Love, Sex

An Open Marriage Can Work — If You Both Agree With These 6 Things

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what to know about polyamory and open relationships

Open marriage has become an increasingly more intriguing subject, especially given the aura of mystery and taboo surrounding the concept of polyamory.

Surveys indicate that only about 5% of couples in heterosexual relationships currently choose to open their marriages to allow extramarital relations — yet in a much larger percentage of marriages (30-60%!) at least one partners is choosing to engage in non-consensual forms of infidelity.

While scientists are still exploring whether humans are designed to mate for life, this information itself clearly shows the paradoxical and biased attitude our society holds toward non-monogamous relationships. We idealistically aspire to be in a monogamous relationship, yet our actions reveal we may be predisposed to favor ethical non-monogamy.

Here are 6 essential ingredients on which open relationships thrive, in order to help determine if an open relationship is or isn't right for YOU.

1. Well-established (and maintained) stability and security.

It feels pleasing to know that you are still desired by people who are not your spouse. It's also self-gratifying to have the freedom to act on our various desires, especially in the sexual domain. Couples who opt for open marriage find themselves enjoying the stability, security and reassurance of marriage, yet still seeking the excitement, passion, freedom, and thrill an affair brings with it.

To develop and nurture safety and trust in an open-marriage, each partner must consider the needs, feelings, and preferences of their spouse on an ongoing basis.

2. Mutual consent and continuing, honest communication.

Often one partner attempts to explore open marriage in order to please the other spouse. Unfortunately, this strategy can backfire, since it only considers one side and not both partners.

It is important to set clear rules for both partners, as well as to maintain honest communication through which you can keep in touch regarding each other's emotional stability and comfort.

3. An ability to balance time and resources wisely.

An open marriage can be a demanding arrangement. There is only so much a person can do in a day. Along with work, kids and other responsibilities, it's hard to give time to your spouse as well as the person (or people) you are seeing.

As you spend more sexual and emotional time with another person, you naturally establish a connection, which can decrease the level of intimacy in the marriage. Be sure you can find a healthy balance between your relationships and don't begin to neglect your marriage.

4. Awareness of the green-eyed monster.

Studies indicate that more than 80% of couples in open marriages experience jealousy over secondary relationships. Humans are a naturally jealous animal and the ugly green-eyed monster is unavoidable.

No matter how understanding your partner might be, the jealousy that exists in open relationships challenges most monogamous marriages as well, causing feelings of insecurity, paranoia and anxiety. At times, couples end up spying on each other and lack of trust becomes a serious obstacle.

The more openly you communicate and the fewer secrets you keep, the less jealousy is likely to encroach on your marital satisfaction.

5. The right reasons.

Open relationships require sexual and emotional maturity, yet many individuals engage in open relationship for the "wrong" reasons. Some individuals prefer open relationships because they fear intimacy, because they suffer from deep-rooted childhood damage, or because they have a maladaptive attachment style.

Using an open marriage to avoid pressing problems in your current relationship — whether those problems are internal to one partner or an inherent part of the relationship dynamic — is both unethical and unhealthy. Careful consideration of the underlying reasons you are each thinking of having an open relationship is critical to ensuring its success.

6. Openly expressed, deeply respected boundaries.

When we become attached to someone, our judgment may be negatively impacted. So while rules and boundaries are critical in ANY relationship, some argue that when we want something too much we become too emotional about it, and therefore also more likely to allow those rules to bend or even break.

While ground rules and boundary setting may be undertaken with pure intentions, sticking with them can become a slippery slope. It can be hard to disconnect the sexual from the emotional. What may start as only sexual engagement may end up emotional, and the other way around. You may begin feeling completely in control of the situation, then suddenly feel yourself overcome by unexpected, uncontrollable desires.

Some couples are able to pull off an open marriage beautifully, while for others it remains a risky proposition.

An open marriage can pose a serious threat to the primary relationship as it brings with it many challenges and unexpected consequences. Both partners in the marriage must have a thorough understanding of the real implications and potential long term effects from the beginning.

If you are seriously considering an open relationship, it is crucial to communicate and set clear ground rules before diving into the adventure of an open marriage.

All the best!

Moshe Ratson is a Marriage and Couples Counselor in New York City. Attend spiral2grow's Marriage Therapy in Midtown Manhattan to develop healthy marital skills and enhance your relationship.