Do Open Relationships Ever Work?

When we think of marriage, words that often come to mind include "commitment", "faithfulness", and "'til death do us part," but we generally don't toss in "just the two of us" because, well, that's generally assumed.

But take the unusual case of actress Tilda Swinton. She lives in a large, rambling house in Scotland with her twins and their father, playwright John Byrne. Her lover, Sandro Kopp, a beautiful, shaggy-haired artist nearly 20 years her junior, sometimes lives there, too. "We are all a family," she has said. "What you must also know is that we are all very happy."

Fascinated with the unorthodox concept, Harper's Bazaar decided to explore what giving up monogamy can mean for you and your relationship.

  • In the 1910s and '20s, it was fashionable in certain circles to experience this sort of romantic experiment. Virginia Woolf's sister, Vanessa Bell, a ravishing, statuesque painter who liked to wear gypsyish head scarves, lived on an English country estate with her lover, Duncan Grant, his gay lover, and her children, and her husband sometimes popped by for a week or two. She believed it was more important to live fully than to be conventionally comfortable or secure.
  • Are open marriages happy? We all know about spiking divorce rates in the '70s and the crazy ice storm that was marriage at that time. In 1972, the best-selling book, Open Marriage, asked, "Is it the 'unfaithful' human being who is the failure, or is it the standard itself?" But its co-author Nena O'Neill recanted several years later, writing that fidelity was central to marriage.
  • But what about jealousy? It's rarely true that we can overcome feelings like possessiveness and anger when the door to a relationship is wide open. Still, it's hard not to notice that some unconventional marriages have the power to endure through situations where more traditional unions crumble.
  • Legendary journalist Gay Talese has been married to his glamorous editor wife, Nan, for 50 years. Throughout the years, he has had what he calls "romantic friendships" with others, but the Taleses have maintained a closer and deeper connection than that of many more ordinary couples. He believes offbeat marriages can be stronger "because you are both free and you remain together by choice, because of your admiration for each other day by day. I've never for one day in 50 years felt that Nan didn't love me, and she's never felt that I didn't love her."

All of these examples raise questions we may prefer not to think about: Can't we just be happy, attracted, and intimate with one individual for the rest of our lives? How do we keep our relationship fresh and exciting? What's the best setting to raise children? How do we balance the desire for freedom but need for a stabilized home life?

Have you ever thought about having an open relationship, and do you think you and your significant other could make it work?

Read the full article here.


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