More reaction to "Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?" – good, bad, and ugly
The enormous May 14th cover story of the New York Times Magazine, Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage? (and its online followup 'We Choose Each Other Over and Over Because We Want To') raised a fair amount of buzz. I posted about poly-community reaction calling out the article's limited viewpoints and ethics juggling: Representation, Or Not. Here are some responses from the wider world.
● Sari Cooper, sex educator and therapist based in New York, wrote this on her Psychology Today site: What the NY Times Article Missed and What Therapists Need to Learn (May 15). It's worth quoting at length. And, keep the link to send to therapists who need to read this.
What the NY Times Article Missed and What Therapists Need to Learn
One of the differences in my practice today versus ten years ago, is the openness with which couples are entering therapy to discuss their desire to open up their monogamous relationships. They also contact my Center for Love and Sex to discuss their well-established open relationships and work on better communication skills, get advice around parenting, or discuss a renegotiation.
...The author was helpful in revealing that opening up or living within non-monogamous agreements are really for people who are interested in talking about their feelings.... But some other significant points were missed, in my opinion.
The article didn’t present the full spectrum of diversity in the non-monogamous communities, including those that come from various ethnicities, cultures and sexual practices. ...
While the author cited important historical sources like Open Marriage by Nena and George O’Neill from the 1970’s and The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton, the article neglected to cite Opening Up by Tristan Taormino or Designer Relationships by Patricia Johnson and Mark Michaels, significant [and more recent] contributions handed down by people immersed in these communities. Johnson and Michaels point out that the couples portrayed in the article chose “nonmonogamy as a solution for marital problems, as opposed to something that people enthusiastically choose”.
One of the emotions the writer didn’t name explicitly in her article was that of compersion. ... This feeling is hard for committed monogamists to understand, and many therapists have difficulty trusting that this emotion is authentic since we have all been brought up in a world where jealousy seems the norm. It’s not that non-monogamous individuals never feel jealousy, they just work on it in a deeply committed way while also feeling compersion. So when a client of mine is expressing joy that his wife is experiencing a new kind of arousal with her boyfriend, most traditional therapists might look for some sort of pathology as to why this husband isn’t exclusively feeling jealous of his wife’s partner.
Canadian polyfamily. (Galit Rodan / Globe & Mail)
While the Times story included a therapist who told one of the couples they were likely heading for divorce, it didn’t articulate how this reflection showed the monogamous-centric attitude the therapist seemed to hold. The omission [was] a missed opportunity to reveal a professional blind spot in most general therapists’ toolkits. ...
Given that many couples therapists and sex therapists see many couples in crisis when an affair or infidelity has been discovered, it is curious that these same therapists have trouble treating a consensually non-monogamous couple with a different lens. Many therapists believe that those practicing a non-monogamous relationship structure are somehow damaged in their attachment styles.... And while there are those in the CNM (Consensual Non-Monogamous) community that break rules set up by their primary partner and lover, why would they be seen differently than supposed monogamous couples where one partner was unfaithful?
...The woman Elizabeth featured in the article was seeing a married man who wasn’t “out” with his wife about seeing another woman. So in fact, he was cheating on his wife with a woman who was being open with her husband. I agree with [Kevin] Patterson that this arrangement is unethical non-monogamy, since not all parties involved have chosen this arrangement, and not something that many communities accept given the lack of transparency for all involved.
...Many couples have come to my practice after seeing a general couples’ therapist who told them that they were heading for a divorce, or who tried to convince them their lifestyle itself was the source of their conflict. The couple ended the treatment having felt like their presenting issue was not addressed and that the therapist was not informed.
...If therapists are supposed to help clients in their romantic relationships, they need to be able to see past society’s and their own discipline’s history of negative views of non-monogamy. It would be critical for them to learn that recent research shows that non-consensual partners in partnerships/marriages (those cheating, or having affairs) are significantly less likely to use protective sexual behaviors with both their lovers and partners (leaving them both open to STIs), and less likely to participate in frequent STI testing, than consensually non-monogamous individuals.
When I presented at an AASECT (American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists) several years ago on the Clinical Implications when Working with Non-Monogamous Couples, the response was so overwhelming the organizers had to move us into the largest ballroom to accommodate the audience.
...My colleague Esther Perel, whose upcoming book The State of Affairs explores these issues... [says] therapists who are able to hold them through the emotional rollercoaster of recovery will learn about the private domains of their partners as much as the private domains they had avoided within themselves. It is this type of continual self and partner discovery that open, communicative monogamous and CNM partners can gain when they share their deep longings and fantasies in a non-judgmental context, whether they're at home or with a CNM-informed therapist who is willing to meet them where they are.
● Jezebel addressed a well-known feminist angle: Are Women More Into Polyamory Than Men? (May 12):
By Aimée Lutkin
...In a very long and moving piece for the New York Times, Susan Dominus interviewed dozens of non-monogomous or “monogomish” couples in open marriages to see what additional people brought to their life, both good and bad.
