I have always tried everything my husband wants in bed. His latest request makes me sick.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Do you have a question? Send it here to Jessica and Rich. It’s anonymous!

Dear How do you do that,

My husband of 20+ years and I have dabbled in BDSM/kink for most of our relationship. While he is more into certain things than I am, I have done my best to please him while maintaining certain boundaries. He recently gave me the shock of my life.

He told me he wanted a submissive who would do the things I don’t like. The last 6 years have been tough with multiple cancer treatments and surgeries. My body isn’t what it used to be and we don’t have as much sex or kink as we used to. But the thought of him being with someone else makes me sick. He pulled away once he realized how much it hurt me but I know he still wants to do this. I want to talk about my concerns and boundaries but he keeps telling me how badly he messed up and he doesn’t know how to fix it. If I don’t let him express his kinks and he does anyway it will lead to divorce. I have so many questions and don’t know how to ask him.

—Tied up and broken hearted

Jessica Stoya: I get the feeling that the letter writer is saying a resolute no to opening up marriage, but is afraid that his husband will step out of the marriage if they don’t open it up.

Rich Juzwiak: Yes.

Jessica: And it feels like the LW is pushing himself to compromise because if he forces the issue by walking out without an agreement, that would be a dealbreaker. So the LW is caught up in fear.

Rich: Yeah. There also seems to be a sort of ricocheting fear. They write that it made them feel sick. He was upset by that, and now they’re upset by his reaction to their reaction. It’s probably worth listening to your initial reaction. Unless you feel like you were hasty or dramatic and said, “That makes me feel sick,” that was a knee-jerk reaction that over time evolves into, “Well, okay, maybe that’s not so bad.” Right? I don’t really understand where the LW is emotionally. I don’t understand whether they’re acting out of fear, as it seems, or whether it’s settled in and now they’re thinking, “Actually, I could do this. I could figure out a way to do this.”

Jessica: Look, that appeals to me, because in business negotiations, 90 percent of the time, when someone presents me with an idea, I say, “No, no, that’s not possible. Wait a minute. Let’s consider this.”

Rich: Yes.

Jessica: “What if it was? What if it was if…” I’m 38 years old, I’ve been in business in one form or another for almost 20 years, and to this day, if someone gives me a perfectly good idea, my initial response will be, “Absolutely not. Wait, wait a minute, maybe…” So I’m not sure if it’s a character flaw I need to work on or a very understandable aspect of being human.

Rich: I think the latter.

Jessica: I feel like it’s both. I think it’s a very understandable part of being human that also needs to be worked on. So I can definitely see our LW saying, “No.” And then saying, “Well, actually, if it were done in certain ways, if my concerns were heard effectively, if the boundaries were clear and in a certain position…”

Rich: Within this dynamic that he proposed, there’s a lot. It can involve sex, or it can’t. I mean, sometimes sub stuff is unpaid labor, essentially. And if everyone is okay with that and this sub is doing things that our LW doesn’t want to do, as the husband suggested, you can just focus on the good in that. You don’t have to lift a finger.

But I know it’s more complicated than that. It seems like there’s a lot to talk about. It would be good to get back together and start with, “It’s okay, I’m open to figuring out how we can both be happy with this. Let’s talk about this. Let’s start this conversation. You don’t have to keep apologizing.”

Jessica: They might try, “I panicked and now that I’ve had time to process it, I want to discuss this proposal with you.”

Rich: Yes. And give him some time to process your processing. You’re at the end of the freakout cycle. He might still be in the middle. That’s why he keeps apologizing. So, it’s this ripple effect. Let the waters stand still first, and then move on and start talking about it. This is going to have to be a negotiation. It might not work out. It might still be too much. But if this is what he wanted, chances are he’s going to be okay with you coming back and having a conversation where he gets some of what he wants.

Jessica: As for the many questions our writer has, one thing she can do in her own time is write them all down. Mental health experts say that writing by hand is the best way. I usually type it up in a memo on my phone or a document on my computer. Even talking things through with a trusted friend can help. But just get it all out, sort it, and then write down those questions and prioritize them. Figure out what the most important questions are and start there. Because this big jumble with so much echo throughout the relationship is probably not a single point of discussion. It’s probably something you’re going to have to talk about in chunks over time.

Rich: Yeah. And if for some reason you can’t get that conversation going where you both reexamine this, then you can give him a letter. You can basically give him what you wrote to us in letter form. That might get things going, and then he can write you back. As long as you’re communicating, there’s really no problem. It feels like a slower pace would actually be helpful in this case because of the kind of knee-jerk reaction that happened. So, take a moment, take some time. It’s really okay to do That.

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