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Can Open Relationships Save Marriages?

Sometimes people get married and they are a great match. They are in love and they respect each other and their sex life is wonderful. In some cases people get married and love and respect each other, but their sex life isn’t working. In these and other cases, for various reasons, some couples then consider having an “open relationship.”

Research by the National Opinion Research Center concludes that about 4 to 5 percent of heterosexual couples have agreed to have an open relationship. The question is why do they do it, and does it work?

There are many reasons why couple’s decide to open their relationships. Sometimes they do it because there has been a breakdown in their communication: they are not being honest with each other anymore. When a couple stops being honest, their sexual interest in each other also diminishes. Soon they are looking at other people and have fantasies about other people, so they begin to think that an open relationship is the answer to their problem. For such couples it is not the answer. It is impossible to have a successful open relationship without having trust and intimacy in your own relationship.

Other couples are angry at one another and are starting to think about cheating. Cheating happens most often because of unresolved anger in a relationship, and statistics show that today both men and women are prone to cheating. Couples who are angry at one another will not be able to save their marriage by opening it up. Because they don’t have a good core relationship, and because of the anger, they are likely to find a “better” partner and break up.

Fear is another reason why couples decide to have an open relationship. An article in Psychalive.org, notes that fear of intimacy often leads couples to open up their relationship. They fool themselves into thinking that the problem is caused by the person they are with, but it really comes from their fear of intimacy. The article explains: “They find it difficult to let things get too close or to tolerate loving feelings directed toward them. What makes this even more complicated is the fact that this fear can sit below the surface, so it isn’t entirely conscious.”

Sometimes the fear of losing one’s partner leads a person to go along with spouse-swapping in order to hold onto the partner. This is another recipe for disaster. The partner who goes along with it doesn’t really enjoy the experience and is usually stressed out that sooner or later the other partner will meet someone he loves more. And this is exactly what usually happens.

A small fraction of couples who swap partners endure. In order for an open relationship to work, it must be based on trust. The couple who engages in an open relationship must have a trusting and intimate relationship. They can’t do it in order to save their marriage. That is an illusion. Only better honesty, better communication, and perhaps working with a professional, can do that. The only way an open relationship can work is if the relationship of the people involved is working, and their goal in opening the relationship is to enjoy some novelty. That is, they do it to add some spice to their relationship, not to save it.

Any open relationship will require agreements or contracts. Sometimes these can be written agreement and sometimes not. These agreements are absolutely necessary for an open relationship to work. There are several kinds.

Limit what each of you does sexually with others. For those who agree to an open relationship in which each partner may explore sexuality with another person outside the marriage, partners must establish rules and stick to them. They may decide that only one-night stands are permissible, and that the partner who has a one-night stand must inform the partner with a text or phone call when it is about to happen and fill in the partner about the tryst right afterwards. Sometimes such an experience is followed by making love to their partner and rekindling their own bond. Sometimes sex with another heightens the sexual experience with one’s partner.

Limit the number of times. Some couples agree to restrict how many times they are permitted to have sex with the same outside person. It could be one or two times. The aim of such an agreement is to lessen the risk of getting attached to someone else through repeated encounters.
Limit who you have sex with. Most couples will want to agree to ban sexual relationships with certain kinds of people. They would ban relationships with former sexual partners, former spouses, best friends, and relatives (i.e., your husband’s brother).

Limit sex to spouse-swapping as a couple. A popular choice for couples who want to open their relationship while avoiding the risks of single adventures is to swap spouses together as a couple. The pitfall here is that one member of a couple may feel more attracted to another member, while the two other members may not be as attracted or attracted at all. Both couples should agree or have signals to indicate that this swap doesn’t meet their standards.

As previously stated, only 5 percent of people engage in open relationships, and most of them are unsuccessful because they are doing it for the wrong reason. However, if you follow the above rules or others that you decide on, an open relationship can add spice to your relationship and make you appreciate each other all the more for giving each other the gift of trust, freedom and novelty. It goes without saying, however, the open concept should happen before you have children.

Can Open Relationships Save Marriages?

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D. is a licensed psychoanalyst in New York and has been practicing for over 37 years. He works with adults, couples, families, adolescents, and children. He has graduated from three psychotherapy institutes and received a Certificate in Psychoanalysis from the Washington Square Institute in 1981. He has been an Adjunct Assistant Professor of psychology at the Borough of Manhattan Community College since 2002 and has authored thirteen books on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well as four novels and a book of poems and drawings. More recently he wrote 20 screenplays (winning four first-place awards at festivals) and produced and directed two feature films.


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APA Reference
Schoenewolf, G. (2018). Can Open Relationships Save Marriages?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 22, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/psychoanalysis-now/2018/03/can-open-relationships-save-marriages/

 

Last updated: 22 Mar 2018
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 22 Mar 2018
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.