I couldn’t figure out how to respond to your answer, so another entry here. I asked for clarification. He’s not romantically in love with me, but loves me as the mother of our children and someone who’s had his back for 20 years. He’s not at all sexually attracted to me, but won’t cut me off knowing I won’t seek sex outside the marriage. The thought of him touching me after having sex with other woman feels like taking crumbs from their table, an obligation not a joy. I’m too old to start over.
(This is a follow up to the previous post.)
It is unfortunate that your husband jumped to a self-identification of polyamory rather than being more straightforward about this. Sadly, it is not unheard of for someone to lose sexual or romantic feelings for a partner, even after such a long relationship. But I think polyamorous language and ideas might have given him a way to understand and articulate his changing feelings. Let me try and explain things from a poly perspective, if you’ll permit.
It sounds like he doesn’t want out of this relationship, he just has a few sexual needs it isn’t fulfilling. The monogamous worldview sees this as impossible or somehow warped: it believes that “wanting to raise kids with” and “wanting to share life with” and “wanting to have sex with” are all offshoots of the same fundamental desire or partnership. If one goes, the whole structure collapses. This is what you’re experiencing - your husband wants to have other sexual partners, which makes you feel like you two cannot continue being partners in any other way.
But polyamorous models of relationships are a bit different. They say that relationships are internally self-defined, meeting certain needs and perhaps leaving others to be fulfilled elsewhere. There are people who I plan to share my life with, and hope to someday live and raise children with. We make wonderful partners, and they fulfill me on a deep level. But I don’t have sex with them - that’s just not part of our relationship. There are other people I really enjoy having sex with, but I would never want to raise children or embark on any other major cooperative partnership with them. And then there are plenty of people somewhere in the middle of those two extremes.
Both models work, for some people. You are operating on the monogamous model. Your husband has apparently discovered that he wants to try to polyamorous model. This may be irreconcilable, and is undoubtedly hurtful for you to hear, but it may help you better understand his position. Everything he always loved about you is still there - your sense of humor, your partnership, your conversations, your companionship - minus one very specific component. He is saying that sex is no longer central to his feelings for you, but those feelings still exist.
Because I am poly, I am inclined to trust in the polyamorous model. Some people in your position find that their partner just had an itch they needed scratched, so to speak, and that after short bout of permitted promiscuity things go back to normal. (The beauty of polyamory is that you don’t need to throw an entire relationship away to satisfy a craving or curiosity.) Some find that they mind less than they thought they would after seeing with their own eyes that even after spending time with other people, their partners returned to them with the same affection and partnership they always had.
I personally feel that sexual attraction has little to do with the way I define my relationships and what people I end up bringing into my heart and life. I would rather raise children with someone I loved deeply and worked well with but who slept with other people, than with someone with whom I had a great sex life but we problems co-parenting. (Full disclosure, I’m not a parent - this goes for living together, partnering on any major endeavor, etc.) And I generally believe that re-imaging relationships to allow for more freedom results in less pain in the end.
But you are not me, and you don’t identify poly. And you don’t sound interested in trying out a new model or perspective. That’s completely okay. Now you know that you and your husband are operating with different relationship models. What you do with that information is up to you.
P.S. While I rarely advocate hard-lined rules and ultimatums for people beginning polyamory, I do think you would be well within your rights after 20 years of marriage to lay down some hard ground rules if you decided to try out this arrangement. For example: try it for 6 months and then re-visit the issue completely; you are in total control of your sex life for that period (you decide whether and when you want him to touch you); you are entitled to as much information/discretion on his part as you want; etc.