WebMD: "The Truth About Open Marriage"
WebMD aims to be the premier source of reliable medical information on the net. Maybe you've heard its ads on the radio. In its Health & Sex Center, an article just went up (Nov. 21, 2007) with an ominous title but remarkably straightforward content about polyamory and those who practice it well. Regular readers here will recognize some of the characters featured.
Couples who practice "polyamory" say it's good for their relationships. Some therapists disagree.
By Kathleen Doheny
Jenny Block often invites her best friend, Jemma, to join her, her husband, and their 8-year-old daughter for dinner. "We might order Chinese and then play Scrabble after dinner," Block says.
It all sounds very Middle America, until you know the rest of the story. Although Block and her husband, Christopher (not his real name), have been married for nearly 11 years, Jemma (not her real name) is Block's other love. They regularly go out on "dates," although Block's daughter knows only that Jemma is a family friend. And Block and her husband go out regularly, too. Block is intimate with both of them.
...Those who practice open relationships or polyamory often say they are "hardwired" this way and that laying the ground rules for multiple relationships spares everyone hurt and disappointment. Not everyone agrees, with some therapists calling the polyamorous model a recipe for hurt, disappointment, jealousy, and breakups. On one point all agree: a "poly" relationship isn't going to work unless all partners are in favor of the arrangement.
...Freedom of choice is a big draw, says Cherie, a 34-year-old technology consultant who is traveling around the country and telecommuting with her partner, Chris, also 34 and in the same business.... "Over the years," she tells WebMD, "I have been involved with a very wide variety of relationships and configurations, from triads, vees, quads, and extended networks. At one time, I even co-purchased a house with three other partners."
Her partner, Chris, says that his heart is "wired" for multiple relationships. Those classic love triangle movies, he tells WebMD, were always frustrating to him. "Why should the hero or heroine have to choose between two partners?" he asks. "Why not have both?"
Franklin Veaux, an ex-partner of Cherie, says he, too, is hardwired to be a polyamorist. "Why does the princess or the prince who lives in a castle have to choose?" he asks. "There is enough room for everyone." He keeps in touch with Cherie through instant messaging, although they are not romantically linked right now.
"Every partner adds something to my life," he says. "All of these things make me a better person." The big attraction, he says, is emotional intimacy. "Everybody adds value to my life."
Those who pursue an "open" or polyamorous relationship are obviously not conventional types, says William Doherty, PhD, director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul. "There are always some people who want to push the limits of their experiences -- their joy, their ecstasy in life," he says. They feel convention and tradition inhibit them.
...Polyamorists, to their credit, are often open about it, Doherty says. "There is a kind of idealism around these folks," he says. "They want to be completely open and honest about it."
...Some say they learn something about relationship skills from their other partner or partners, something that can be applied with the primary partner.
"Where it becomes threatening is when [partners] think love implies exclusivity," says Veaux. "It's the starvation model of love. That is, if you love two, each gets half of the love. That's not true. Every single person is absolutely unique. Because of that, it means my partners can never be replaced."
...Ground rules are essential before starting a poly relationship, Veaux and others say. Some Internet poly sites offer sample contracts for multiple relationships.
"You have to figure out what the rules are," Weston says. "Otherwise so much could be hurtful."
The increased risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease is another obvious drawback. Veaux says he is careful about monitoring his sexual health. "I get a general physical once a year, and I'm screened for STDs. Whenever my partnership status changes I am screened again." He asks his partners to do the same. He asks for written proof that his partners are infection-free and provides it to them as well.
To read the whole article, go to the WebMD home page and enter "polyamory" in the search bar.