Holding hands and flirting like newlyweds, it’s hard to believe Michael Newcombe and Renee Geue have been together for 20 years.
So what’s their big secret? The controversial answer may shock you.
‘We give each other total freedom,’ smiles Renee.
For the last three years they’ve had an open relationship, and though they are blissfully happy now, it hasn’t always been this way.
Fourteen years ago, the relationship was in crisis when Michael had a one-night stand.
It happened just two weeks after their middle child was born, and Renee was battling depression.
‘It was the thrill of being wanted again because Renee and I had lost our connection – our home life was terrible,’ the dad-of-three tells New Idea.
Although Michael, 40, felt guilty, it wasn’t the first time he’d strayed. At the beginning of his relationship with Renee, 41, he had a sexual encounter with another woman. Then, when he was working away on the railway lines, he had sex with a bride-to-be who was getting married the very next day.
‘I felt guilty, but I buried those feelings,’ he explains.
Though he’d got away with the first two encounters, Renee sensed something was amiss after the third, and Michael admitted everything.
Despite the pain he’d caused, Renee forgave Michael.
‘I hated him, but I still loved him at the same time. He promised that he’d never do it again and I believed that,’ she says.
The couple tried to put the past behind them, but neither was truly happy. Under financial stress, Michael would often wake up crying. Meanwhile Renee’s confidence was depleted by her partner’s betrayal.
Two years later, with their relationship continuing to flounder, it was Renee’s turn to have an affair – with Michael’s best friend.
‘After all that had happened, I felt that no-one would ever want me,’ she explains. ‘It was a way of feeling something again.’
Michael, who caught them kissing, was crushed.
‘I was very shocked and confused,’ he recalls. Michael begged Renee for another chance.
For the sake of their children, she agreed. They moved, and rebuilt their lives.
‘But there was still something missing,’ says Renee.
‘Michael thought I wasn’t there sexually, I thought he wasn’t there emotionally. There was this constant battle between what we thought each other needed to do. We argued a lot.’
Seven years after Renee’s affair, came a turning point when another friend revealed her husband had been cheating.
It sparked Renee and Michael to have a series of long, intense heart-to-hearts.
‘We pulled it apart and realised that people want connection,’ Renee explains.
‘Everything that Michael and I have been through, it comes down to the fact that we are human beings longing to connect on a level beyond an immediate family.’
‘Throughout our life together we kept on repressing these feelings,’ Michael adds. ‘But how can one person provide you with everything?’
‘We learn from other people, we grow from them,’ Renee continues. ‘Why can’t we have more than one soulmate in life?’
That’s when the couple came up with the idea of exploring other options.
‘I just said... “I think we should give each other total freedom and see where it takes us,”’ Renee explains.
The pair used social media to meet other like-minded couples and singles. However, they soon realised fleeting sexual encounters weren’t the answer they were searching for.
‘We were coming away feeling empty,’ explains Renee.
Ironically, when Renee did eventually meet a man she developed a strong bond with, Michael panicked.
‘All those feelings I had from when Renee had the affair started coming back,’ he says.
But once again, the couple found open communication was key to moving forward.
‘Renee assured me she wasn’t going to leave me,’ says Michael.
‘Not once did I ever think about running away because I knew what I had with Michael was amazing,’ she says.
Despite Michael’s initial reservations, Renee says she thought it was ‘absolutely beautiful’ when he connected with someone special.
‘I’ve done so much self-development that I understand what jealousy is and I can process it,’ she explains.
The couple, who say they always practise safe sex, haven’t looked back since opening their relationship and say their love for each other has gone from strength-to-strength.
‘It’s the best thing we have ever done. It’s changed our lives,’ smiles Renee.
But the pair are quick to point out their lifestyle is completely different to swinging.
‘The difference is emotional connection,’ explains Michael.
The couple’s 17-year-old daughter is one of their biggest supporters: ‘I have no problem with it,’ she says. ‘They are happier than they were when they were in this cage where they were expected to be a normal couple.’
Michael and Renee believe they are setting a good example for their children: ‘We don’t want our kids believing a toxic relationship is acceptable,’ Michael says. ‘We want them to see one that’s loving and giving. That is the way it should be.’