Do You Think You’ll Ever Want to Have an Open Marriage?

No, no, no, nope. Maybe?

bride and groom standing together

Before I got married, I thought marriage was all about monogamy—two people committed to one another and, ta-da! That’s marriage. Right? I skipped through the first few years of my own marriage more or less laboring under this belief that everyone did it our way, right up until my partner and I found out that our close friends were in an open marriage.

Record scratch.

I mean, it’s not like we cared in any sort of judgmental way. But this wasn’t something we had a lot of familiarity with, and we were curious about it. And frankly, we were surprised that people we knew well were in an open marriage, and that we had no idea. Realizing that people in our own social circle had opened up their marriage spurred us to have our own conversation about open marriages: What do they mean? What would it mean for us, specifically? Is this something we would ever consider doing?

We both arrived at our answer (no, neither of us is interested in an open marriage) pretty quickly, but continued to explore the idea. Why were we not interested in it? Was it a knee-jerk reaction, or did we have deeper reasoning? It turns out we were both concerned about the emotional connections formed in outside relationships and how that would play out in our marriage. Turns out, though, our concerns were based on totally different reasoning. My partner thought the idea of bringing another emotional creature into our life was laughable and terrifying, while I just didn’t think I could expend the energy, patience, and flat-out time that it takes to truly connect with another romantic partner.

But for all the ways that open marriage doesn’t seem right for us—at least right now—I know plenty of APW couples are in open marriages and relationships that are flourishing. Plus, I know others of you are exploring the idea of opening up your marriage. And while I’m into monogamy, I’m also in the “never say never” camp when it comes to, well, everything… so I want the scoop. Life is long, and I don’t know what we’ll be into in two decades.

I’m curious to know: would you be into an open marriage? Why or why not? If you are in an open marriage, how does it impact your relationships? Do you have kids? Tell me everything.

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  • Anon

    Honestly? I could never do an open marriage because the idea of my husband with another person makes me itchy, sweaty, skin-crawling, about-to-vomit levels of uncomfortable/horrified/moon-wailingly-despondent and I don’t see that ever changing. I legitimately don’t care what other people do in their marriages (good for y’all!) but I also legitimately can’t even conceptualize how someone could be okay with it either.

  • Annie

    That’s a big no for me. I’m so glad that open relationships are more common nowadays, so people who wants them can find like-minded partners, and everyone can be open and honest about their particular relationship needs. But I find monogamy deeply satisfying–I can’t even think of anyone I’d want to have an additional relationship with. (Sorry, Chris Evans, that means you, too.) I didn’t date much as a teen, have been happy with my husband for about fifteen years, and have never wanted to engage in relationships with other people. (Plus I like my alone time WAY too much–having to balance two relationships sounds exhausting!) And I’d feel so weird about my husband having a physical/emotional relationship to that level with someone else. More power to you if you want an open marriage, but I’m happy with one person.

  • Amy March

    Never. One of the big attractions of marriage to me is that I am making that decision- closing off opportunities in exchange for certainty. So yeah I know people cheat but actually agreeing together to change the terms? Absolutely not. To me monogamy is the fundamental point of marriage, its bedrock and foundation. I’m glad other people are happy with different arrangements but I don’t see changing my mind on this.

    • lady brett

      this is interesting to me, because it hadn’t even occurred to me that closing off opportunities and certainty would be related. and, while my honey and i were monogamous when we got married, it was in no way part of the marriage agreement we made – like, our marriage is about *us*, which continues to be true when there are other people/relationships involved.

      (which says nothing about changing your mind; i think it is always preferable for people to work with their sexuality and preferences, not against them.)

  • savannnah

    There are a few married couples in my large friend circle and a few of us are engaged as well. Two of these couples are poly and or open and generally we thought they had their shit together and were so trusting and had solid marriages with long lasting foundations and in the past few month their two open marriages have been wreaking HAVOC, not only on their own marriages but also on single friends they are in relationships with and each other. Both couples started dating each other a few months ago and now one set is getting divorced while still both sleeping with the other married couple (just separately now) along with other single friends and its a mess. I have lots of agita about it and it has really got me thinking about the perception of strength of a given marriage.

    • EF

      mm, just wanna point out that while being poly is a *type* of open marriage, it’s not the only type.

      • savannnah

        Agreed! thus the “poly and or open”

  • Abby

    Not for me. But after all the reading I’ve done of the subject, I can honestly say that I think it takes just as much love/time/work to maintain a happy monogamous relationship as it takes to maintain an health open relationship.

    As someone who is recently engaged (but was pre-engaged for awhile) I can honestly say that having the conversation about open marriages (Brought up after I read about it here on APW) was something that helped me gain a much greater understanding of my personal preference of monogamy and helped me to frame the conversation with my husband-to-be about his thoughts on the subject. I have to admit I was greatly relieved to find we were on the same page.

