TN: Why did you choose to write a book about your personal experiences with opening your marriage?
GX: As a society, we need more conversation about sex and relationships. My book is an intimate, funny ride about making choices outside of the acceptable “marriage box.” I think many of us don’t fit perfectly in the “box,” and we need more possibility and flexibility in our marriages.
TN: In my practice, I’ve worked with many couples who’ve come back from infidelity and redefined their marriages. Did you write your book as a result of an affair, or did you come up with the idea of opening your marriage as a result of your own personal values about monogamy or flexible monogamy?
GX: I was in a place of contemplating an affair, but feeling very conflicted about lying to the person I love most. When I did talk to my husband (which was an amazingly elusive decision—what role models do we have around asking your spouse directly if you can have sex outside of the marriage?!) the conversation—surprisingly—brought us so much closer. Making new “rules” and having more choices in our marriage was an exercise in honesty. We were kind when we spoke our “truths,” and this improved our bond.
TN: When you and Hank decided to open your relationship, were you working with a marriage counselor? Were there any relationship challenges that led to the decision?
GX: We had worked with a marriage counselor in the past. I think so much of our energy was going into the practical aspects of life: money challenges, raising kids, and losing the erotic aspects of our marriage. Opening things up was a way to bring back the erotic charge into our lives.
TN: How has living a life of flexible monogamy or non-monogamy affected your well-being? And, the well-being of your family?
GX: Being able to feel and be whole—not stuff parts of my sexuality or spirit—is an expansive way to live. That is not to say that my husband and I “do” everything that we may fantasize about. But living in a sex-positive relationship where there is no shaming is a huge life changer.
TN: How have you and your partner(s) learned to keep difficult emotions like jealousy in check?
GX: The opposite is true. I want it all. I like it all. Jealousy is an umbrella emotion encompassing about seven different feelings. Jealousy can mean investment in the marriage, a fear of losing me, a longing for me—that’s all good news! I do not ascribe to any doctrine that asks me or my lover not to express their authentic feelings. We work with whatever comes up. I write about this in my book—the biggest mistake people make is to stuff how they feel. Instead, let what you feel, need, and think evolve your relationship and the agreements you make together.
TN: What are some misconceptions you think readers might have about the poly lifestyle prior to reading your book?
GX: People tend to think that it’s a “free for all,” but opening things up does not mean chaos. My relationship is sometimes open and sometimes closed. We focus a lot on our connection. Are we in a good place? If we are, there is sometimes room for others. But the biggest thing for me is that the idea of openness keeps a freshness in our connection.
TN: Would you characterize poly as an out-of-the-ordinary experience that happened to work for you, or as a solution to marital difficulties and monogamy issues that should to be more easily accessible to more couples?
GX: It can be all of the above. I think there is a spectrum of experiences—which are all valid. Some people are truly polyamorous. They feel more comfortable being multi-partnered—it is their biology, like being gay. For others, poly is a transitory experience or a way to improve a sexless marriage. What I'm interested in is a dialogue in which people get to be their authentic selves in relationship—a non-shaming, sex-positive, ever-evolving conversation.
TN: What advice would you give other couples interested in exploring the monogamy boundaries of their relationship?
GX: Go slowly, find a support witness, and take baby steps with their assistance. Create agreements that work uniquely for you—even if you don’t see others making quite the same arrangement. That’s really what it’s about—doing it in a way that works for you.
Tammy Nelson, PhD, is a world-renowned expert in relationships, a psychotherapist in private practice, and the author of The New Monogamy. In addition, Nelson is a popular lecturer around the world on sexuality and human relationships and global relational change. She is a board-certified sexologist, an AASECT-certified sex therapist, a licensed professional counselor, and a certified Imago relationship therapist. She resides in the New York City area, where she works in her private practice treating couples who are looking to restore passion to their relationships, recover from infidelity, and create their new monogamy, one agreement at a time.