For as long as the concept of the institution of marriage has been around, so has the question of whether humans are wired for monogamy. Some spouses may try to bridge this disconnect by asking the other for an open marriage instead of divorce. They may reason that they want the security that marriage provides but that they want some variety when it comes to physical and emotional connections. Here is what you need to know about open marriage and what it might mean for you.

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What Is An Open Marriage?

Psychology Today defines open marriage as an arrangement in which each spouse is free to seek out other sexual or romantic partners on their own, often with the other spouse having some say over the conditions of these extramarital arrangements. Another term for open marriage is a consensual non-monogamous marriage. Individuals who are involved in these types of marriages wish to remove the stigma and negative associations related to adultery by agreeing with their spouse that they are both free to see other people. In this manner, they wish to create a marriage that is based on ethical non-monogamy.

The spouses may agree to various terms related to their arrangement, such as the extramarital relationships will only be sexual in nature and not emotional or that a spouse will only start seeing someone with the approval of the other spouse. There are certainly differences between each open marriage. In some open marriages, the spouses may have no contact or connection with the extramarital partners while in other cases, the partners may be an integral part of both spouses’ lives.

Open marriages are often discussed in relation to other concepts such as polyamory and swinging. Polyamory’s root words mean “many loves.” A polyamorous person may have many loves or relationships characterized by an emotional as well as sexual connection. According to the Polyamory Society, polyamory is the “non-possessive, honest, responsible, and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously. Polyamory may be practiced by married and single people, especially by people who reject social norms and believe that monogamy is not a natural condition for humans. Often, all of the parties involved in a polyamorous relationship are aware of this arrangement, which may not be true of all open marriages.

While polyamory often involves an emotional connection, “swinging” often emphasizes the sexual component. In swinging, couples may swap partners with other couples in their own homes or at swinging clubs. While emotional connections may form through these arrangements, swinging tends to focus more on the sexual aspect of the relationship, including the fulfillment of sexual fantasies that the other spouse may not be comfortable with.

Open Marriage Instead Of Divorce

In some situations, the question may become open marriage or divorce. For example, a husband wants an open marriage or divorce after determining that he cannot remain faithful or that he doesn’t want to feel bad about cheating. He may suggest opening the marriage as a compromise so that he is able to continue to pursue his extramarital relationships while still enjoying the benefits of marriage.

When considering whether to pursue an open marriage vs. divorce, it is essential to be realistic. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What are the benefits of an open marriage?
  • Will I be able to emotionally deal with the idea that my spouse is with another person?
  • Will my spouse respect my wishes?
  • What if I want to stop?
  • What if my wife wants an open marriage and I don’t?
  • How will divorce affect my children?
  • How will divorce affect my finances?
  • What if I don’t agree to an open marriage? Will my spouse just cheat on me?

In some cases, an open marriage arrangement might just be what a couple needs and can provide a better sex life, greater variety, and extra spice to a marriage. In other cases, it might just be the precursor before divorce.

Divorce Rates With Open Marriages

It is incredibly difficult to find reliable statistics on open marriage divorce rates. First, many couples in “open” marriages may not be open about this fact. While some estimates are that 20% of married people have experimented with consensual non-monogamy, psychologist Steve Brody estimates that the percentage at less than 1%. Other estimates indicate that the percentage of U.S. adults who have some type of open arrangement are around 4% to 9%. This article said that one study said that 92% of open marriages end in divorce, but it should be noted that MDR was not able to find the original source of that statistic. In contrast, The New York Times examined a study of same-sex couples and found that half of the open marriages between gay men did not end in divorce.

So, turning to other statistics, here are some important things to note about open marriages from verified statistics:

Is Asking For An Open Marriage An Admission Of Infidelity?

In some situations, asking for an open marriage may be a sign that your spouse has already cheated and is asking for retroactive permission or forgiveness. In others, it may be because your spouse has already been eying a potential mate and wants to act on those urges. Consider that your spouse’s proposal for an open marriage may not only be hypothetical in nature and that they may soon act on your acceptance once it is given (or possibly before).

Are You Comfortable With It?

One of the biggest problems surrounding opening your marriage is that one of the spouses may not be comfortable with it. Some spouses are morally opposed to open marriages. Others may strictly adhere to the concept of “forsake all others” or their marriage vows. 

If you find yourself in the situation that your wife wants a one-sided open marriage or you are searching about what to do if “my husband wants to swing and I don’t” be honest about it. With yourself and your spouse. Being coerced into something you don’t want is just going to bring about negative consequences and you owe it to yourself and your spouse to be honest and upfront about your misgivings. 

Rules for a Successful Open Marriage

If you are considering an open marriage vs divorce, here are some rules to help you make an open marriage a success for you and your spouse:

  • Lay ground rules – While it might not seem sexy, establishing ground rules is vital to a successful open relationship. Explain what you are and are not comfortable with. It’s your relationship, so you get to set the rules ahead of time. Many open marriage spouses find that their trust and communication grows when they open the marriage. 
  • Follow the rules – Many problems that arise in open marriages are not due to opening up the marriage. Instead, they are caused when one of the spouses breaks one of the agreed-upon rules. Doing that can erode the trust and communication. 
  • Practice safe sex – While opening up your marriage can be exciting, it can also expose you to sexually transmitted diseases and infections, so take measures to protect yourself, your spouse, and your partners.
  • Be honest – Be honest about your intentions and why you want an open marriage. Explain what your expectations are. Also, be honest about your fears, jealousy, sense of loneliness, or other complicated emotions. As you experience this new element of your relationship, also be honest about how you are feeling in the middle of it. Is your spouse getting more attention than you thought would happen? Is the relationship feeling lopsided? Are your desires still unmet? Talk through things as you experience them. The reality is often a lot different than what people originally imagined.
  • Treat your partner(s) respectfully – Even though your marriage might be your primary relationship, you can still treat your partner in a respectful manner that is consistent with the ground rules you have established with your spouse. 
  • Have an out – If either one of you wants to end the opening of your relationship, leave room for an out..

An open marriage could save your marriage. Or, it could end it. Still yet, an open marriage likely won’t fix underlying problems with your relationship, such as a poor distribution of responsibility, power struggles, or communication problems. Before engaging in an open relationship, consider how it might affect you, your spouse, and your marriage. Every relationship is different, so the impact opening it can have will also be different for each couple.

5-Day Divorce Recovery Crash Course. Take the first steps in your recovery and start healing today! Send me the free emails
5-Day Divorce Recovery Crash Course. Take the first steps in your recovery and start healing today! Send me the free emails