I’m very much mono, my husband of 20+ years just dropped the polybomb, telling me he still “loves me but hasn’t been in love with me for years and feels there’s so much missing in his life.” I’m completely destroyed. I don’t know where to go with this, we have two special needs kids and part of me says stay and accept my love life is over, and part of me is mad as hell and says leave and try to find someone who’ll love me. I’m beyond lost in this.

This is perhaps the heaviest ask I’ve gotten so far, and to do it justice, my answer ran long - so it’s under a cut. It’s also a little bit out of my depth, so if anyone with more experience in situations like this has anything to add, please message me.

First off, this is a heartrending situation, and I am terribly sorry for your anguish. I am not sure where your husband got his definition of polyamory, because what he said to you doesn’t indicate polyamorous tendencies. A lot of people stumble across the “poly” label and think that having a fancy word gives them permission to engage in destructive, cruel, or dishonest behavior. But it doesn’t.

The apparent semantic difference between “love” and “in love” has always baffled me. It is completely heartbreaking to hear “I’m not in love with you” from someone you’ve given so much of your life to, but if you can, my advice would be to try and figure out what he really means by that. Maybe it’s entirely sexual - maybe he still feels all the affection and companionship for you that he always has, but finds himself sexually interested in other people after 20+ years. While this is hurtful and painful to work through, it’s very different from a situation where his deeper feelings have truly changed and he wants to fundamentally alter the terms of your relationship.

I think what he was trying to say to you, in admittedly the clumsiest and most hurtful way possible, was that he has needs that aren’t being met. He doesn’t seem too clear on what those needs are, though, and seems to think that being poly is both the source of those needs and their solution. But after 20+ years of marriage and two children, there has to be more to the story, and on some level he has to know that. You’re entitled to ask for more communication from him. Specifically, what does he really want? To continue the marriage while being free to sleep with others? To open the relationship to other emotionally bonded partners? A separation? You may not like his answer, and you’re not obligated to give him what he wants, but I think it would help both of you if he actually articulated it.

Once you know exactly what he’s asking for, it’s your turn. You need to figure out exactly what you want and what your needs are. Then, you make sure those needs get met. It may not be that “your love life is over” if you choose to stay with him - you may find that him taking other partners improves your relationship. Or, things may go the route of companionate marriage, where you two remain close parenting partners with a relationship built on everything that made you fall in love in the first place, though certain aspects have changed. Polyamory provides a more open space for relationship models like this: two people as parenting partners without being sexual partners; two people as sexual partners without being exclusive; etc. There is plenty of polyamorous theory that seeks to re-imagine relationships, partnerships, sexuality, and other concepts to allow for different arrangements that are all healthy and productive. (And if you’re interested in that, please contact me again!) But you are under no obligation to make this cognitive shift if you aren’t interested. You may decide that none of this is what you want, and you want to make monogamy a condition for continuing the relationship. It’s all completely up to you. Do not resign yourself to something that’s not healthy or fulfilling to you: you deserve to have your needs met just as much as anyone else.