Cheating on my pregnant wife saved our marriage
MICHAEL and Renee had been together for 20 years before making the joint decision to go from monogamy to a polyamorous lifestyle, and now they say they were born to live in an open relationship.
Meeting at a young age and with three children in tow, Michael said the pair "fell in love at first sight" and it wasn't until recently they felt the need to change up their relationship.
"I went on a footy trip away with my mates," Michael explained on Insight, which will air on SBS on Tuesday and focus on open relationships.
"[Renee] was pregnant with our third. [During the trip] all my mates were sitting around saying look at all the girls on the dancefloor.
"So I went and danced with them ... and I took a girl down to the beach ... I struggled. I went back to footy training the next morning with my head full of sand. All my mates are cheering me on ... I'm a hero ... then I went home that night and Renee said: 'Did you have a good time?' and I said: 'Yeah, it was good.'
"And she said: 'My netball friends were down there' ... and it all just came out."
Following Michael's revelation, the pair reached a period in their marriage where they were falling apart as a unit.
Michael said it was when he saw his wife in the arms of a mutual friend kissing that they had to make a decision - either let their marriage break down, or open it up to other people.
"It shocked me, they said they had fallen in love and basically wanted to run away together," Michael explained of the affair he'd witnessed.
"Long story short she came back after that night and I said let's give it one year. One year and if after one year we are not happy, then you are welcome to go back to him.
"All our mates were getting divorces, and I must admit it was hard to refrain. I always told her I look at other women. I can't help it. I asked her does she look at other men, I know she does, so we put it on the table how do we fix this."
Renee said that at first, she thought the move to change their relationship was coming from Michael, but that soon changed when she was honest with herself about her feelings towards other men.
"At the start I thought it was all him ... it's just Michael that wants to do this," she explained. "You start questioning yourself and it brought up a lot of things for me ... yes, I do look at other men but I'd never let Michael know that."
Michael said that in the initial stages they decided to look at swingers relationships rather than opening themselves up altogether.
"Renee went away and did a lot of research," he explained. "She finally came back after a week and said all right we will do that ... but no boundaries, and I want an open relationship."
Polyamory is defined as a non-monogamous relationship with the knowledge and consent of all partners involved.
While there isn't a lot of statistics available for polyamory in Australia, 2014 research appearing in CSIRO Publishing found 1 per cent of 5323 respondents were in an "open relationship".
But according to the ABC, counselling psychotherapist Karen Philip says she often sees couples dealing with the fallout of such an arrangement, usually entered into after experiencing dissatisfaction in the partnership.
"They believe entering the open relationship world may assist to rectify the issue, or others may have one or both partners desiring to fulfil a fantasy," Dr Philip said.
She says it is rare a couple can benefit from an open relationship long-term.
"We are designed to have a partner as someone to share our life with, confide in, know better than anyone else, to know us and what we want and need, be there with all ups and downs, fears and excitement, good times and bad.
"When we are asked to share this, the consequence is often disappointing."
Both Michael and Renee said their relationship is now "amazing", despite only having it "open" for three years.
"We are very specific with what we want," Renee explained.
"We actually haven't found those people that we want ongoing relationships with. We tried [casual relationships] and we both would come back and talk about how we were both feeling empty after these experiences. We just felt that it wasn't right."
Renee said they were looking for a more full-time relationship, but that being open had meant that boundaries with other partners needed to be put into place, especially when feelings started to develop from an outside party.
"This amazing man has given me my total freedom," she said of Michael.
"We explain ourselves very clearly to people that we see before we get involved. We are very clear on what we have together and our relationship, and that what we are offering them is an extension of who we are and that they are invited into us but if they are not willing to be a part of us then it just won't work."
Speaking to host Jenny Brockie, Michael and Renee's eldest daughter Valerie said she was very aware of her parents open relationship from the early stages.
"I've always had this intuition and I've always been close to my parents," she explained.
"I was about 16 ... and I didn't understand it. I was a young teenager and from the get go you're told, 'No, you get a boyfriend or you have one partner and you love and devote yourself to that partner ... and you have this right to be jealous if they look at another woman'.
"I thought that they were cheating to begin with because I was seeing little hints, like mum was getting texts on her phone and dad was getting texts from his phone. I put two and two together and it came up in conversation. I started to understand and I accepted it. I have no problem with it.
"They are happier than they were when they were in this cage where they were expected to be a normal couple to be monogamous and they were unhappy."
Valerie said the idea now appeals to her, and that she sees no problem with open relationships, as long as no one gets hurt.
This week Insight looks at open relationships and finds out how they work and if they can last. Open Relationships, Tuesday, 8.30pm, SBS.