Exploring Sexual Orientation in a Monogamous Relationship
Relationships are always full of obstacles and opportunities; some larger, some more beneficial than others. A question or crisis around sexual orientation can turn the partnership upside down, but you have ways to turn this turbulence into a stronger relationship and a more fully realized sense of self.
Individuals questioning their sexual orientation will face serious hurdles, from feelings of confusion to fear of judgment to uncertainty about a new community. Within an established monogamous relationship, however, lie specific challenges. Expanding one or both partners’ sexual horizons, particularly for long-term or married couples, can include some difficult paradigm shifts in communication or other behavior.
We explore three of the specific challenges below.
Monogamy as obstacle to exploration
Some people might view sexual exploration and romantic monogamy as mutually exclusive concepts. Exploration doesn’t implicitly indicate sexual activity outside the established coupling, however.
The fact is many people may end up in a long-term relationship without ever having explored their likes and limits in regard to sexual orientation. Others may have had only fleeting experiences with people outside their standard sexual forte before “settling down.” In any case, once that monogamous relationship is established, a person’s chance at sexual exploration is limited—but not gone forever.
People have many ways to explore their sexuality and romantic desire, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with swinging or polyamory. Even within the confines of monogamy, couples still have a lot of room for exploration.
Sexual & emotional insecurities
Many nuanced issues can arise when a partner in a long-term relationship begins to question their sexuality. Truthfully, they may feel any number of emotions—all of them for good reason—about broaching the subject, and the other partner might feel anything from fear to excitement and beyond.
The Western expression of monogamy often comes with borderline territorial and/or possessive implications. These aspects of monogamy can provide comfort and confidence to the people involved in the relationship, but when questions about sexual orientation get asked, those pillars of proprietary affection can suffer from serious structural disintegration.
To avoid this, try being open about your feelings and receptive to your partner’s, which may not align with yours. You probably don’t want to hurt, scare or worry your partner in any way that would undermine the love and trust you’ve established. So it’s important to remember that secrets and surprises carry much more unpredictable consequences than being honest and direct. Rather than hide your emotions and thoughts until you think you have them “figured out,” be upfront and let your partner feel included in your experiences. Doing so should help keep you close, rather than drive you apart.
Thoughtful conversation can carry a lot of weight. By communicating early and often, individuals and couples can examine and explore orientation together and in support of each other. This way, if the idea to have sex with partners outside the relationship arises, both partners feel more equipped to evaluate that decision. Monogamy is an establishment of trust between two people, so only those two people can dictate where boundaries will form and when they will be pushed.
Societal stigma & inherited bias
Even if you resolve turbulent emotions within your relationship, there are bound to be certain biases and beliefs from the world at large that might influence a person who is exploring sexual orientation. These can be familial or cultural. If a partner in a heterosexual relationship wants to explore same-sex partners, bigotry toward non-straight individuals might create a painful and frustrating dichotomy within the person or the relationship. These attitudes don’t have to come from within the relationship; family, workplace, media influences and more can create pressure on the person.
Contrarily, a gay person might want to experiment with heterosexuality for a time. This might mean any number of outcomes in terms of presentation, communication or behavior, but in any regard, such an individual might be prone to disagreement or even hostility from members of their own community.
This is where the established monogamous relationship can be either a pitfall or a platform.
Honoring the ongoing and multifaceted commitment of monogamy means being open to observing and acknowledging potential shifts within the character of your partner. You don’t always need to be happy with how your partner changes, but your own well-being requires an ability to articulate, explore and enforce boundaries as they become clear to you. These personal boundaries are the only guidelines that dictate what your relationship is or isn’t. Family, friends and peers do not decide that, even if you or your partner are exploring your sexuality.
All of the challenges discussed here should be viewed as walls to scale in order for couples to grow and develop, both personally and together.
The ideal outcome of your or your partner’s exploration can be up to the two of you. Maybe you’d like to explore new sexual avenues together or separately. Perhaps these discussions will fuel and inform your own monogamous exploits together. You might even stumble upon areas of emotional strength and healing in your vulnerability with each other.
The larger point is our preconceived notions of what a relationship should be do not need to limit the reality of what a relationship can be.