Open Marriage: Love Vs. Sex

Open Marriage: Love vs. Sex

People in open relationships often talk about rules—what they should be, whether or not to have any, what to do if they're broken. This can be especially important for people just starting out or thinking about embarking on an open relationship. One of the most often contended topics on this front is love. And so I get questions nearly every day that go something like this.

Dear Jenny,

My husband and I are at the beginning of an open relationship. I understand the difference between love and sex and was wondering if you have ground rules with your husband as I have told mine: DON'T FALL IN LOVE. Is this a reality or am I kidding myself? I love my husband, and he loves me. I just find he is happier having the freedom to have a sexual relationship elsewhere.

Hopeful in the Heartland

The answer to Hopeful's question is yes—and no. A couple can set whatever rules it likes including the "Don't Fall in Love" rule, which plenty of open couples have and are able to follow. In order to make that work, they often also have the "Don't Sleep With the Same Person Twice," "Only See People Out of Town," and/or "No Correspondence Beyond Date Setting" rules.

Open relationships are about setting up the kinds of boundaries that 1) make you feel comfortable and 2) are workable. Because, what's the point if all you're doing is setting yourself up for failure? If a couple sets the rules, follows them, and is honest about whether or not those rules are working for them, they can have a reasonable expectation of success.

But there's another key to open relationships: flexibility. And without that, you are much less likely to make any kind of relationship work, let alone an open one. In my open marriage, it's all about communication and renegotiation. We had an "Only Out of Town" rule and a "No Love" rule (after our first girlfriend) for the first few years. They worked splendidly—until I met Jemma, my now girlfriend of a year and nine months.

When I met her, I never imagined we'd be more than friends. So when it seemed to be turning into something else, I went to my husband and asked him what he'd think of Jemma being my girlfriend. Luckily, he was delighted. Despite it breaking the rules, he had seen our friendship develop and adored both her and who I was when I was with her. That is, less needy and more calm. (More about that next week.)

The first rule (the out of town one) was, naturally, much easier to consider ditching. The second one, well, not so much. Wouldn't that be going against everything we talked about in deciding to open our relationship? Sex is just sex. Love is a different story. The only people we love romantically (my husband and I, that is) are each other. That's why we're married in the first place. You can't love two people in that way at the same time. Right?

For us it turns out, quite the opposite is true. Although sex can be just sex. It doesn't have to be, even when it comes to relationships outside of our marriage. Love begets love. It doesn't cancel out that which came before it because love, contrary to popular belief, is not a limited commodity.

So, setting rules is fine and it's possible to have an open relationship that does not allow for falling in love outside of the primary couple. And that might be just the right formula if Hopeful and her husband are to have a successful open relationship.

But I would also advise her not to be so deadly scared of him loving someone else. That's what polyamory is all about and that's what next week's blog is all about too…