So rewarding. So difficult. So much sex.
When I met my now-husband, I was in a relationship with somebody else — an open relationship. We started out non-monogamous, and when that other relationship didn't work out, we decided to stay that way.
Why? Well, it wasn't that we were constantly swimming in sex with other people, or even with each other. We loved the independence, trust, and confidence in each other (and yeah, being able to hook up with others has always been a perk).
Our marriage isn't perfect, and some parts have been downright rocky, but here's what I've learned about being in an open marriage and how it's impacted our relationship.
1. You will be exposed to other people's bodily fluids.
There's no nice way to say it: condoms break, sloppy kisses happen, and people drool on pillows. Even if you and your spouse are at the low-level non-monogamous stage of having cuddle-buddies and makeout-partners, you're guaranteed to rub up against other people's intimate bodily functions.
The best way to handle this (as with most aspects of an open marriage) is to talk, talk, and talk some more.
What will do you when that condom inevitably breaks? Is there a back-up plan for birth control and/or STI management? Do you need your spouse to gargle with mouthwash (or better yet, vodka) after kissing him and before kissing you? What about teeth-brushing between oral?
I can say, having been in an open marriage for years now, that bodily fluids only gross me out when there's unexpected sexual fluid contact. And pillow drool. Change those sheets between lovers.
2. You will meet — and maybe become friends with — people you'd never imagine liking.
One of the wonderful things about non-monogamy is that your partner is free to do things with others that you don't like. One of the terrible things about non-monogamy is that your partner's free to do things with others that you don't like.
You're not much of a risk-taker, so it's nice that your husband has someone to ride roller coasters with? Just wait until they want to go sky-diving together.
You're not into kinky sex, so it's a relief when he finds someone to tie up and spank? Have fun watching those boundaries get negotiated, re-negotiated, and re-renegotiated.
If your arrangement is such that you meet and hang out with these other folks, be prepared for a world of weirdness. Your partner's lovers will be nothing like you expect.
They may eerily resemble you in some ways. Some of them will definitely get on your nerves, making you wonder what your spouse sees in them in the first place. Others will turn out to be surprisingly cool, and perhaps people you can see yourself becoming friends with (or workout buddies, or coffee snobs) in the future.
3. You will watch your spouse fall for other people.
This part is both joyful and sucky. Seeing someone fall head-over-heels is like watching a cute puppy splash in a puddle: adorable, a little awkward, and kind of messy. At its best, it's endearing, and at its worst, it's obnoxious.
But you also get to see undiscovered facets of your spouse that other people bring out in them: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Oh, suddenly your spouse loves spending hours lazing around with their new lover, being all cuddly and emotionally intimate, when you've been requesting that kind of affection for years? Welcome to insecurity-land.
4. You won't be the only one responsible for your spouse's sexual pleasure, emotional support, and intellectual stimulation.
Thank goodness. Expecting one person to fulfill another person's host of needs is unreasonable, but that's what marriage is supposed to be in America these days.
I know I was relieved when my spouse found someone with a higher libido than mine, because it meant I could spend less time wracked with guilt over how little we were having sex. The result? A way better sex life, because even if we still weren't having sex as often as he liked, I wasn't feeling like a horrible wife about it anymore.
5. Your communication skills increase a hundredfold.
You thought you were good at communication before opening your marriage? That's cute.
Now, in addition to all the normal marriage stuff you have to constantly talk about (chores, finances, kids, pets), you also have to talk about going on dates with others, safer sex practices, how outside relationships impact your relationship, and more.
Expect a never-ending barrage of communication to flood your life, bringing with it benefits like becoming a total badass when it comes to talking sh*t through, and detriments like getting sick of talking about talking.
6. You'll have more varied sex (most of the time).
The potential to have sex with new partners means you'll have new experiences. The trick is to bring some of that mojo home so your married sex life stays exciting.
The downside? There are only so many days in the week.
7. The people you invite into your home have the greatest potential to enhance — or destroy — your marriage.
You may date another couple, swinger-style, and become lifelong best friends. Your first f*ck buddy could become an important confidant. Your husband's girlfriend might turn out to be your triathlon training buddy.
Alternately, you husband might fall for an alcoholic. You could find a lover who doesn't respect your marriage and keeps trying to lure you away. You could think it's a great idea to loan this other couple some money until, well, we all know how that goes.
Letting people share similar levels of intimacy normally reserved for marriage can be really, really dangerous. It can also be really, really awesome.
I love seeing my husband blissed out after a good sex date. He loves it when I come home from a trip, glowing from a one-night stand. But being intimate with the wrong people has almost completely ruined our marriage.
8. You will become a scheduling pro, or die trying.
Whether you're a Google Calendar fan or not, you'll need some way to keep track of your dates. And your spouse's dates. And their dates' dates.
9. While you'll agonize over who to tell, the choice won't always be yours in the end.
So, who gets to know that you enjoy sexy-times outside your marriage? Your close friends? Your family of origin? Your kids? (Lots of kids are raised in non-monogamous households, and research suggests that it's not going to traumatize them.)
The bummer is that you can be as strategic as you want about disclosure, but someone will probably still muck it up and out you. Adultery isn't illegal in most places anymore, but so many people think it's immoral that you can face nasty pushback.
10. You'll have to make an effort to stay connected with your spouse, or risk unraveling the foundation of your marriage.
What's your incentive to keep the sexiness alive in your marriage when you can get some elsewhere? One good reason is to avoid the roommate phenomenon where a marriage becomes sexless, and the people in it stick around and live companionable though non-erotic lives together.
It's all fine and good to have sexy adventures with others, but at the end of the day, you've got to remember why you're married in the first place. Look for that spark, and schedule play dates with each other to nourish it.
In the end? I'm glad my marriage is open, and I know lots of folks who feel similarly.
The endless variety of sexual experiences, and the growth opportunities, are all awesome. But there are a lot of downsides and dangers, and you must work with your spouse as a team to have any hope of navigating these turbulent (but sexy) waters.