"Is Open Marriage the Modern Couple's Answer to Infidelity?"
"When I think about open marriages," writes Joslyn Matthews, "I can only conjure a stereotype: deeply unsatisfied adults, most likely going through a mid-life crisis, pathetically searching for hot sex as a solution.... But apparently, I am stuck in the past." Matthews explores the possibilities and perils of open marriage in an article out today (June 14, 2007) in Sirens, a women's magazine founded to go beyond "the staid format of mainstream women's magazines." The article was also picked up by AlterNet:
Although it is slippery by definition, open marriage is generally considered a committed marital relationship between two people who, under a set of mutually-agreed upon rules, engage in sexual encounters with various partners other than their spouse. According to those who care, it should not be confused with polyamory, a lifestyle that promotes multiple romantic relationships between any combinations of people at the same time.
...So, then, is open marriage the modern couple's answer to infidelity?... Could it be viewed as an honest attempt to make marriage work? "I think that's what people tell themselves, but it raises a red flag for me," says [marriage counselor Caroline] Robboy. "It is incredibly common and incredibly destructive for couples to experiment with open marriage in response to problems or boredom in their sex life. This is not the time to experiment with open marriage. To experiment with open marriage, you have to be in an extremely healthy relationship."
The difference between the successful and unsuccessful open marriages, she says, comes down to communication, agreed-upon ground rules, and compatible values regarding sex: "The couple has to come first. Once you stop talking and stop prioritizing your partner's needs, you're in trouble."
...In reality, people often break the rules. Mike and Joan Wilson (names changed at their request), owners of a small business in New York, are an example of what can happen when you open the Pandora's box of open marriage. At Mike's suggestion, they decided to experiment with an open marriage lifestyle to bring "spice" back into their bedroom....
Mike and Joan decided on ground rules: They were to always be together and in the same room during an encounter, kissing was not permitted, and condoms were to be used every time, without exception. They were happy with their initial encounters.... However, things came to a halt when... Joan's partner refused to wear protection and, at the risk of being exceedingly graphic, he didn't pull out. The experience ended Joan's interest in further experimentation, but Mike's affairs continued, in secret, swiftly moving him from open marriage into infidelity....
Read the whole article.
I've taken flak for saying this, but I'll say it again: this type of rule-bound, compartmentalized setup is sickly and pathetic compared to what, IMO, polyamory ought to be: something more loving, communicative, and equally respectful all around, from the outset by full mutual intention.
And as a practical matter, rule-ridden compartmentalization of your relationships is actually more explosive, not less.
An analogy that I've long used is that if you want to fly beyond the speed of sound, you have to handle jet fuel. Which is indeed explosive. Handling jet fuel requires intelligence, care, alertness, and knowledge of the safety procedures that have proven to work best rather than relying on your own uninformed rules or blind proceduralism or good intentions.
And using jet fuel in our horse-and-buggy society requires that you grasp some larger, underlying paradigms. If you make your horse drink jet fuel hoping that it will make the horse pull the buggy faster, the horse will die. If you pour jet fuel in your whale-oil lamp hoping to make the lamp burn brighter, it will explode and you will be badly burned. Jet fuel requires new engines and pipelines and valves for it to perform its flying magic, and we're only now evolving these things through (sometimes bitter) trial and error. But it's getting better each decade, for those who study what has been learned so far. Many people, however, should not try.