In mainstream culture, the accepted meaning of a marriage is where husband and wife are bound in monogamous relationship on sexual, social and legal levels. However truth is that relationships are too complex to be straitjacketed in absolute terms and herein lies the scope for existence of different kinds of marriages, including open marriage. If you find yourself in a position where you spouse wishes to explore such an option, here are a few things you can consider.
Understand what it entails
Open marriage is a kind of married relationship where either or both spouses are free to engage in extraneous sexual relationship without it being construed as infidelity. Couples in open marriages may prefer different kinds of extramarital relationships. Couples who prefer extramarital relationships emphasizing love and emotional involvement have a polyamorous style of open marriage while couples who prefer extramarital relationships emphasizing sexual gratification and recreational friendships have a swinging style of open marriage. Before you agree to any arrangement of an open relationship, it is important to understand exactly what it entails so that later there is minimum scope for misunderstandings and heartbreak.
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If you are considering an open married relationship with your spouse, it is also important to understand the legal implications of the arrangement. Find out what the law has to say about open marriage in your country and state. The practice of extramarital sex is often illegal in jurisdictions where adultery is illegal, regardless of whether the partner(s) has given their consent. Open marriage is not the same thing as polygamy, where sexual relationships are not necessarily contemplated, but rather one can have more than one simultaneous spouse for the ultimate purpose of protecting individual and marital property rights. If you have children, joint marital property or are likely to contemplate divorce at a future date, being involved in an open marriage can have consequences in different ways and on various levels which you need to be aware of right from the start.
Establish ground rules
Even if you are comfortable with the emotional and legal implications of an open marriage, it is best to establish certain ground rules early on. Guidelines in such relationships allow partners to coordinate their behaviors so they achieve shared goals with fewer conflicts. Just like ground rules adopted by sexually monogamous couples tend to prohibit behaviors that are viewed as acts of infidelity, so too open relationships have their own guidelines. The ground rules adopted by sexually open couples tend to prohibit behaviors that provoke jealousy or sexual health concerns. Many open couples maintain rules forbidding emotional attachment, illegitimate children, extramarital sex in the marital bed, extramarital sex with those known to both partners and requiring use of barrier contraception so as to minimize chances of sexually transmitted cross infection. Even then be prepared for newer situations since partners may change the ground rules of their relationships over time. Thus while the spouses may have agreed to conduct extra-marital sexual encounters outside the marital home, eventually one of the spouses may invite a partner in the house. Ensure that you have enough mutual understanding with your spouse as well as emotional strength of your own to deal with such altered circumstances.
Also consider that lack of social acceptance of open relationships can exert its own pressure on your marriage. When couples are compelled to hide their open marriages from family, friends, and colleagues, their social support network gets severely limited which eventually could lead to an erosion of bonding between the spouses and eventually a breakup.
When you don’t agree
If you are opposed to the idea of an open relationship in your marriage but cannot bear the thought of divorce, then you need to proceed very carefully. The announcement is likely to come upon as a shock but try to take it as calmly as possible. Instead of crying or throwing a fit, listen to what your spouse has to say and then ask if you can think about it. In the meantime gather your thoughts and especially go over the reasons why your spouse feels the need to go in for such an arrangement. It is essential that you discuss things with your spouse but do it tactfully. Instead of lashing out at him/her or flinging accusations and abuses, calmly ask him/her what made them think of such an arrangement and if there is room for options like working on your marriage, addressing his/her particular needs, wider sexual experimentation and so on.
If your spouse announces that he/she would like an open marriage, it is likely that he/she has already thought things through and that your arguments and persuasions could have little effect. However things can still be salvaged if you both agree to see a therapist or at least a marriage counselor. As a third party, a marriage counselor will have no preset notions or prejudices about either of you and thus will be able to look at the issues involved in an objective light. However don’t have false hopes that a counselor will be able to talk your partner out of his/her decision to go for an open marriage.
Instead a counselor will only help you both to communicate better which in turn may enable you both to work out the issues of conflict in your relationship and keep your marriage monogamous. In the end despite more effective communication, if you find that your priorities are completely at odds with each other or your spouse remains obstinate about an open relationship, then you need to ask yourself if you can continue with a spouse who is bent on having other sexual relationships – if not, there is little else that you can do but to prepare yourself for a divorce.