How to Have a Productive Talk about Open Marriage

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Let’s just weed out some of the open marriage special situations right up front … the typical catalyzers to this arrangement:

No, you aren’t married to a man/woman who is up in years, a senior who can no longer perform sexually.

No, your beloved doesn’t have a terminal disease and it’s only a matter of time (the doc estimates one or two years). And sex is the farthest thing from her mind.

No, your sweetie didn’t discover they’re gay. They didn’t say they love you dearly – just not “that way.”

Your mate HAS approached you with sound mind and body and hasn’t switched sides. S/he sits you down, faces you, and with an honest, open demeanor, poses the question: “Honey, what would you say we have an open marriage? … or something to that effect.

Maybe the first thing that crosses your mind – after you recover from the initial shock of the unexpected – is how to react. That’s probably going to be directed by how you feel about the suggestion, the concept of an open marriage. Maybe the inquiry is so out in left field, so unexpected, that it leaves you stunned, blind-sided, grasping for words. You don’t know whether to be insulted, angry, jealous, upset that something must be seriously wrong with the relationship. It may cross your mind that this is his idea of a joke (Am I on Candid Camera or what?).

One thing’s for sure: you’re confused and you have LOTS of questions. You’re just not sure where to begin. But even when you decide where to begin, HOW you begin, your tone, and body language are also important elements in the mix.

 

Setting the Right Tone

Here, at the outset, is where s/he has the opportunity to set the tone. You, in turn, can have an intelligent, respectful talk with the objective being discovery, getting to the heart of the matter rather than a firing squad of questions and tears … where your voice goes up an octave. You feel betrayed, deeply hurt. You ask yourself – and maybe verbalize it – what happened to the man/woman I married?

To be sure, their initial approach and your initial response are as critical as the opening moves on a chessboard. One thing’s for sure: how well the discussion goes will be dictated by how they approach the subject as well as by your reaction. Things could go very well or very bad. You each have an opportunity … opportunity in the sense that their inquiry and your reaction can lead to clarification, ease of mind, compassion, a new closeness, and even intimacy.

 

Presentation is Everything

So, let’s put your reaction on hold for a bit and back up to how s/he broaches the subject. S/he might start the discussion with “Would you be willing to discuss the possibility of having an open marriage?” That approach is compassionate and much preferred than if s/he were to blurt out “I want to have sex with other people.”

 

Are You in Agreement?

Have you explored your thoughts about open marriages – with yourself or hypothetical discussions with your spouse? Do you have definite feelings about the subject? Does your mate know what those feelings are and vice versa? It’s a good idea to discuss thoughts about open marriage early in a relationship before your significant other pops the question? (I’m referring here to both popping a marriage proposal and the question about open marriages.)

 

 Hidden Motivations, Agendas

By agreeing, are you just accepting your mate’s infidelity? Could there be hidden motives to the request? Has your partner clandestinely had an affair and now wants the best of both worlds … a marriage and a little fling on the side?

·         Are you being used? Is open marriage a veiled threat, manipulation; in other words, reading between the lines, are they saying “Either we have an open marriage or I want a divorce?”

·         Is an open marriage a prelude to emotional abuse?

These are important considerations to ponder – as painful as they may be.

 

Ask Lots of Questions

·         Discuss many of the ways you value the marriage and/or relationship. Be specific. Be respectful. Emotionally charged discussions can turn ugly instantly. You need to feel reassured that your partner cherishes you and wants to have a long, happy marriage with you.

·         Seriously consider your mate’s request. Keep an open mind. Have love in your heart when you talk about this subject.

·         Am I of the firm belief that my spouse and I need to be completely committed to each other and exclusively intimate in order for our marriage to be successful, for both of us to be happy and satisfied? If so, tell them.

·         Another essential question is “Why?” Have there been any events that might have led her to bring up the question? Is this the fallout of a midlife crisis? Is it an experiment in the strength of the marriage?

·         What is motivating their desire? Ask them. Is this the early stages of thoughts of separation? Is it genuine curiosity? Does s/she think to have sexual partners outside of the marriage will add variety and excitement that will reignite desire, improve fidelity?

·         Has s/he fallen out of love? (A tough question to ask and chances are you’re not going to get a straight answer). Am I being manipulated? Same here; you may not get a straight answer if that’s their MO.

·         What does an “open marriage” mean to your spouse? Ask them. What does it mean to you? Multiple partners as opportunities present themselves? A constant stream of interludes to where you feel neglected … the less preferred sexual partner? Are you on the same page? “Do you sincerely want me to participate by having my own sexual encounters?” Get your mate to give you a clear picture of what they want.

·         How carefully have you each thought out the consequences of having an open marriage? Ask your spouse.

