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The topic of ‘open marriage’ tends to be a sensitive one. But I advocate for happiness over suffering and if being in an open marriage makes you happy, then why not live life the way you want? To put it more accurately, I encourage people to seek peace over pain: honoring who you are, despite the opinions of others. To those who truly can’t envision an open marriage, I would say, enjoy your monogamy. However, to those with a lingering curiosity, or a blatant enthusiasm towards the lifestyle, I propose these wonderful findings on how an open marriage can save your relationship and enrich your life.
Sex at Dawn is a book by Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan, documenting the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality, specifically the evolution of monogamy in humans. Spoiler alert – the premise is that sex between humans, prior to agriculture and privatization of property, strengthened the bond of trust within the community. Sex was promiscuous, and paternity was unimportant. Like bonobos, our closest living relatives, sex created social equilibrium within human communities.
What’s interesting about Sex at Dawn is it offers research-based evidence against the modern assumption that human beings are an innately monogamous species. Human beings are adaptive creatures, and monogamy was a response (for some, an ultimatum) to the demands of a changing society.
I do not raise these evolutionary findings to undermine the monogamous lovers out there. Rather, I want to release and relieve individuals who feel unfit for such a limiting relationship structure.
Ethical Slut is a respected book written by sex and medical professionals, as well as the open marriage and relationship community. Authors Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy define the term slut as “a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice, and pleasure is good for you.” Ethical Slut is essentially a guide for people who want to explore some form of an open relationship. They coined and supported ethical non-monogamy versus the indistinct “open relationship.”
But what is ethical non-monogamy?
Ethical non-monogamy, according to Kinkly:
“Non-monogamy is the practice of engaging in multiple sexual or romantic relationships simultaneously. Non-monogamy can be practiced in ways that are generally considered to be ethical or unethical by those in non-monogamous communities. Generally speaking, those in ethical non-monogamous relationships strive to focus on open communication, negotiation of rules and treat each person involved with the same dignity and respect regardless of their role within a non-monogamous couple or group. Ethical non-monogamy can take the form of polyamory, swinging, open marriages, and other similarly structured relationships.”
In other words, ethical non-monogamy is an agreement that both partners enthusiastically consent to, which outlines rules and boundaries, identifies what counts as infidelity, and defines the structure of the non-monogamous relationship.
According to Dr. David Ludden at Psychology Today, “those who practice ethical non-monogamy have better communications skills, higher levels of trust, and lower levels of jealousy than those in traditional marriages.” The general assumption is that open relationships end in inevitable betrayal. Studies show, however, that people practicing ethical non-monogamy are more satisfied on a personal, relational, and sexual level than traditionally married couples, or couples who do not implement said ethical precautions and maintenance.
Online professional counseling platform Better Help estimates, “one-fifth of Americans have engaged in consensual [aka, ethical] non-monogamous relationships (21.9%).” They also provide this non-exhaustive list, explaining why people may enter non-monogamous relationships:
🍑 They want to explore their sexuality. To some people, one partner at a time makes them feel like they can't explore their sexuality to the fullest. Ethical non-monogamy allows them to explore their sexuality while still being fully emotionally committed to one person.
🍑 They love more than one person at a time. Some people are programmed to romantically love two or more people, and feel monogamy holds them back from their truest self.
🍑 Partners believe monogamy is the product of jealous or possessive feelings. Ethical non-monogamy involves letting go of these feelings to experience more love.
🍑 Some people like having variety in their sex life, and ethical non-monogamy allows them to do so without receiving negative consequences.
🍑 One partner may not be able to meet all of their needs. In some cases, a partner may not be in a position physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally to have sex. One person may be into BDSM but their partner is not. In this case, ethical non-monogamy allows these desires to be fulfilled by a different person.
The Reality of Open Relationships
One-quarter of men and 15% of women in monogamous relationships cheat on their partners. So, the argument that open relationships inevitably end in infidelity is moot. The truth is, there is no certainty in love and relationships. However, there are tools and behaviors that can increase the chances of success. Even if you’re not in or curious about opening your relationship, following the general guidelines of ethical non-monogamy can certainly strengthen your sense of identity, and the bond between you and your partner(s). Here, I outline the pillars of ethical non-monogamy:
Communicate about everything.
Communication is the key to any successful relationship; however, if you are looking to open yours, critical discussion points include:
🖤 Why do you want to open your relationship?
