Making an open marriage work
One of the commonest forms of polyamory is when members of a married, life-committed couple take on secondary lovers, together and/or separately. As long as everyone knows and approves of the whole interrelationship, "open marriage" (named for the 1972 book by Nena and George O'Neill) certainly qualifies as polyamory. The key poly criteria: everyone realizes that, willy-nilly, they are all involved with each other, and all respect and honor each other's needs, boundaries, and well-being. (Say I.)
The O'Neills' book made a big splash in the 1970s. And the open marriages it inspired gained a reputation for failing dramatically. Often this was because couples (in particular, the man in the couple) relied more on wishful thinking or subtle pressure than on the rigorous communication and relationship work that polyamory demands. Also, I suspect, angry divorces are a lot more public than quiet successes; it's the dirty laundry that gets aired.
I saw very close-up how to do it well. In the early 1980s, I lived as one of several devoted lovers and housemates to a lady who ran a first-rate open marriage. She, her husband, and I remain fond friends 26 years later, long after our bedding ended. The two of them are as tight as ever.
A women who has succeeded much more recently is Jenny Block; she wrote about her open marriage in Tango, a glossy women's relationship magazine ("smart talk about love"). Now she's expanding the article into a book.
...But the sex itself is not a threat. I think of it as the “playpen effect”: You keep a kid locked up in one of those things and all she thinks about is how to get out, how much she’ll love what’s in the other room. But let her roam free and check it all out, and odds are she’ll end up at your feet, playing with a puzzle.
Is there a chance she’ll love another room and stay in there instead? Sure. Just like there’s always a chance one of us will fall in love with someone else and decide to end our marriage. But I don’t think that having sex outside our marriage increases that risk. In fact, I believe it decreases it, because it removes all the fantasy. I don’t pine. If I want someone (and he wants me), then I have him. So far, no one has come even close to making me want to jump ship. But I’ll tell you the truth: Before we tried out this open marriage thing, I definitely wondered about the quality of the grass in other lawns.
Read the whole article (in the April/May 2006 issue of Tango. The article was also reprinted on the Huffington Post site for November 27, 2006, and in Cosmopolitan Germany).
Block's book is scheduled to be published by Seal Press in June 2008. It's one of a spate of poly guidebooks now in the works. She is seeking people who will contribute their own stories for the book. She writes:
I am looking for people in open relationships who might be willing to be interviewed for the book. All responses would be used anonymously. I will email a list of questions to anyone interested and follow-up as necessary. Would you mind posting this on your site and/or blog to help me get the word out?
Thanks so much for your help!
Anyone interested can email me at:
myopenbook (AT) yahoo (DOT) com.
She was also interviewed on amNewYork (May 7, 2006) and has more to say at Feministing.com (Aug. 30, 2007).