Three years into my marriage my husband and I decided to try something new – opening our marriage. It wasn’t something I’d ever considered before. I grew up thinking that I would meet a man, fall madly in love, marry him and live happily and monogamously ever after. But life has a way of surprising you.
That was 12-plus years – and a number of boyfriends and girlfriends – ago. Although he and I remain married, a lot has changed since then. I wrote a book about being in an open marriage (Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage) and I learned a lot about how it works – and about how it doesn’t…
Here are the nine myths I learned about being part of an open marriage.
1. EVERYONE WILL HATE YOU
It’s terrifying to do something that no one else around you is doing, especially when it comes to sex and relationships. But the truth is that everyone is doing their best to figure out what works for them and no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors. So we chose to do what worked for us, and we told people the truth because we didn’t want any skeletons in the closet at the ready for people to be surprised by. We were amazed at how not only accepting but also completely unfazed people were from family members to the seemingly very conservative parents of our daughter’s best friend.
2. ALL IT TAKES IS A LITTLE COMMUNICATION
Being in an open relationship takes a lot of communication. It also takes a lot of trust and understanding and kindness and humility. Because there are not a lot of models for a healthy, successful open relationship, you have to do a lot of figuring out on your own. That means being one another’s biggest supporters and sounding boards.
3. ALL SEX IS EQUAL
Sex with your spouse or partner can be very different than sex with a playmate, a stranger or a friend. It’s important to know what you want out of sex with a certain partner and be open with that person about that. Perhaps you only do certain things with people outside your relationship. Maybe you keep it naughty and avoid any romance. There’s nothing wrong with having different kinds of sex with different people to fill different needs. The trick is to be honest with yourself and everyone with whom you’re involved to keep yourself and others from being hurt.
4. ONCE OPEN, FOREVER OPEN
You can be open for any part of a relationship. It may be something you want after you have been with someone for a long time. Or you may find that after being open for a long time you find yourself craving monogamy again. Just be warned that the transition from closed to open and open to closed is not always easy, and both partners have to be on board at the same time, which can be tricky. Again, talking all along the way is the only way to make this work. (In case you have not noticed, being in a successful open relationship requires a lot of talking.)
5. ANYONE CAN BE IN AN OPEN RELATIONSHIP
Open relationships are not for everyone. They require that you keep your jealousy in check, and they require a lot of discussion and analysis and grouping and debriefing and so on. Not everyone is wired for that. It’s OK to want an open relationship. But it’s equally OK not to want one. So don’t think there’s anything wrong with you either way.
6. PEOPLE ARE NATURALLY MONOGAMOUS
Humans are not monogamous by nature. We love to couple up. But committing to one person for an entire lifetime is not necessarily how we are wired. That doesn’t mean we can’t choose monogamy. With the right person, it can be even more sexually satisfying than non-monogamy – trust me! But it’s helpful to think of monogamy as a choice. It’s not a lifestyle we were born for. It’s something we choose, which means not choosing it is equally acceptable.
7. AN OPEN RELATIONSHIP CAN FIX A BROKEN RELATIONSHIP
If there is one thing I know for sure about opening a relationship, it’s that it cannot fix a broken relationship. If you are madly in love with your partner and can’t imagine life without her, and your libidos are mismatched and she’s keen for you to get some on the side, you just may be the perfect candidate. (And that does happen.) But if you’re feeling unsure, and there’s lots of squabbling and you’re starting to wonder if she’s really the one, adding new sexual partners to the mix is highly unlikely to be the cure.
8. AS LONG AS ONE PARTNER IS FULLY ON BOARD, IT WILL WORK
This is one situation where everyone has to be equally ready, willing and able. If one person is being coerced or going along in order to not lose the other or trying to “go with the flow” and be cool about this modern relationship, it’s highly probable that things will unravel quickly. Open relationships still remain highly uncharted waters, and only if both partners are truly at the helm can you make it work.
9. GUYS ALWAYS WANT OPEN RELATIONSHIPS, AND WOMEN NEVER DO
Women have sex drives just like men. And jealousy is not a female prerogative. Open relationships have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with relationship style. Both men and women can desire non-monogamy, and that desire can change throughout one’s life. So don’t be surprised if you find yourself a serial monogamist one day and an open relationship proponent the next.