I have always taken the position that marriage is for grown-ups. It takes a lot of maturity to successfully navigate all the changes involved in building a life with someone who has an equal say in what that life looks like. Having to take someone else's wants, needs and desires into account when you are used to only thinking about yourself is, in my opinion, the biggest challenge any couple faces. Deciding what your marriage will look like is just one of many agreements that must be negotiated if the two of you are to be successful.
So, how does the concept of an open marriage play out? According to a recent study, many have no objections for other couples' relationships to be open. They are not so sure about it for themselves. The big question is whether this is just a societal norm we have all been conditioned to accept or whether there is something about open relationships that does not appeal to everyone.
Over the years I have been working with couples, I have been struck by the difficulties infidelity has caused. The visceral hurt and bone-aching sense of betrayal experienced by one partner is truly devastating to behold. Is it merely the lack of honesty their partner has exhibited, or is it something deeper? I would argue for the latter. This is because sexual fidelity is more than possession. It can be the ultimate melding of two souls — connecting on not only the physical level, but the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual ones as well. Monogamy isn't merely who has access to your sexual organs, but who has access to your deepest self.
The study asked about six situations a person might be willing to engage in, ranging from sex with anyone else (using condoms) with no questions asked to taking a third partner into your relationship on equal terms. Men responded that they were more willing to engage in each of the behaviors than women. So does this mean that men are more mature in relationships? Not in my experience.
Several years ago, I worked with a couple who was involved in the swinging lifestyle at the urging of the husband. He became very distraught when she started her own "swinger" Facebook page and got emotionally involved with another man. Again, you might think that the problem is a function of honesty, but I believe it is a function of agreement. And I have found that nothing is harder to get agreement on in a relationship than sex.
As I stated before, I believe that marriage is a relationship of equals. Unfortunately, that isn't always the way it plays out. If you neither believe you are an equal, nor claim your space as an equal, you leave yourself at the mercy of your partner's desires. If your partner wants an open relationship but you don't, your options are limited. You can go along, you can leave or you can try to live with the tension your disagreement creates.
The one who fears losing the relationship will be the first one to blink because most people don't have the maturity to honor both who they are as individuals — and as partners. As in anything, if you agree to something you don't really agree to (e.g., an open marriage), you put your relationship at risk. This is because fear is incompatible with love.
Sex and sexuality are such personal matters. To be able to discuss them openly and safely depends on the maturity of both people. Egos, feelings of love and acceptance, not to mention fears of rejection, all come into play when "open" marriage is on the table. Clear rules are necessary to make it work, but the heart isn't always open to following rules. Add in other people — your children, the other partners — and the situation becomes even more complicated. While it may work for some, my experience is that not many of us are capable of keeping all those balls in the air. If you can't, the damage from the fallout can do real damage.