Open relationships, like any relationship model, require a lot of communication and mutual understanding in order to thrive. When you add the potential for more partners, combined with less time for date night, it can quickly create tension and trigger jealousy if both partners aren't truly on board.
And because mainstream culture is still geared towards monogamy, there aren't as many examples of what it looks like to have a healthy open relationship.
In these cases, it's often made evident that the person suggesting an open relationship only wanted that freedom for themselves, and don't have the amount of trust or self-confidence necessary to handle their partner stepping out.
AITA for telling my friend she is reaping what she sowed?
Mike was reticent, but ultimately agreed because he wanted to save the relationship.
At the beginning of quarantine, my friend Bella (f/30) proposed open marriage to her husband Mike (m/28). The timing was off, obviously, but she had thought about it a lot and she said it was the only way for her relationship with Mike to survive because she loved him dearly but felt unfulfilled.
Mike hesitantly agreed because he didn't want to lose her. When I asked him about it, he seemed very much not thrilled about the whole thing.
Backstory here is that Bella and Mike have known each other since middle school but only started dating in college at which point Bella had a lot more experience in relationships. Mike has told me he's always felt like he was one step behind her in most things but that their marriage really worked and he was very happy with her.
During quarantine, Bella and Mike became even closer, and Mike didn't expect they'd truly go through with the open relationship concept once lockdown ended.
However, a few months back, Bella brought it back up and the two of them set ground rules.
Well during quarantine, the two of them became even close than they had ever been before and I think Mike didn't expect Bella to actually go through with the open relationship idea she had proposed. But around three months ago, she brought it back up and then settled on some rules together.
So, when OP received a phone call from Bella crying because Mike went on a date, OP wasn't sure how to respond.
Cut forward to an hour ago (it's way past midnight here) when Bella calls me crying saying Mike cheated on her. I'm all question marks at that point because Mike would never. She tells me she tried calling Mike all day but he said he had a 'date' and hasn't come home yet. I asked her 'but wasn't that sort of okay between you two?'.
She sobbingly tells me that yes, that was sort of the deal but that she hadn't been able to go on a single date with a guy yet because she was so busy with work being back on now and that Mike just went ahead with his date as if she meant nothing, that he hadn't disclosed any details to her (which as far as I know was part of their deal, that they didn't want to know any details) and that she felt like he was ridiculing her.
I didn't really know what to say and just told her 'well, honey, I think you just reaped what you sowed, honestly.'
When OP told Bella she 'reaped what she sowed,' Bella quickly accused them of being a bad friend. Now, OP is unsure if their response was too harsh.
She's furious with me and screamed at me for being an awful friend to her, that I should understand how she feels. I kept quiet but honestly, I think she's just upset that her husband is doing what she proposed in the first place? I haven't talked to Mike yet but ??? AITA?
EDIT: Spoke with Mike just now. He said he had an awesome night but came home to Bella screaming at him and is feeling incredibly guilty and confused now (understandably). He'll come by afterward to talk.
NTA. people always seem to be down for open relationships until they remember their partner can have an open relationship too.
She didn’t expect him to actually sleep with other people. She just wanted to sleep with others without it being considered cheating. She’s really ridiculous and I’m on Mike’s side for this one. She wanted an open relationship, so that’s what she got lol.
Be careful what you ask for. You might well get it. Your friend felt unfulfilled and wanted someone to meet her needs. She never considered that in an open marriage, both spouses are free to go elsewhere.
She said “he cheated” but he did no such thing. It isn’t cheating in an open marriage. Your friend’s reality check just bounced. NTA.
I tried, I REALLY tried to find a way to say you were an AH for being insensitive in her time of need, but I can't. NTA because jeez, she's not just reaping what she sowed, she wants to have her cake, eat it, and then get another cake.
I hear way too many stories about men who agreed to an open marriage for the sake of their partner, then got yelled at for...being in an open relationship. Wild stuff.
This is going against the grain but hear me out:
Full disclosure: I’m a practicing polyamorist for over a decade. I’ve seen it all.\
What she’s going through is a very common pitfall in the beginning of open relationships. She f*cked up. There are a billion land mines when you open up a relationship and unless you do a serious metric ton of research prior to trying it (and even then) you’re going to f*ck something up. That’s actually normal.
I can’t know her side of the story, but based on what you’re describing on your phone call, she maybe never did the research on why “don’t ask don’t tell” is a BAD idea most the time, nor did she do the emotional labor of figuring out what her insecurities were in regards to him dating someone new prior to it happening, and now that it’s happening all of those insecurities are crashing down on her all at once.
She’s not thinking straight, she can’t see reason, she’s just looking desperately for a way to justify her fears and she’s looking to blame him for doing what they agreed to do. Which is completely unreasonable, but beside the point.
Her response in that moment is not rational, but physiological fight/flight, survival mode to someone threatening her relationship with a life partner and grappling with that is a huge undertaking for some people who grew up with only monogamy as a model for relationships.
And there is no way for you to have known any of this. Which is why I’m ruling that you are not an ahole. There’s a ton of non-monogamy nuance under the surface here that’s probably in need of some professional therapist levels of feedback and you just are not equipped to do that.
Of course from your perspective (and just about everyone else’s commenting here so far) the answer is obviously “duh, you asked for it!”.
But if you want to genuinely help your friend, consider coming from it with some extra compassion. She didn’t know the depth of what she was getting into and shit got real, real fast. She f**ked up, but the midst of her panic attack is not the right time for tough love.
She was in pain, and telling her that she brought it on herself likely sounded to her like “you deserve to suffer”. And so her being angry at you for saying that is honestly a predictable response to someone who isn’t having their pain validated. So, she’s not an ahole either.
Tell your friend to reach out to the non-monogamy community for help. Tell her to find a discord or a forum or a subreddit and describe her pain to people who’ve been there/done that and ask for advice. And in the meantime, just tell her that what she’s trying to do is new and scary and when this initial panic and pain pass she and her partner can work on getting past it. It will be ok.
What do you think? Should OP have had more compassion during Bella's moment of need, or was the tough love merited?