How revenge can restore balance to your (open) relationship

March 2014

I’m sitting on the couch when I hear the key in the lock. Quickly I grab a magazine and pretend I’m reading in focus when my husband comes in. He’s been to his lover. Some times I can handle it better than others. This is one of those other times.

“And,” I’m supposed to be interested, “did you have a nice time?”

I can see from his face that it was good, he laughs and walks up to me to give me a kiss which I accept resignedly. “It was fine,” he says, but I’ve already returned to my magazine. Supposedly.

This is my subtle revenge. I’m not to blame, yet I made him feel bad in one minute. Vengeance!

Do you think this kind of revenge is only for partners with an open relationship? Then you’re wrong.

“Haven’t you had anything to eat all day?
” “No, I don’t feel well at all.” Those who say this in the right tone of voice explain much more in this sense than the words ever could. Between the lines, you make the accusation that the other person did not bother to bring a cup of tea and a biscuit while he/she knew you were ill in bed. Put a weak cough on top of it, say that you are cold despite the thick sweater and blankets and the guilt has been tapped in. Vengeance!

People with an open relationship find themselves at an awkward intersection of granting and withholding, trust and distrust, being loving or vengeful.

Revenge often manifests itself in subtle actions. Taking your partner out to dinner to the restaurant where you and your lover had such a good time. Revenge!

Arguing the day your partner goes to his or her lover. Vengeance!

Arguing the day your partner gets back from his or her lover. Vengeance!

Revenge is a taboo in our society. It’s morally unacceptable and you don’t come out openly easily. You can read about the excesses in the newspapers and films are made about the obsessive side. It’s a disgrace. We would never do anything like that.

Revenge isn’t very nice either. It is a deliberate attempt to harm or hurt others and make them less human in order to satisfy yourself. It poisons the soul. It is evil. But revenge has other forms than the extreme form that has made it such a taboo.

The desire for revenge is sometimes real. Experience shows that feelings of revenge come out sooner or later. However, the taboo on revenge can take on unhealthy forms.

In a more mundane application (not obsessive or excessive) revenge can even be a meaningful emotion. Look at it this way:

  • If revenge is a means of retaliation, it can restore the disturbed balance between ‘perpetrator’ and ‘victim’ (don’t get mad, get even).
  • Revenge holds you up and offers you, as a victim, self-esteem. You can prove yourself.
  • By taking revenge, you show that you’ve been wronged. That can encourage the other person to take his or her responsibility. These emotions are active, they keep the exchange open. The anger of the avenger can be softened by apologies and restitution. In this respect, revenge – and the anger that goes with it – has a moral significance: the claims must be recognized by the other person.

Revenge is also a form of communication

Although there are of course more positive ways to get in touch, revenge can also be an invitation to deeper contact.

Taking revenge is an alarm signal for the other person, who recognizes that something went wrong. A means of asking for essential contact and recognition. And this is something that you will certainly experience frequently in the beginning of an open relationship. The trick is to recognize the revenge (also in yourself!) and to use it as a nice starting point to start a conversation about what is going on.

If emotions have risen too high, a healthy conversation might be out of reach. Then there may have to be a quarrel first.

Arguing as an intermediate step

In the previous columns I have already written about patterns and vulnerability, with which it is possible to reverse the anger and indignation, so that the underlying feelings such as shame, jealousy, regret and sadness become visible. Emotions from which recognition and understanding can arise. In the positive spiral that arises from this, feelings of anger will also diminish. In this way quarrel becomes an intermediate step towards the ultimate goal: understanding and attention for each other.

Feelings of revenge are not nice and because of the taboo you might not dare to express them. Yet you do not have to be a saint in your relationship: be human and speak out! It is part of it.

Sometimes one just wants to ‘destroy’, as Dostoevsky wrote. But then the healing can begin. You can make up and forgive again. By both sides.

Are you monogamous and still think revenge is something that only happens in open relationships? Then pay attention to when you have (innocent) feelings of revenge and how you express them (often very subtly). If you learn to recognize revenge, you can do something positive and constructive with it.

7 years after this column

You might think we would have grown over it. But becoming a perfect poly person is definitely not in my genes. The slogan one guy had on a dating site was: “I drank with saints and I drank with sinners. The latter had better stories and told less lies.” Well, that’s me. I’m not perfect and I don’t pretend I am.

My hub just got back from his girlfriend. They are breaking up. But they are doing this for three months now. He sees her more, including fare-well trips, than i see my boyfriends. It puts me in an awkward situation, because they are breaking up, so my heart wants to take care of my hub, but they also see each other all the time, planning other trips etcetera. It’s confusing. And if I say something about it, we get an argument. So today I texted my neighbour abroad. A handsome guy. Just to ask how Covid is. Heard on the news it was increasing rapidly. He texted back: everybody was okay but it had been raining for two days so everything was flooded. I told my husband. “Look what is happening over there.” And my husband responded also very neutral. But I know we will have a talk now. And it feels good. Did I do something wrong? No ofcourse not. I just asked a question. Didn’t I? Is my husband doing something wrong? No, ofcourse not. He is having the most gentle and soft breakup ever. And that is the big issue. We don’t do something wrong and still it stings. Are we allowed to talk about ‘itches’ too? May we even be hurt by it? May we even start a fight about it? It’s so tiny, we can hardly grasp it. But what I have learned in our 10 years of non-monogamy, it’s the little stings that can infect the most. And that is the big advantage of not being perfect: you can just bring it up, or…create a situation where the other will bring it up.

Another thing that is new: is that I’m having quite some metamours now. 75% of all new relationships end a breakup within 3 years. So with my new boyfriends I take my time to get to know them. If they have steady partners who are a bit stressed about me, I’m gladly to meet them. But with new partners I usually wait till my new partner had passed the first 3 years with them too. This can lead to a situation where someone feels rejected and this can also lead to stings of revenge. Little stings. Hard to grasp. Here I find it harder to deal with. I do mention it to my new partner, but I notice they don’t know how to deal with this either. So I just leave it, till a better moment comes.

Have you ever taken revenge? Or has anyone ever taken revenge on you? How did it feel? Like settling the account, or just like breaking it?

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