In 1972, a book titled ‘Open Marriage’ was released, and was considered the first of its kind to mention a marriage set up that is different to a traditional marriage. It became a best seller, that sold over 35 million copies worldwide (Sheri Stritof, 2019). This book discusses the concept of open marriages and how sexual relationships outside of the marriage can be a healthy thing.
Well the actual term ‘open marriage’ can be described in several different ways but it is most commonly known as a ‘polyamorous marriage’. A polyamorous marriage is where a married couple consider their marriage as the main relationship, but there is a certain level of non-exclusivity, where either one or both married partners may date or have sexual relationships with other people. It is a mutual agreement on both parts – so this is totally different to having an affair, cheating or committing adultery.
The mutual agreement requires both married partners to openly discuss and agree what their open marriage looks like – some may have requirements that include no emotions to be involved and the outside relationship should be purely sexual – others might be happy with their sexual life and only allow their partner to have emotional dates. The extra marital relationships can include a range or partners or just one particular person – however the married couple will set rules on what their open marriage involves – this way nothing is done maliciously or in secret, and both spouses feel valued. Whatever the case of the extra marital activity, the general consensus is that in an open marriage, both spouses will be the main priority and outside relationships will come secondary to this.
There is some confusion that surrounds open marriages as there are some religions where there is marriage set ups different to what a traditional marriage looks like. For example, a man being allowed to have multiple wives. However, this is not what an open marriage is; a polygamous marriage is where one spouse is married to different people. An open marriage is purely a married couple who have mutually agreed to partake in activities or relationships, whether sexual or emotional, with other partners. There is only one marriage in the entire set up.
It is so important to remember that if you are having problems in your marriage, it is not always easy to assume having an open marriage will solve things. In fact, it could make it more difficult and build barriers between both spouses. If there are things about your husband or wife that you are not happy with, it does not mean you can just seek this in another person outside of your marriage with your husband or wife’s consent. The priority in open marriages is your primary relationship so that means this needs to be a solid and secure marriage before you explore relationships outside of your marriage.
An open marriage requires a lot of trust and communication so if you are not in a marriage where you are able to communicate effectively or trust one another, then an open marriage will be extremely difficult to take part in. An open marriage works when both spouses trust one another and are able to communicate their wants, desires and feelings to one another.
Some couples in open marriages find it easy to write down a list of things they would like, a list of things they are willing to be flexible on, and lastly a list of things they would not tolerate in an open marriage. This way both parties are aware of what is expected of them. (Candace Jalili, 2019). This conversation should include the potential outcomes to extra marital relationships, including how to practice safe sex to avoid any chance of someone falling pregnant, what the action will be IF someone does fall pregnant, how to ensure good sexual health is considered when engaging with multiple partners for sex and so on. If these scenarios are discussed fully before agreeing to take part in an open marriage, both spouses are clear on what is allowed and what is not.
Because an open marriage is such a delicate situation – you are expanding your sexual or emotional connections with others aside from your husband or wife, it requires a lot of time and effort. It is so important to make sure you continue to have conversations with your husband or wife to make sure you are both happy about the extra marital relationships. As with any relationship, an open marriage can evolve and change – you may want to include your husband and wife in your new open relationships, or you might decide you would rather have multiple partners and not just the one to avoid any emotional connection. Whatever the case of change is, it is important to continually communicate these feelings to your husband or wife. It is only fair that both parties are aware of the dynamics of the open marriage and if there are any changes that need to be made, both of you are agreeing to it.
Finally, the last aspect of open marriage I want to touch on is the support of a therapist. A lot of couples who want to take part in, or are already in open marriages, will seek the help of a therapist as it is a difficult and delicate situation for some to deal with. A marriage is an extremely personal and intimate thing, so when either one or both of you want to get involved with others outside of your marriage it can be extremely helpful to get the insight or support of a therapist – someone who is trained to help you both through this transition will help you to reduce the amount of issues that you have to deal with and if any issues do arise, a therapist will be able to support you both through the difficult times.
Couples who are in an open relationship may need more support than a normal couple as there are many different dimensions to an open marriage. Just like in a traditional marriage, open marriages can change over time and people may begin to find more happiness outside of their marriage than with their husband or wife – this is always a possible outcome of open marriages and something that both husband and wife need to consider before agreeing to take part. We as humans are made with emotion, so falling for someone you are having sex with aside from your husband or wife is a possibility and could potentially lead to problems in your marriage.
With constant communication and the help of a marriage counsellor, if dynamics of the marriage change and the extra marital relationships become more significant, a couple is able to decide together what the next steps should be.