With all this public talk about ‘open marriage’ it might be helpful to define what it is not. It is not having an adulterous affair. It does not involve lying, cheating or stealing (as in stealing your partner’s choice about who does what with whom). It is not that one person wants more sexual partners and the other does not. It is certainly not when one person is already having an adulterous affair. That’s not open, that’s cheating!
Open marriage is a consensual agreement about relationship boundaries. It includes non-monogamy in many forms, polyamory and swinging being two common ones. In general, polyamory focuses on relationships that include intimacy and erotic connection with more than one partner. Swinging tends to focus on the sex, with a more recreational, non-ongoing connection, although the intimacy may creep in with repeated liaisons. In any case, the hallmarks are that everyone involved is open and honest and in agreement about what’s happening.
I wince when I hear uninformed people talking about how “open relationships don’t work”. They often add that “I tried it once (or a friend did) and it was unsuccessful” or, more likely, that it was a relationship disaster. I often respond by acknowledging that while that may be true, and that clearly monogamy “doesn’t work” either. Otherwise why would we have such high rates of divorce, dissatisfaction and adultery?
Relationships, whether monogamous, polyamorous or open in any sense all require good relationship skills to thrive. Maturity, the ability to work things out and, above all communication skills are needed for sustainable intimate connections to prosper. In general, I would say that open relationships do require a higher level of skill. But let’s face it in order for any relationships to sustain over time, to be joyful, loving and remain connected takes work (and play too, but that’s another topic).
It is so past time to start to shift our cultural attitudes about relationship forms. The time is now to support integrity, honesty and tolerance for consensual agreements of all sorts. I would love to see a world where we valued honesty and integrity as the standard for all relationships whatever form they take.