🖤 What kind of open relationship are you looking to pursue?
🖤 What concerns do each of you have? For example, share your fears about opening your relationship.
🖤 Define what infidelity means to each of you.
🖤 Discuss your boundaries and non-negotiables. For example, do you have specific rules you’d like your partner to adhere to? Discuss sexual health measures, and birth control plans.
🖤 Discuss how you handle crushes and falling in love with other people.
🖤 Check-in often, as your relationship may change and evolve over time.
Your secondary partners are people too.
Treat your secondary partners with the same grace and honesty as your primary partner. If you have a primary relationship, be honest upfront about your responsibilities to it, and remain considerate to your secondary partner’(s) feelings and needs.
Face jealousy and the realities of love together.
People can be in love with more than one person at a time. It is not realistic to think that in long-term relationships you won’t find other people attractive, or even develop crushes. Loving your partner and having a crush/falling for someone else can exist independently from each other. It’s important that when this occurs, partners speak about it right away, and determine steps and courses of action.
Understand that no means no.
When you hear a “no,” listen to it. Create space for struggle and support. Remember, people make mistakes, and disagreements are normal. When this happens, reiterate boundaries, and take time for each other to mend the hurt.
Know when it’s time to call it quits.
Many people experience fear around opening their relationship because they don’t think they can reclose it. Truth is, there are no rules other than the ones you and your partner set. If you need time to rethink the open relationship structure, have that conversation, and take the steps you need as a couple.
It’s important to note that if you and your partner naturally function from different relationship structures – monogamy versus polyamory – it may be time to speak about the reality of that incompatibility. Is the monogamous partner willing to accept the extramarital relationships of their polyamorous partner? Can the polyamorous partner realistically find fulfillment within a monogamous structure? If the answer is “no,” you might consider uncoupling for the overall wellbeing of all involved.
The Surprising Effects of Open Marriage
We all know that the only way to eliminate fear is to pass through it. In other words, do what scares you. Of course, like anything new, go slow, keep it simple, process every step, and communicate your feelings.
If you have trouble managing feelings of control, insecurity, possessiveness, or other ego-centric emotions, take time to work on yourself. Opening your relationship will not alleviate the baggage you carry, nor will it mend your partner’s past trauma. There is debate as to whether opening your marriage can save it. My belief is that the bedrock of any successful union is honesty, trust, and respect. That trifecta is the perfect ground to construct what is best for the relationship. At the end of the day, if you can love, honor, and accept your partner for who they are and have consensual extramarital relations, who is to say that’s wrong or unhealthy?
Making an emotional commitment, and having the confidence in each other (and yourself) to open your relationship, can have some wonderfully surprising effects:
🍑 You may actually fight less!
🍑 You may have more sex with each other!
🍑 You may feel less jealous!
🍑 You will likely communicate more!
🍑 You could feel more fulfilled overall!
🍑 You may trust more!
🍑 You may reconnect with yourself!
🍑 You may discover more about your partner!
🍑 You could become more self-sufficient and independent!
When shouldn’t you open your relationship? If you are not enthusiastically consenting, and/or are pursuing an open relationship out of fear of losing the person you love.
How to Approach Your Partner About Open Relationships
If you are contemplating whether this is right for you, find a relationship coach or therapist to help navigate this area of your life to reach ultimate success and satisfaction. Some great ways to approach your partner are as follows:
🖤 “I read this article about open marriages – what are your thoughts on the subject?”
🖤 Do you know someone who is in an open relationship? Set up a double date with them and your partner and make a point to ask questions about that person’s lifestyle. At the end of the night, continue the discussion alone with your partner.
🖤 Purchase one of the books below and practice what you learn.
Make sure the conversation about opening your relationship is between you and your partner only, and during a neutral moment – not during/after sex or a fight. Have a personal understanding as to why you want to open the relationship, and what “opening” the relationship means. If, and when, you can express your interest in opening your marriage, it is critical that your partner understands your curiosity has nothing to do with failings on their part. Be sure to listen to their responses to gauge their true feelings on the subject and answer any questions they have. If you don’t have specific answers, let them know you would like to figure it out together.
For more on how to open your marriage and enrich your life, check out these esteemed resources:
Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino
Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means by Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan
Until next time,
Fuck well, friends!
Quean Mo xx