I would never have thought I’d propose an open marriage, but I did. I was watching more than 10 years of love, commitment, and investment break down… fast. At that point in time, I was trying anything I could think of so my now ex-husband wouldn’t bail on the family. But I was on the wrong track. Nothing would have stopped the derailment of our marriage.
We had plenty of issues, emotional distance among them, and fundamental differences to do with financial priorities, the importance of education, political views, and when it came down to it, gender roles.
I thought that by offering my spouse “carte blanche” to lead his life as he wished, he would leave our family unit intact. I realize now that I was grasping at straws, hoping to avoid divorce.
What Is an Open Marriage
By definition, an open marriage means the potential to enjoy other sexual partners – without sneaking around. The dangers of an open marriage are obvious: jealousy, plain and simple; one or both partners may fall in love; an extracurricular partner gets pregnant and has a child; we may confuse the hell out of the children we have.
But if so many American men and women cheat on their partners as it is (some 57% of men and 54% of women), isn’t an open relationship little more than resetting expectations realistically?
(As an aside: Might those statistics explain why we see ads saying “Faithful Women Wanted?” So where are the corresponding “‘Faithful Men Wanted” ads?)
Why Ask for an Open Marriage
Would most men say yes to a proposal such as mine – especially as I said I wouldn’t participate, you can do as you please – but protect your health, my health, and the health of our family?
Would my spouse take it as a sign I didn’t care or would he see it as it was – that I cared too much or too foolishly?
Is an open marriage little more than an admission that for many, monogamy is virtually impossible? Is it an invitation to trample on intimacy, an acknowledgement that there is none, or something more complex that isn’t accommodated by “conventional” marriage?
I will say this: Other men I’ve known would have gone for it in a heartbeat, and some would have said yes, but… open for me and not for you. In fact, over the years I’ve had a few male acquaintances who have confided that they have an “understanding” with their wives. (Come on, Ladies. Most of us have heard that before.) And some, legitimately, do.
For? Against? An Excuse to Get Naked?
I have friends who insist “an open marriage isn’t a marriage.” I disagree. That doesn’t mean I would choose an open marriage, but I’ve seen relationship arrangements that are committed, not what I would choose, and work for those involved.
Thinking back to my proposition so many years ago, it occurs to me that I wasn’t suggesting an open marriage so much as attempting to salvage a future by exhibiting a willingness to lead separate lives. It may sound crazy as a method to “stabilize” our rocky union, but I wanted to hang on to the family – and also buy time. .
In those dark days, I would have done nearly anything to save my marriage, convinced we could somehow reconstruct it. Note I say “nearly;” I wouldn’t sacrifice the values I live with and the quality of life – nothing to do with materialism – that I felt I owed to my sons.
A Solution to “Technical” Infidelity
Some may view open marriage as a means to legitimize infidelity and nothing more. Alternet describes the open marriage as something else: a recognition of changing demographics and perhaps, a less idealistic (hypocritical?) society.
“… there are more women living that are single than are married. Women are staying single. Couples are divorcing. Marriage isn’t entirely working, at least for a subset of the population. So could non-monogamous coupling be the answer?”
The article clarifies:
“… open marriage is generally considered a committed marital relationship between two people who, under a set of mutually-agreed upon rules, engage in sexual encounters with various partners other than their spouse.”
These are important distinctions, as the primary relationship is first and foremost, while accommodating a desire for a little sexual spice.
A digression: A number of years ago, during one of the rare periods when my kids were away, I walked to a local restaurant. It was a steamy summer evening and I ordered a cocktail at the bar.
I sipped, I people-watched, I relaxed.
A couple on my right struck up a conversation. We chatted about this and that, and as darkness fell (and the drink tab rose), they talked about their open marriage. Moreover, they enjoyed couples clubs, where one or both could safely exchange partners.
Curious, I posed questions they were happy to answer, elaborating on the diversity of ages and backgrounds of those they met at the club. They maintained rules to keep them healthy, and rules to do with emotional boundaries.
If you’re wondering, the couple was middle-aged and had been married for years. They gave me their contact information and invited me to join them if I wished – as an observer or a participant. I thanked them, finished my drink, and headed home – acutely aware of how little we know about each others’ private lives, and how quick we are to make assumptions about right or wrong.
Although I’m not jealous by nature, I’m certain I don’t want to share the person I love. I wouldn’t choose to share him from the outset, and nor would l like the idea of his willingness to share me.
Still, I have known couples, albeit few, for whom an open marriage suits, and I understand. They have sexual desires that are mutually recognized and mutually acceptable, that include additional partners. Or, they have reached a stage in life where one partner is less interested in sex or less able to engage in it, and he or she prefers that a spouse be forthright in his extramarital activities.
Personally, I’d rather this than rummaging through pockets, peeking at texts, and otherwise searching for tell-tale signs of infidelity.
I can only anticipate that many will disagree with the concept of an open marriage. I dare say it’s a matter for each couple to decide.