I feel like I’m wired to be unfaithful, but I still agreed to get married. Am I doomed to ruin it?

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  • It's understandable that society's narrow idea of relationships has left you feeling trapped and confused.
  • At the same time, suggesting an open relationship to fix cheating isn't the best idea because it won't get to the root of your marriage problems.
  • Instead, seek professional help and educate yourself on healthy non-monogamous relationship dynamics. Then, you can have a more productive conversation with your husband about next steps.
  • Have a question for Julia? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously. You can read more Doing It Right here. 
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My husband and I have been together for eight years and married for two. I have been unfaithful every few years, as I have throughout all of my relationships, even in grade school.

I've told my husband about each time I've been unfaithful, except for the most recent time, as this was the first time we were married when it happened. I'm terrified it will ruin our marriage. I have extreme guilt and shame because of this, but I also can't help but feel like I am a very loving person who is just misunderstood by relationship norms.

I love connecting with people and getting attention, and I'm a very sexual person. I feel like I have to rewire who I am to be in a successful marriage, something that terrifies me now that I am actually married.

I love my husband more than anything, and I feel so selfish for wanting anything else, but I also can't change how I feel.

I have brought up the topic of an open marriage with my husband recently, but he is very against it since I have cheated in the past.

I can't change my past, but I also want to be happy and able to be truly myself in the future. Is this possible? Or will I be forced to be cautious and on edge forever, scared I'll cheat and ruin our marriage?

– Vermont

Dear Vermont,

From a young age, most of us are taught that a marriage — forever, to one person — is the best and only option, so it makes sense that you've felt in such a bind for all of these years.

"Our society leans towards compulsory monogamy," New York City-based therapist Rachel Wright, who identifies as queer and polyamorous, told me. "Often, it doesn't seem like there's a decision to make because we're not frankly granted other options, so we take that as, 'Well, it's monogamy or no relationship.'"

Though being unfaithful isn't the right approach to navigating your needs while in a marriage, I understand where you're coming from, and how misunderstood you feel in your current arrangement.

Unfortunately, suggesting an open relationship to your husband after you cheated wasn't the best way to navigate the situation, since polyamory isn't a fix for cheating. It's fair that your husband feels hesitant to open your relationship, since you've broken the trust between you.

Usually, people who use open relationships as Band-Aids for their monogamy-related issues will fail at the new arrangement.

That's because open relationships and polyamory require even more communication than monogamous relationships to stay healthy. Wright said that she and her husband were already great communicators, but that their skills "increased five times" when they decided to date other people and move from a monogamous to a polyamorous dynamic.

There's a chance you can still get through to your husband, but first you should do some inner work.

Wright suggested seeking out a therapist who is knowledgeable about polyamorous relationships, and using those sessions to better understand what you want out of life.

You cited your love of attention and high sex-drive as reasons for wanting a different marriage dynamic, but perhaps you don't need to cheat or start an open relationship to get those things. On the other hand, it's possible you felt pressured into marriage and never wanted it to begin with.

I can't answer these all-consuming questions for you, but therapy will help you get there so you won't be in a constant limbo between societal expectations and what's best for you.

Wright also suggested you read the book "The Ethical Slut" by Janet W. Hardy to better educate yourself about non-monogamy and how to rehash the subject with your husband.

There's a possibility he'll still be against the idea, but going into the conversation with a better understanding of why you want it and how it could work will foster understanding between the two of you.

I hope getting introspective about your desires helps you feel less trapped in your marriage and find the happiness you seek.

As Insider's resident sex and relationships reporter, Julia Naftulin is here to answer all of your questions about dating, love, and doing it — no question is too weird or taboo. Julia regularly consults a panel of health experts including relationship therapists, gynecologists, and urologists to get science-backed answers to your burning questions, with a personal twist.

Have a question? Fill out this anonymous form. All questions will be published anonymously.

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