Can an open marriage really work?

One of the most common questions I hear from people who are new to the world of open relationships is, "can an open marriage really work?" Good question.

It's a big decision to open up your marriage. There must be a pretty good reason for you to take the risk of moving away from monogamy. After all, monogamy is the accepted norm in our society, and therefore the safest, most stress-free path to take when it comes to dealing with the rest of the world. So why are so many people choosing an open marriage anyways?

The easiest way to understand why people choose an open marriage is that they just can't accept only connecting deeply with one person for the rest of their lives. Combine that with not wanting to lie to their partner and sneak around with someone else, and an open marriage remains the only alternative.

Once you've actually made the decision to open your marriage, can it really work for the long term? What makes this question difficult to answer is that you first need to define what "work" means. Most people embarking on an open relationship imagine a fantasy where they meet all kinds of attractive, fun people and have care-free sex with them whenever they feel like it. At the same time, their relationship with their existing partner stays exactly the same as before, other than maybe a little less time together while all that lovemaking is happening.

The reality is that opening up your marriage will change your existing relationship. I'm not saying it has to get worse, but it will certainly be different. Giving up monogamy means you're also giving up an aspect of your relationship that is part of what makes it special, even if it also puts restrictions you no longer want. So your relationship will become less special in some ways, and that can cause people to feel less connected to each other, and sometimes unsettled.

This doesn't mean your open relationship is doomed. Rather than ignore this change, or try to put things back the way they were, couples who have long-term happy open marriages find new ways to add that specialness back into their relationship. Things that flow directly from being in an open relationship in the first place. For example, sharing in the excitement of someone new one of you has met, or telling each other all about a fantastic date, or even bonding over how you've overcome society's programming and are having way more sex with way more people, even though you're still deeply in love.

Above all, expecting things to change in your relationship, and having well-practiced communication skills to work through that change together is the key to long-term open marriage success. Couples who are resistant to change, and want to add more people to their lives while fighting to keep everything else the same, are setting themselves up for a rough ride.

August 1, 2019
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