Do open marriages work?

Do open marriages work?

In many cases when a spouse is cheated on, they lament that the act of physical intimacy with another was not as hurtful as the fact that a person they love was deceitful and dishonest with them. Trust is a large part of the foundation of marriage, but for some, physical intimacy doesn’t have to be limited to just the two partners within the relationship.  These marriages are referred to as open marriages.

In an open marriage, both partners agree that it is okay to have physical relationships with other people. The key to this type of relationship is to be open and honest about other partners that are involved in the primary relationship. While this topic is taboo for many, it is not a new trend and could be on the rise with the increase in websites that cater to people in open relationships. Many times it comes from a couple that has been struggling in a few areas, not just sexually. But, is it a way to save a marriage?

“A couple needs to be very open and honest with themselves about their intentions,” says Dr. Kurt Heist, a psychologist at Advocate Dreyer in Aurora, Ill. “One person is likely less interested in the idea than the other, but is afraid to admit it. While our culture may oversimplify traditional relationship roles/expectations, our need for a primary attachment is often paramount, and thus creates conflicts, jealousy, paranoia and insecurity when that primary attachment is put in competition with secondary ones.”

If both partners are truly interested in having an open marriage, there are a few things that need to be considered. “If one is to go this route, ground-rules must be established to protect the relationship, each other’s health, and to plan an exit strategy if someone wants to stop the experiment,” says Dr. Heist.

There are many reasons why a couple may consider this type of relationship, and Dr. Heist is not advocating for or against the lifestyle, as he stresses that all relationships are different and in need of individual evaluation. Just as couple’s therapy doesn’t work for all couples, having an open marriage will not work for everyone.

Communication is important with an open marriage, as both parties usually have to agree on new partners and know the truth about what is going on.  “If there is no communication, the relationship will almost certainly suffer,” says Dr. Heist.  “Even if you are open and honest that you are going out to be with someone else, that action can still damage the relationship significantly if both parties don’t fully agree with the open marriage.”

Open marriages can be very difficult to understand, and many would not accept the lifestyle. However, if someone does venture into one with their spouse, Dr. Heist recommends discussing it with a professional before jumping into it.  That way, at the very least, there is a third party who can help facilitate the conversation.

Related Posts



  1. Why is an article like this in our Healthe News?

  2. Well are there any statistics? Do any of these marriages actually work out, as you ask in your title? It doesn’t seem likely that they do, but I read this piece thinking perhaps a study had been conducted to provide data-backed insight on this issue. The opinions from behavioral health professionals seem reasonable enough, but the opening statements suggesting that perhaps instead of lamenting cheating you can allow yourself & your other half to see others and perhaps that will make your marriage work out better… that’s pretty reaching, and I don’t see any evidence that this idea is a good one.

  3. Why doesn’t someone do some research before putting an article like this on a Health news site? There is so much good research on attachment bonding , pair bonding, and what makes marriages successful and fulfilling.There are thousands of examples of how physical intimacy with another person outside the marriage has destroyed marriages,and no verifiable research of marriages that have benefitted from this kind of arrangement. Sex without love and commitment and the protection of marriage is an experiment from the 1960′ s which has had disastrous results. The very definition of marriage is an exclusive monogamous lifelong commitment. Is anyone thinking about the children that could be conceived from these “physical intimacy” experiment.

  4. I am surprised to see an article with little to no research, no case studies or experimentation to come to any conclusions. I, unlike some of the other commentators, believe that this type of arrangement can work for some people, even if it is only one partner that is looking for physical intimacy outside of their marriage. I think the bigger problem is the idea of marriage in general. Marriage itself is an antiquated institution, it has no place in a progressive society. Here in the midwest there are many that follow religious pratices and this makes them believe that relationships are always simple, which is why we have “rules” for marriage but even within the Christian community the divorce rate is around 25% and according to a study done by the Barna Research Group Atheists had the lowest devorce rate. But I digress… I think it is important to know how marriage and relationships are changing but I think we all need a little more research and data and how this effects health, either physical or mental.

About the Author

health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.