Em & Lo
I am a 31-year-old male in California and have been married for 6 1/2 years. Back in March, my wife came to me one night and said she would like to discuss something with me...I knew it was something serious but never imagined she'd say, "What do you think about an open marriage?" She is conservative by nature so this took me by complete surprise. I have dated her since she was 18, she is now 28, and we have two kids. She says she doesn't want to leave me or the kids, but admits to feeling trapped -- like she never lived out her early 20's. We have discussed it over the last couple of months: she is persistent in wanting this. What are the positives of this and can it be healthy for a marriage?
First, can we just say we love that you're concerned, cautious and confused about your wife's request? The cliché male response would be to immediately jump at an opportunity like this. "I can get a free pass from my wife to sleep with other women?!? Hells yes!" Of course, not all men are immune to the powerful bonds of traditional, monogamous marriage. They too can cherish the stability and intimacy that comes from dedicating your life to someone, body and soul...OR, they're so riddled with jealousy that they couldn't stand the thought of their wife sleeping with anyone else and would just prefer to secretly cheat behind her back so they can have their cake (they sleep around) and eat it too (their wives don't).
Have you ever felt the adrenaline rush of almost-but-not-quite-cheating?
For the sake of courtesy, let's assume you fall into the former category. Though chances are, as a guy who got married at 25, you too have had the occasional thought of what it might be like to sleep with other people. (Frankly, we think these thoughts never end, whether you get married at 20 or 40, whether you're male or female). For some people, these thoughts are fleeting, and often pass with a little quality alone time spent with your fantasies or some Internet porn. For others, though, they become more persistent, niggling thoughts that begin to disrupt your relationship and happiness. It's at that point that something needs to be done: couple's counseling, a concerted joint effort to reinvigorate your sex lives together, or some kind of mutually agreed upon "arrangement"...
Fortunately, your wife decided to be honest with you about her wish for an arrangement instead of taking the cheap and easy way out, i.e. cheating behind your back (oh yes, ladies do it too). We think it would be an excellent idea for you (and her) to do some research on open relationships, find out how and when they work and don't work, and get some specific advice on negotiating the terms of such a marriage. Check out our New York magazine article "The New Monogamy" on how couples are redefining the rules of fidelity (you don't always have to go full-hog). Read Open by Jenny Block, a personal (possibly inspirational) story of how an open marriage worked for her and her husband. And get your hands on the hands-on Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino.
Reading all of the above will certainly show you there CAN be positives to open relationships -- sometimes they can even save marriages. Enthusiasts often talk about the liberation of freedom, the thrill of variety, and how both those things can ironically bring the original couple closer together. It really all depends on the parties involved and the rules they set. If there is something in either your personal philosophy or your DNA that makes you sure an open relationship would be devastating to your marriage, then it ain't gonna work. (Even the married authors of The Myth of Monogamy, who don't believe humans are hardwired for monogamy, still believe traditionally faithful marriage works well and often better than non-monogamy.) If you prefer a one-night-stand-only policy while she would like a steady on-the-side boyfriend, it ain't gonna work. If one of you accidentally falls in love with your extra curricular activity, it ain't gonna work (unless you go polyamorous, which is a whole 'nother post). Of course, plenty of people in happy, monogamous relationships have accidentally fallen in love with someone other than their spouse from afar, so there's really no guarantee any which way you slice it. (Perhaps polyamorous relationships are the answer?)
Good luck! We hope you and your wife can find a position you're both comfortable with. Maybe it'll turn out to be "The Sandwich."
Em & Lo
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