...Dominus began to note in her interviews that the majority of the heterosexual couples opened up their relationships at the instigation of the women. Of the 25 couples, only 6 were opened up at the man’s suggestion, and even in cases where it was mutual, the woman were generally more sexually active outside the relationship.
...In his book [What Women Want, Daniel] Bergner cites research suggesting that women desire novelty as much as men.... and may desire variety at an even higher level to be truly excited about sex, but societal structures discourage women for reaching for what they want. In an open (but committed) relationship, many women are able to find that mix of stability and excitement they crave. It should be noted, however, that that need for stability is just as likely a construct taught to women as the myth of a low sex drive is.
At any rate, everyone Dominus spoke with seemed to say that their approach to non-monogamy had brought sexual energy back into their relationships with their primary partners, and also opened up channels of communication they’d never been able to tap into before....
● Susan Dominus herself held a reddit AMA ("Ask Me Anything") and answered a lot of reader questions about the article and her year of research for it (May 15).
Dominus is also interviewed on the Slate podcast DoubleX Gabfest, "Slate’s weekly women's roundtable" (May 18. It's not particularly revelatory.)
● Now from the serious to the shallow: Cosmopolitan summarized the story in 10 points with these lead sentences:
10 Things People in Open Marriages Want You to Know
By Laura Beck
In The New York Times Susan Dominus explores the concept of open marriages, something more and more people are doing, but don't necessarily feel comfortable talking about. Here are some of the misconceptions she breaks down in the course of her enlightening article.
1. Open relationships can mean many things, arrangement-wise....
3. Technology is making open marriages easier....
4. People in open marriages are still judged....
5. However, some people in open marriages are really, well, open about it....
6. Sometimes a third partner can even live with the couple....
7. People in open marriages prize keeping their marriages "normal."...
8. Open marriages make them more open, sexually....
9. Open marriage is an option for people who crave differences in their marriage, but still want to be married....
10. Like any relationship, there are pros and cons....
The article (May 13).
Here's another Cosmo article that appeared a few days ago: 12 Ways Being in an Open Relationship Changes Your Sex Life (May 17). It's not bad.
● And from the shallow to the skeptical: A New York Post columnist writes Sorry, infidelity will never be normal or harmless (May 23):
By Karol Markowicz
...In the last week, Vice, New York magazine and, for some reason, Bride magazine have all opened up on open relationships....
The Times piece focused mostly on a couple named Elizabeth and Daniel. He asked her to open their marriage; she said no. Years later, she became attracted to another man and decided she was into the open marriage thing after all. Without discussing it with Daniel, Elizabeth started a full-on affair. When Daniel expressed pain over the arrangement, she refused to end it.
Sounds amazing. Why aren’t more people into this?
...That’s really the issue — with the Times piece and with open marriages in general. The consent makes it seem like it’s a victimless crime, but there always seems to be someone on the margins who either doesn’t know or isn’t strong enough to resist the arrangement, and ends up getting predictably hurt.
● And from the skeptical to the hostile: Conservatives were riled, as best expressed in the National Review's headline: This Is How the Elite Poisons Our Culture (May 12):
By David French
...They thrill to new love and discover more about themselves. They embrace the benefits of security and liberty, keeping a home for the kids while reserving weekends away for their affairs. Isn’t this at least one valid path for consenting adults? Shouldn’t more couples consider this lifestyle? Are we still too trapped by tradition and our own petty jealousies to live what could truly be our best lives?...
Their stories are both revolting and pathetic.
National Review also reprinted an article from Acculturated, by Ashley E. McGuire, which cluelessly confuses the topic with 19th-century Mormon polygamy: ‘Polyamory’ Is a Modern Name for a Backwards Practice (May 13).
...Which was pulled to pieces by Slate Star Codex (aka Scott Alexander): Polyamory Is Not Polygyny (May 17).
Wrote Juila Duin at Get Religion, 'Open marriage?' The New York Times Magazine hopes, hopes, hopes that it's a trend (May 12).
By Ed Straker at American Thinker: Can people be happy in an 'open' marriage? (May 12). "It's even good for the kids! What more can you ask for? ... The article makes it seem that women are more willing to satisfy their husband's needs when their own needs are being satisfied by someone else." [Well, yeah?]
On Newsbusters, by Matt Philbin: NY Times Magazine Swings for Open Marriage (May 11). "Wanna sleep around, but scared of wrecking your comfy marriage? No worries."
Jessica Burke at The Federalist: ‘Open Marriage’ Is Just Another Term For Adultery, And Just As Selfish (May 15). "If every unhappy couple got to interpret marriage to fit their fancies, we would have eliminated the institution millennia ago. ... Open marriage is no marriage, and that's the point."