Relationships: finding your voice in a relationship
Dear Dr. Rosenthal,
I have been living with this man for 18 months. Four months ago, I found a text on his phone asking for a sensual massage. I Googled the number and multiple ads popped up about guys asking for “happy ending” massages. When I confronted my partner, he admitted he likes getting a happy ending from other men every so often, but that he never touches them. But it turns out one of the men texted him confirming their reciprocal sexual experience. When confronted, my partner admitted that he is also sometimes sleeping with these men.
I don’t know what to think about all of this. I am trying to be accepting and accommodating, but it’s causing me to have mood swings. I really don’t want to leave, but I don’t know what to do. If I ask him to stop, I fear he would just do this behind my back. Can you advise?
— My bloke is having sex with other blokes
Dear My Bloke,
Your boyfriend has lied to you, he clearly does not believe in monogamy or fidelity and you don’t trust him. But the worst part of your email is that you appear to have no voice in this relationship, so you feel you simply cannot tell him to cease and desist, and you fear you cannot make an agreement with him and trust that he will keep that agreement.
You need a voice in this relationship, because your relationship is for you as well as for him. You are clearly not OK with what he is doing, so I would advise you start there. Tell him his behavior hurts, angers and threatens you, and that you want him to stop having any sexual or erotic contact with anyone else, regardless of their gender.
You could also ask him how satisfied he is with your relationship and with your sex life, and if there are any changes he would like to request (you get to answer the same questions also, by the way). You might ask him what is he getting outside the relationship that he is not getting at home.
If you’re OK with him having multiple sexual relationships with others, that is your call. But you don’t sound as if you’re okay with this at all. And yes, almost everyone would consider a man having sex (or receiving a “happy ending”) with another man to be actual sex. So it’s time for you to speak up and insist on a relationship you can be happy with, because if he is unwilling to honor your needs and requests, or if he isn’t truthful about what he is doing with others, you are unlikely to trust him and you will forever remain unhappy in this relationship.
What you need to do
Finding your voice in a relationship requires you to honestly and assertively speak up about what you feel and think, as well as what you need and desire from your partner. It also involves saying what is offensive or disagreeable to you, and what hurts, angers or annoys you. And it requires you standing your ground when you encounter an issue or a behavior that is unacceptable. It further requires that you insist on a boundary you can live with, such as this behavior being a deal breaker.
As for the possibility of him doing the same things behind your back, you are talking about the basic tenet of trust that is essential to every happy relationship. Insist on his passwords to all his accounts, and monitor them for a while. If you cannot trust him, you will cease to love and respect him, and then you will find it intolerable to remain with him. So find out now, before you invest any more of yourself into this relationship. Find your voice and speak up, and let him know what is and what is not acceptable to you. If you don’t do this, you will agree to live with a man you will cease to believe in.
— Dr. Rosenthal