Open marriage is something many of us are fascinated by. So much so, in fact, that nearly 2000 of us Google 'open marriage' every month. But what is the reality of being in an open marriage? And can a relationship like this ever work?
Neil Wilkie is a relationship expert, psychotherapist, author and creator of online couples therapy platform The Relationship Paradigm.
'It is said that less than 1% of couples are in open marriages,' Neil explains. 'Twenty-percent of couples have experimented with consensual non monogamy [but] open marriage has a 92% failure rate. Eighty-percent of people in open marriages experience jealousy of the other.'
Here he explains what an open marriage is, whether an open marriage can ever work and the questions you and your partner should ask yourselves before opening up your marriage.
What is an open marriage?
An open marriage is one in which each spouse is free to seek out other sexual partners on their own. The other spouse often has some say over the conditions of the extramarital liaison.
Alternative forms of extra marital sex are:
Secret affairs, in which one partner has secret sexual liaisons with another partner and the other is unaware.
Tolerated affairs, where one is having sex outside of the marriage. The other may be aware of what is going on but does not need, or want, to discuss this with their partner. In some countries, such as France, these sorts of affairs are more common.
Paid for sex, with a sex worker. This is normally done secretively.
Swinging, in which two or more couples swap partners on occasion, sometimes in their own homes and sometimes at swingers’ club.
Polyamory where each spouse in the primary relationship also has long-term sexual and emotional relationships with more than one partner, all of whom know each other and are generally on amicable terms.
Emotional Affairs where there is the closeness and emotional intimacy of a romantic relationship without the sex.
What are the benefits to an open marriage?
Opening up a marriage can be thrilling and liberating. It is a way of getting your sex life out of a rut and into something different and exciting.
If the sexual needs of the partners have diverged and one wants more sex – or a wider range of sex – then it may help the one with greater needs. What then happens to the one with lesser needs; will they be drinking tea and chatting to their open partner when the other two are swinging from the chandeliers?
If one of the partners becomes physically or mentally incapable, for example, of performing penetrative sex then they may consent to their able partner having sex with another person to ensure their needs are met.
What are the disadvantages to an open marriage?
The dream of being able to have sex with another person, and keep hold of the advantages of another steady relationship or marriage may seem to offer the best of both worlds.
The reality is that the dream often turns into dissonance and inequality. One spouse is likely to end up feeling that the other is getting better sex or a better partner. Even if this is not the case it will be the perception.
It is also very difficult to create a boundary between the sexual act and the emotional intimacy that is normally involved. Again, there will be the perception that things are being shared that are private and this can cause resentment and for the spouses to drift apart.
The couples are likely to face criticism from friends and families. In many countries including the UK and USA, society does not understand and frowns on open marriages. In countries such as France, they seem more accepted.
If the desire for an open marriage is coming from a place of dissatisfaction with the sex and intimacy in the marriage, then an open marriage is avoiding dealing with the underlying issue and is only dealing with the symptoms. If sex was once good – and it is still important to both – then the couple will be better served by addressing this first.
Open marriage will also allow the partners to have an easy escape from their primary relationship and allow it to become more transactional and diminish in importance.
Are open marriages sustainable?
Keeping a marriage on track, after first falling in love, is hard work with time, life changes, children and other events getting in the way. Keeping an open marriage working, with four or more people rather than two, is exponentially more complex.
Open marriages may start off well, with a significant improvement in sexual satisfaction. Once the novelty has worn off though, they are likely to run into the same problems as monogamous relationships where the sexual drive and satisfaction are likely to reduce. The new ‘open’ partner may also move from being fresh and different to ‘same old.’
If you are considering an open marriage, firstly ask yourself and your partner the following questions:
How would you rate your current relationship out of 10 on the key elements of Communication, Connection, Commitment, Fun, Growth and Trust?
What are your sexual desires and how well are those currently being fulfilled in terms of quantity, quality and style by each other?
Are those differences bridgeable by your partner? If not, why not?
Are you looking for a short-term kick start to your sex life or a long-term open relationship?
Are you both able to cope with the added complexity of an open marriage?
How will you deal with any future differences and disputes?
What will happen if one of you wants to call a halt to the open marriage?
Are you both fully aligned and there is no coercion?
How will you find the new partners?
How will you protect what is good in your current relationship?
Subscribe to Red now to get the magazine delivered to your door.
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.
You Might Also Like