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.
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