·         Will saying “yes” make our marriage stronger or weaker? They’ll probably say “yes” or “I hope so” but ask anyway. Pay attention to WHAT as well as HOW they respond.

 

 Should it Be Public Knowledge?

 Do you want the open marriage to be hush-hush; just between the two of us? If so, what if someone finds out? What effect will this have on your friends and family? Ask them why they want to keep it a secret.

 “What about our kids? They’re young and impressionable? How will accepting and/or participating in an open marriage affect their well-being? Feelings of security?” If they’re of age to understand what an open marriage is, do you want to share that information with them? What if they find out accidentally?

If we agree to this, should we disclose that we’re in an open marriage just as openly and freely as if we’re announcing that we’re pregnant, that I just got a promotion, or that we’re taking up dance classes?

Might there be consequences at work if it became known? Is that behavior frowned upon in your company’s corporate culture? Could this affect your/their career? Job advancement?

 

Creating a Safe Environment for Discussion

 

S/He says …

“When I sleep with someone else it makes me want to come home to you.  An open relationship is a loving one and our capacity for love is endless.” 

If you have a strong, trusting relationship, be open to his/her own interpretation as well as yours about what that means in your relationship. Be realistic. Take off your blinders or rose-colored glasses. Be honest with one another. Think it through thoroughly. Keep the lines of communication open at all times.

 

S/He says …

“I value our marriage. I love you deeply and appreciate all that you do for me and for us. Having an open marriage will not change that.”

You may or may not believe them, but you may want to give them the benefit of the doubt – for now.

 

Different Strokes

Marriages work differently among couples.  No two are the same. Open marriages are open to the desires and interpretations of each partner. Take it slowly. Always, always, keep the lines of communication open. Always, always be honest with each other. If it’s not working for you, tell your spouse. Seek couples therapy to get help, clarification, and objective observations and strategies from a professional, third-party.

Is Your Independence Infecting Your Relationship?

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You pride yourself on being independent … your own person  – and you like it that way. You love your sweetheart and want to please them but their protective or controlling nature is interfering with the relationship. Is your partner’s behavior smothering you? Do you feel “joined at the hip” instead of walking alongside your significant other? You can’t see into the future, but you can see clearly that their attitude is going to dismantle the relationship if they  don’t give you some breathing room.

Is This Your Relationship?

You: You want some alone time and are enjoying the day curled up with a good book.

Your partner:  They are annoyed, angry, or hurt that you’re choosing a book over them; using the time they want to spend together.

Or maybe these remarks sound familiar:

“You don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll take care of you.” Or, “I don’t want you to going out at night without me.”

Your response might be to hit the ceiling … or maybe you swallow the Cool Aid, nod your head in agreement, pretend s/he didn’t mean it, or you tell yourself you’ll deal with it later.

Do you feel you’re being pressured into giving up control of your actions or emotions to your partner? Are you afraid to make decisions, take certain actions, engage in certain activities, live a lifestyle to which you’re accustomed and that you enjoy? Can you embrace independence or is your independence taking a hit to satisfy him/her?

 

Why Does Your Mate Act This Way?

When you give up or are asked to give up some of your independence, your partner may be overstepping boundaries. S/he may see the relationship as only “us,” not two unique individuals coming together but still maintaining two separate identities.

Your partner may be inclined to assume certain roles in the relationship. S/he may do this because it may seem familiar or comforting to assume these roles, because this is how their past relationships operated, or because they see this role as a demonstration of their love or commitment. The trouble with this attitude is that, taken to extremes or beyond what you feel comfortable with, it can destroy the often good intentions behind it, causing more harm than good.

 

Restoring Independence

Maybe it’s time for a heart-to-heart discussion with your sweetie. A relationship is a gift that chance has bestowed on you both. Does s/he see the relationship this way, or to them is the relationship a necessity or does it serve to satisfy certain desires?

You might tell him/her they matter to you, but at the same time, you are each whole and separate persons with your own independent needs and interests.

You might tell them they are not responsible for your happiness. That kind of responsibility can lead to demands on their part and resentment or a sense of powerlessness on your part.

You might tell them it’s important to you to grow as an individual in a relationship. Your personal goals are not going to be his/her personal goals – some of them are, but don’t expect the whole enchilada.

You might tell them that independence can actually keep the relationship fresh and exciting.

You might tell them that being independent allows you to support each other’s unique goals and capabilities.

You might tell them that when we allow and respect our partner’s space, this draws our partner closer to us.

You might tell them that you would prefer to be asked directly what you want and need from them rather than assuming they know what you want or that they can read your mind.

 

Making Progress

Being able to keep your independence and individuality also equips you for the uncertainties of life (you might want to leave that out of the discussion). You and your mate can cooperate together to find an honest and authentic way of relating to one another so that you each can maintain your independence and get what you want out of a life and still be together.

