"Open relationships: Love without strings"
Jenny Block, author of Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage (2008) gets star billing in a long, positive article in one of Great Britain's most respected papers. (This is the article that prompted the Irish Independent cluelessness described in my previous post.) She tells us, "It was reposted all over the place, including Forbes and the Canberra Times in Australia."
Open relationships: Love without strings
You're happily married, but both free to have sex with other people. Are open relationships the answer to modern matrimony or just a recipe for divorce?
By Gillian Orr
"Open marriage destroyed Ashton and Demi's relationship!" cried one tabloid. "Did Ashton and Demi have an OPEN MARRIAGE?" spat another. When Hollywood couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore [shown here] split last month amid rumours of having an alternative union, the press had a field day. The astonishment and bewilderment over a couple engaging in such a lifestyle was screamed from the front pages.
We live in a society that is more sexually liberated than ever before, yet open relationships – a relationship in which both partners are allowed to have sex with other people – still have the propensity to shock. It is one of the last remaining taboos.
...So can open relationships work? Jenny Block, the writer and author of Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage certainly thinks so. The 41-year-old mother of one is currently the poster girl for open marriage in the US, describing herself as "the most average-looking, regular soccer-mom type". Having married her husband, Christopher, in 1997, Block embarked on an affair with another woman three years later. When she finally came clean to her husband, she found his response fascinating. "What was so interesting to me was that he said, 'I can't believe you lied to me', rather than, 'I can't believe you had sex with someone else'," she says.
"It was the trust thing rather than the sex thing that had hurt him and so I began to ask myself which was more important and what was marriage really based on?"
They decided to embark on an open marriage, albeit with certain ground rules: complete honesty and strictly no carrying on with someone else from their neighbourhood. Currently Block has a girlfriend, Jemma, who has her own apartment but is also considered part of the family. While Jemma and Christopher don't have a sexual relationship, he is free to date other women. Keeping up?
...What irks Block is that we live in a society where cheating is acceptable (if not exactly welcomed), whereas open relationships are scrutinised. "Isn't it better to be honest about your desires?" she asks. "I'm not claiming that this is possible across the board or that we're all ready for this yet, but I'm suggesting that this is something that works for us and other people."
Her 13-year-old daughter is aware of the situation and the couple have elected to answer any questions as they come....
...Despite Block extolling all that open marriage has to offer, it shouldn't come without certain warnings; jealousy being the most obvious catalyst for causing cracks. "It really depends on the couple and what their values are but generally it doesn't work because eventually somebody will form an outside attachment and that will cause problems with the primary relationship," Mandy Kloppers, a relationship psychologist and counsellor, says.
On her decades-long relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, the philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir wrote: "We were two of a kind and our relationship would endure as long as we did: but it could not make up entirely for the fleeting riches to be had from encounters with different people." It was Sartre who proposed the open relationship and he was the one who engaged in numerous affairs, while de Beauvoir rarely did. Critics have observed that her fiction, so autobiographical in nature, suggests she suffered deeply from jealousy, going along with Sartre's plan merely to please him.
This, Kloppers points out, is often the outcome of such arrangements. "It's common to see one person coerced into it because they want to keep their partner happy and want to keep an eye on them," she says. "If you have an unstable relationship to begin with then you're asking for trouble by doing this type of thing."...
...It might not be for everyone, but maybe we have to accept that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to love and commitment. And for those who find the arrangement emotionally fulfilling and feel it breathes life into long-term relationships, perhaps it's not such a shocking set-up after all.
Read the whole article (Dec. 6, 2011).