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.
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.