has asked for, nor gotten, any support regarding issues with our lovers. But then, nothing this big has happened either.
So, my question to you is: Do you think I am obligated to support Leslie in her grief over the death of Ellen? If so, how?
A: I can understand how difficult it would be for you to support her in this circumstance. However, I think you could support her in some ways, and not in others. I don’t think you should play a big role in the emotional support area; given the circumstances, it probably wouldn’t work well. But you could help her find ome resources for emotional support, such as helping her to find a grief counselor and encourage her to go. Also, there are groups for people who have had to deal with suicide in their lives; you could help her find this kind of group.
At some point, you may want to revisit your relationship set-up. You said that you weren’t happy with this kind of open relationship, but entered into it because you didn’t want to lose Leslie. Ask yourself if this is still the case, and are you getting what you need with Leslie, and with an open relationship? If not, you might rethink what you would like to see happen, and discuss it with Leslie. I recommend it be done in a couple’s counseling session.
Whether you go into counseling together, I think you would benefit from counseling, at this time, to help you get through this period and provide you a time to evaluate your needs.
To learn more about open relationships, go to Dear Jody Valley on Facebook.