Of the many surprising benefits of open marriage, perhaps the most surprising is that it can, if handled gently and lovingly, bring you closer to your spouse. If you’re secretly carrying on an affair, or emailing an ex-lover, or otherwise harboring deeply held desires that you can’t share with your partner, you are experiencing the alienation this lack of honesty can create. I know because I used to feel completely lonely in my marriage. I felt I couldn’t tell my husband what I wanted sexually or otherwise. I made the mistake of having an affair rather than telling him what I needed and nearly ruined everything. Luckily, we made our way back to each other and have arrived in a place of deeper honesty, including a mutually agreed upon desire to have an open marriage. I don’t recommend this approach to achieving open marriage, but it eventually worked well enough for us.
Surprisingly, our open relationship status (as well as therapy, and working a 12-step program) has led each of us to a greater level of self-acceptance. Admitting to and embracing our imperfections as well as our sexual desires has, in turn, translated into greater understanding of each other. It seems counterintuitive but it’s true: By opening up our relationship and deepening our honesty, we’re happier than we’ve ever been. Our house is peaceful and there aren’t anymore deep dark secrets between us.
Most people can relate to going on a date or to an event with your spouse and seeing his or her excellence or attractiveness as though from a new perspective. Well, the same applies in spades when you see your spouse all lit up by a new love-interest, assuming you can overcome whatever jealousy or possessiveness that arise. Surprising but true. If you can talk it through, seeing your partner dolled or duded up to go with someone else out can be incredibly attractive.
A few months ago, I went with my husband on an overnight business trip. We had a beautiful hotel room on the waterfront: room service, free cable, no kids. It was lovely. The only catch was that my decision to tag along was very last minute and he had made dinner plans with another woman. I was initially put off, but quickly made my own dinner arrangements. We agreed only that we’d report back and that we’d spend the night together. Later on, we shared stories of our dates and giggled like high school girlfriends over what this look or that comment might have meant. It might not have been as fun if either of our dates had turned into full sex. We’re still pretty new at this. But in the end, we had a wonderful time, made more wonderful by our separately spent and later recounted evening plans. For a night, we became more than co-parents, domestic partners, breadwinners, or money-managers. We were great friends sharing a laugh and thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. He hadn’t looked that attractive to me since we first went out. Needless to say, we took full advantage of that energy well into the early morning hours.
This leads to the next surprising benefit of open marriage. If you and your partner are free to explore other relationships, within whatever bounds you establish, you also have the opportunity to choose your partner, and then choose them again, based on true desire rather than out of obligation or guilt or duty. You have access to their whole, carefree self, not just the part you lay claim to in your marital and domestic arrangements. In other words, by opening up your marriage, you might find yourself deciding to just be with your spouse. You might, for a time, practice a kind of monogamy that is chosen rather than de facto.
The obvious benefit of open marriage, expanding your sexual horizons, has some surprising benefits of its own. While the novelty of someone new has its advantages, there is often no substitute for the familiarity long-term sexual relationships offer. When you can have both, life is full indeed. After enjoying time with other men or women, you might find yourself developing a deeper appreciation for your partner, once he or she is out there learning new things and bringing them back to you. And while comfort and familiarity can breed dullness, it can seem less stultifying when it’s not your only option. Nothing dampens sexual desire and love like feeling completely and utterly trapped.
My husband and I are still relatively new to open marriage and have much to learn, but we continue to be surprised by the ways our relationship has grown since we opened up to each other and opened up our marriage. We might not always stay this way, but for now it works and we’re happier than we’ve ever been.