BEING “OPEN” Print
Recently, my husband suggested we try out an “open” marriage. I was pretty surprised when he suggested it, and it’s definitely not something I would have considered before. The thing is, I consider myself to be pretty liberal, so I’m thinking maybe I should give it a whirl? I’m also worried that if I say “No”, he’ll end up cheating on me… Thoughts?
I was waiting for this question! More and more attention is being brought to open relationships as couples aim to navigate declining rates in marital satisfaction and longevity. Marital longevity began to decline after the industrial revolution. Since then, women have entered the workforce and no longer depend on men for fiscal support, emphasis on religion (and religious values) has declined, no-fault divorce makes marital dissolution easier, society has developed more liberal attitudes around divorce and sexuality, and technology (dating websites, social media) gives more choice for alternative and additional partners.
Before I offer advice on testing out the trend, I think it’s important to address the hesitation I sense in your question. It sounds like you feel pressured into trying out an open relationship, because you worry that cheating is an inevitability if you don’t. This concerns me, because, assuming you share an egalitarian relationship characterized by mutual respect, agreeing to a relationship format you don’t feel comfortable out of fear of being cheated on does not sound ideal.
I strongly suggest having a conversation to answer the “why” and the “why now” questions, first. Is he feeling bored in your physical relationship? Is a friend doing it and he’s envious? Has he met someone else? Having sex with other people will likely not solve one of those concerns. Does he think it would benefit your relationship? Do you think it would benefit your relationship? It is essential that both partners be on board with this idea and discuss it thoroughly before engaging. Find out what “open relationship” means. Open physically? Open emotionally? How would you benefit? What would your expectations in an open marriage be?
Because there hasn’t been much attention brought to the subject in the past, there isn’t a ton of research available on what makes some open relationships work. However, qualitative evidence suggests that being “open” — in a communication and informational sense — works best. For example, having access to each others’ Facebook, text messages, email, etc; setting rules such as not exchanging last names or contact information, only engaging in intimate encounters with new partners (i.e. no “repeats”), and, of course, using protection and maintaining regular health check-ups.
However, some couples are more of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset. They’d rather not know, and what pressures them to find out is a message from society that considers sexual intimacy with another partner “cheating,” and if they weren’t to know they might be considered naïve or pathetic. If you decide to try on an open relationship, this is something that should be thoroughly discussed. Consider what you’d want your open relationship to look like. After setting your expectations, your partner might change his mind, as the idea might seem less attractive with expectations and boundaries.
A few other points to consider? Jealousy will inevitably arise, so discuss how you plan to deal with it. Most people find compassion is a helpful strategy, and there are many resources available to help further develop this skill. Furthermore, discuss if and how you will share the details of your relationship shift to your friends and family. Be prepared that not everyone will be on board with, or supportive of this. You might experience social prejudice, discrimination, and lack of support.
To sum, above all, communication is the most important ingredient to facilitate a successful open relationship. Discuss, devise, debrief, and repeat as you go!
Interested in more relationship wisdom? Click here.
Although many individuals share similar concerns relating to their relationship advice, no two persons or couples are the same. Romantic Reminders’ Registered Clinical Counsellor, Megan Bruneau, provides professional advice that some might find helpful influencing how they consider approaching their concern; however, her advice is by no means a substitute for couple’s therapy or one-on-one professional help. Megan advises all of her clients to seek relationship support in the form of a trained professional if their situation grants them the opportunity to do so. Additionally, if physical or emotional abuse, addictions, or mental illness are present in your relationship, this advice likely will not be suitable or sufficient for you. Instead, individual and couple therapy are strongly recommended.