To Fix a Broken Marriage, An Experiment With Polyamory

In Unhitched, couples tell the stories of their relationships, from romance to vows to divorce to life afterward.

Briana Hernandez and Mars Sherman, who live in the East Bay region of San Francisco, separated in 2020 after 10 years of marriage and finalized their divorce two years later. Ms. Hernandez was unhappy with their sex life, and Mx. Sherman, who uses they/them pronouns, began to question their gender expression.

The couple tried polyamory, which rekindled their passion, but it did not address their other issues. Both agree that the pandemic, which caused them to spend more time together at home, led to more arguments and strained their relationship.

Dates of marriage Sept. 24, 2010 to July 25, 2022

Age when married Ms. Hernandez, 25; Mx. Sherman, 26

Age now Both 38

Occupations Ms. Hernandez is a copywriter. Mx. Sherman is a software engineer.

Children Two; a 20 year old and a 10 year old.

Where did they grow up?

Ms. Hernandez was born in Sunnyvale, Calif. Her parents divorced when she was 3, and she split time between her mother, who worked as a field supervisor for AT&T, and her father, a fraud investigator for the state. She spent most of her time with her mother and sister in Sunnyvale; her father, living in Santa Clara, soon remarried and had another child. She describes her adolescence as “wild.” Although she was a good student, she got into some harmful activities, which included drugs and alcohol.

Mx. Sherman grew up in Hayward, Calif., in the East Bay. Their mother, a schoolteacher, and father, an electronics engineer, and younger sister were practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses. “My childhood was more sheltered than average,” Mx. Sherman said. Eventually their parents, who are still together, left the religion.

How did they meet?

The two connected on the dating site OkCupid in 2007. Ms. Hernandez was at San Jose State University majoring in journalism. Mx. Sherman, who studied computer science, had graduated from the University of California, Berkeley the year before. Both recall an immediate mutual attraction. Ms. Hernandez described Mx. Sherman as “genuine, warm, forthcoming and never cagey — very different from who I usually dated.”

“We are both funny outliers: She is loud and outspoken and I’m quiet and reserved,” Mx. Sherman said. Both were eager to give something new a try.

How were the early times of the marriage?

Both say the beginning of the relationship was fun, even “magical.” They lived together in an apartment in Sunnyvale. “She broke me out of my shell and expanded my world,” Mx. Sherman said.

Ms. Hernandez enjoyed the stability of a committed relationship. “I had friends with benefits or sexual partners but never a real relationship,” she said.

First signs of trouble?

A few years in, Ms. Hernandez began to find their sexual connection lacking. For Mx. Sherman, this was expected in a long-term relationship. Ms. Hernandez began attending a 12-step program for an eating disorder and admits that in the beginning the intimacy problems were mainly hers.

Did they try to work on things?

In 2011, after attending marriage counseling together, the relationship improved. “Therapy was very helpful,” Mx. Sherman said. Then, in 2013, after their first child was born, their love for each other was rekindled. “Mars was a wonderful dad, I fell in love again when I saw them parent,” Ms. Hernandez said.

“We had a full-on family life that I loved,” Mx. Sherman said.

In 2017, they began to foster a 15-year-old, now 20, who they adopted in 2020 and is transgender; their biological child, now 10, identifies as ‌nonbinary. Both say they were unified on how to navigate the challenges of raising gender nonconforming children and sought out resources together, but their relationship issues persisted.

Who asked for the split?

In 2018, Ms. Hernandez floated the idea of having an open marriage and dating other people. “Our sexuality had become stale, and I wasn’t happy with our intimacy,” she said. “I wanted to try new things.”

Mx. Sherman, who had begun to question their own gender identification by that point, hoped polyamory might save their marriage. Both began to date others and soon each met someone significant.

For several years things went smoothly and even their passion was rekindled. But the pandemic brought new challenges, including differing opinions on contact with those outside the family, even people they were dating. “We began to argue about unimportant things as typical married couples do,” Mx. Sherman said.

“And honestly, I never anticipated falling in love,” Ms. Hernandez said of her current boyfriend.

The final split?

In 2020, they tried another round of counseling but neither felt the therapist was a good fit. Ms. Hernandez said she “wasn’t in love with Mars anymore,” but she said she still loved Mx. Sherman. “Mars was constantly fighting for us, but I needed a break.” In September, she asked for a trial separation.

How did their children react?

At the start it was rough, but things got better. Both constantly emphasized their commitment to the family. Initially their children stayed in the family home and the parents traded off weeks in a rented apartment. After a month, they tried living together again in separate bedrooms. But in November 2020 Ms. Hernandez asked for a divorce, and by January 2021 moved into her own place.

How did they fare financially?

Both say fine. Mx. Sherman pays Ms. Hernandez a small amount of monthly child support. Their oldest child lives full time with Ms. Hernandez, and the younger one goes back and forth weekly.

How did they move on?

Mx. Sherman now identifies as nonbinary and gender fluid. “For a long time, I denied a big part of my identity,” they said. Both are still in the relationships they started during their marriage and living with their current partners.

What would they have done differently?

“Get counseling earlier the second time around,” Ms. Hernandez said, “and a better therapist.”

“I wanted to fix things right away, but I wish I could have given Briana more time,” Mx. Sherman said. “In my current relationship, I have learned to allow more time to resolve things.”

Has either changed?

Both say yes. “I feel less inhibited now and more open to new things,” Mx. Sherman said.

“I am more able to take a step back and let someone else drive the relationship and to give my partner space to take initiative,” Ms. Hernandez said.

What is life like now?

Both have become better parents, Ms. Hernandez

“Getting divorced isn’t what I wanted, but it ended up being OK,” Mx. Sherman said.

Looking back, what advice would they offer other married couples?

“If there are changes happening get help together and individually; you can’t have enough therapy,” Ms. Hernandez said.

“Don’t rely on your partner for all your needs,” Mx. Sherman said. “Your partner is not your therapist.”

And to those who are divorcing?

“Be as kind as possible,” Ms. Hernandez said. “For the sake of your kids, you may have to bite your tongue sometimes.”

“Divorce is not failure, our relationship while it was happening was mostly happy and that’s my takeaway,” Mx. Sherman said.

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