Once your lover’s feelings of discomfort or loneliness pass, you are on your way to maintaining – or recovering – your sense of independence … and that could be a relationship-saver.

Are Your Friends Ruining Your Relationship?

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Your potentially first mistake is pouring your heart out to a close friend when there’s a speed bump in your relationship with your sweetie – and you take their advice! They’re a good buddy, maybe your BFF, so you trust them and value what they think. So you take their advice to “dump the bum.”

Of course, you don’t just jump off a cliff when someone asks you to, but your friend’s words weigh on you. Maybe other friends or family you run to have similar reactions. Doubt slowly creeps in and somewhere down the road and gradually you’re seeing your sweetie in a tarnished light. But is that light really reliable? Are you seeing demons when they’re originating from external sources … like clouds polluting your ability to see the situation realistically?

Beware. There are certain people and certain types of advice that should be taken lightly or considered skeptically. You might be best off avoiding discussing your relationship problems at all with certain people.

 

Are Your Friends Pressuring You?

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”

– Coco Chanel

 

Outside opinions, thoughts, judgments about your relationship decisions are just those: outside opinions. They are not yours. Don’t be a dust mop, picking up on their criticisms and internalizing them.

Your friends and family may be thinking they’re serving your best interests when they sit you down and have an “intervention.” And maybe they are. But it’s you who has to decide. Don’t let your friends rob you of your judgment. They are injecting doubts that you may be picking up on and acting on without giving them careful consideration.

 

What Your Friends May Be Saying

“He’s not right for you. You deserve better.”

Or they may call you crazy. This could be a maneuver to invalidate your decisions and feelings. They may find fault with your relationship. They may nit-pick or make assumptions about how you’re being treated.

 

Questions to Ask Yourself

·      Are your friends happy for you when you’re happy? Sad for you when you’re sad?

·      Are they envious?

·      Are they hostile in the presence of you and your mate; do they give them the “cold shoulder?”

·      Are their reactions always negative when you’re discussing your relationship?

·      Are they making up stories about your mate; telling you things that are untrue?

·      Are you detecting the “common denominator argument” … that is, “Every one of my relationships eventually failed; yours will too.”

·      Are they having their own relationship problems and transferring their negativity onto yours?

·      Are they single and want you to be single too?

·      Do they criticize other aspects of your life as well as your relationship?

·      Are they living your life instead of their own?

·      Are they divorced or in the throes of a difficult divorce?

·      Do they make sound decisions about their own life and relationships?

·      If it’s your mother or another close relative, is their attitude that there’s no one good enough for you? Do they have your happiness at heart?

·      Do you value and trust their opinions in general?

Remember, others’ decisions are based on their own personal experiences. They may be bitter and bruised from their own past relationships.

 

Working It Out For Yourself

I don’t know who coined this, but it’s so true: “You can’t choose who you love, but you can choose who you’re with.” Relationships involve two people but you are ultimately responsible only to yourself. You are responsible for your own happiness.

Trust your intuition. You don’t need to explain or justify your decisions to anyone. If you feel pressure to stay in a relationship that is dysfunctional or abusive, recognize that. Are you making excuses not to leave … excuses like “He’s a good man/woman,” or “S/he’s financially secure and will provide for me.”

Your inner guide knows best. Others are not walking in your shoes. It’s you who has to search deep down to determine what your heart is telling you. Seek advice – friends or professionals – but you must ultimately decide for yourself.

In sessions with clients in situations like this, I like to ask these questions:

·      Do you see a repeating pattern of discord with your mate? In other words, does the same thing happen over and over?

·      Is your mate telling you they don’t like something you’re doing and that something is important to you?

·      Do they seem to get satisfaction doing and asking you not to do this or that or change your behavior?

·      When you give in to their requests, do you get a sense that you are giving up your independence? Or does it maybe make you feel sad, uncomfortable, or controlled?

·      Are you the one always making compromises, backing down? Is the relationship one of give-and-take or does it feel more one-sided?

·      Are you comfortable with who you are?

·      Do you feel pressure to change something you don’t think you can or want to change?

·      If you are desperate for a confidante, are you choosing carefully? Is this person in a long and happy relationship themself? Are they a good role model by which you might gauge yours? Are you taking cues and advice but being selective and making up your own mind?

 

You Are Responsible

“Don’t ever feel bad for making a decision about your own life that upsets other people. You are not responsible for their happiness. You’re responsible for your own happiness.”

– Isaiah Hankel

 

It may be your friend you should dump, not your sweetie.  At least, don’t leave him/her without deep personal reflection and communication. Keep toxic people out of your life. Don’t let them make your decisions and affect your self-esteem.