Dave, based on things you’ve said in the past I am under the impression that your marriage is monogamous, and that your wife does most or all of the cooking. There are no doubt things that you do most or all of too. How did that come about? Did you ever have a conversation about whether or not you were going to be monogamous or did you just fall into that because in our culture, that’s what marriage means? It doesn’t mean that in all cultures and it doesn’t mean that in all marriages in this culture. If you’ve never talked about that, you are just falling into a pattern that was designed by others.

Did she become the cook because she loves to do that or because that’s the expected role for women? It might be a bit of both, but if you’ve never asked yourselves that, you haven’t created your relationship. You are just living in one that was created by norms and expectations, some of which are thousands of years old. Even if you want all of those same things in your relationship, if you didn’t opt for that out of conscious choice, you are living out someone else’s relationship parameters.

Here’s the gist of what we said in our original vows:

Officiant: “Will you have this (woman/man) to be your (wife/husband), to live together in holy marriage? Will you love (her/him), comfort (her/him), honor, and keep (her/him) in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to (her/him) as long as you both shall live?”

Here’s what my vows might look like if I wrote them today:

I, Elle, take you, James, to be my lawfully wedded husband, to live together in love and commitment. I promise to love you always, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, even when we are parted by death. I promise to grow along beside you as you grow and to go together with you on this journey called life.

One of the things I mentioned in that story is that I did not promise to obey him, something that is a part of many marriage vows. But that was the only modification I made because I didn’t understand that I had any other options. Marriage is just marriage. It all looks the same. But 20 years later I’ve co-created a marriage with James that looks very, very different than the traditional version. And we did it by talking about things. We see other people, but only together with no separate dates. That’s different than a lot of other people’s polyamorous lives, but because there are no inherent rules, as there are with traditional marriage, we get to make our own.

What we realized as we began to do this is that we’d fallen into a lot of roles and rules about what it means to be husband and wife in an unconscious way. Even though we had a good and fairly egalitarian relationship, there were still dynamics and aspects in play that only became conscious as we dismantled them. One of the most glaring of these was the idea of some kind of ownership. You are MY wife, with all the benefits and restrictions that entails. Now we operate a lot more as individuals and as partners who talk about what we want and need, both as relates to our household and our romantic lives.

Once we started talking about opening up, we started telling each other a bunch of things that we would have never spoken before. For example, I told him about his friend that I was very attracted to and that it was reciprocated. He and I never did anything about it, but there was just this heat between us. I wouldn’t have told James that the year before because the unspoken rule is that this is not acceptable, and so you don’t bring it up. Now that’s no problem and we’ve actually had a discussion about how that is no problem. It’s not just because it’s the unspoken rule of poly.

Just so you know, this is probably going to become a Dear Elle column since I’ve written so much and there’s more I could probably say. Let me know if you’d rather I didn’t quote you for that. Of course, names are never used.

Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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