    • Kalë

      “I can honestly say that I think it takes just as much love/time/work to maintain a happy monogamous relationship as it takes to maintain an health open relationship.”

      YES THIS!

      • Emma

        Really? I just can’t imagine how that would be the case to be honest, and I’d be curious to hear more. I’m nowhere near marrying, but one of the reasons I wouldn’t want to have an open relationship is because I imagine it would just take so much tiiiiime and wooooork…. In terms of organising timetables, providing emotional support to and spending time with more than one person etc. etc.
        There’s only so much time and energy I want to devote to my romantic relationship overall, and I have the strong feeling that if I spread this out over more than one person, most people would not be happy with that amount of care & support.

  • Britanny Precht

    I am in an open marriage and have been since before we married. We’ve been poly almost since the beginning. It took a lot of introspection and ongoing discussion but I dont think either of us would go back to monogamy at this point. For our marriage it is a joy to be able to talk openly about our attractions to other people and talk about what ifs and how our last date with so and so went. I think the communication skills we’ve developed as an almost defense mechanism for surviving poly have intensly strengthened our marriage. Even when we aren’t actively dating these skills are incredibly useful. I love spending time with my other partners. And for me it is somewhere between a life choice and an orientation.

  • cpostrophe

    My fiancee and I agreed to being monogamous indefinitely, but we both know a number of polyamorous couples in open marriages and we love spending time with them and their partners, including a few with children. We’ve seen our share of dramatic breakups, where the open marriage was just a gateway for infidelity or dysfunction (because it’s important to understand that it’s still possible to cheat in an open marriage). We’ve also seen some lovely manifestations of it, where the open marriage is really about fostering a genuine community of intimacy that encompasses multiple people. I have seen partners who would normally get stuck in a rut within their dynamic find genuine inspiration and positivity by bringing in another person into the relationship. I’ve also been a ‘third’ in an open marriage where my friendship with both partners deepened tremendously as a result. Regarding whether the kids affected or were affected by the relationship, it’s varied. One took in a focus on monogamy when kids first arrived, when it felt like the competing needs for time from kids, lovers, careers, and your spouse was too overwhelming, and then they started dating again when their kids got old enough not to need all of their time and attention. Another one never stopped. Their kids knew about their relationships.

    Anyway, it’s not for everyone, but it definitely works for some people, and is worth talking about. With regards to our relationship — she doesn’t want to be poly. I have had positive poly relationships, but I don’t need it. Juggling multiple relationships is definitely a time commitment that shouldn’t be taken trivially, and I found that for myself, the energy that I would get from crushing on, flirting with, or dating a second person wasn’t enough to justify the time and stress that would’ve gone into treating that fairly like a relationship in its own right.

    With that said, as has been discussed on APW before, monogamy itself has also been a spectrum, with some folks talking about whether that should or shouldn’t include, say, emotionally-intense friendships with someone of your romantic partner’s gender; and we do like to maintain a diverse and platonic set of gender diverse friends with our own permission to spend time with them independently. That’s almost like a low-key/lower commitment, relatively asexual version of the open marriage dynamic.

    • Emily

      I think the point you made about monogamy also being on a spectrum is important to point out in this context. For example my coworker and her husband NEVER spend time with someone of the opposite sex without explicit permission (and I expect a good amount of reason); that works for them. In comparison my husband and I each have several friends of the opposite sex that we spend regular time with up to us spending the night (non-sexually/romantically) with some of them when needed. Perhaps then I am in an “open” relationship, but still monogamous?.

  • TwoClosets

    My husband and I are polyamorous. We discussed nonmonogamy from basically the day we started dating, but we didn’t act on it in a big way until we’d been together 9 years and married 5. We’ve now been actively poly for two years now and it has been glorious. It has caused exactly zero problems between the two of us, and there has been very little drama overall.

    I currently have a girlfriend of just over two years, and she and my husband used to date and may again in the future. She just got married, and I signed the paperwork for their wedding. All of our friends and some family members know that we’re poly, and we’ve found out that more of our family and friends are nonmonogamous than we would have expected. It’s a lot of work but totally worth it for us.

    • Kalë

      If you don’t mind my asking, what reactions did you receive from family/friends when you “came out” to them as poly? Did it require a big explanation, were they accepting, etc.? What did that conversation look like? Just curious – I haven’t encountered many consensually non-monogamous relationships in my life.

      • TwoClosets

        Most people are super on board. Some people are initially slightly wary (they were worried we’d hit on their spouse or something) and then became huge supporters. My sister isn’t super comfortable with it, but she still asks how my girlfriend is doing in her new job. A lot of people said that they weren’t surprised or had kind of assumed it was the case. Some people need a bit of an explanation as to what our relationships look like, but most people get it right away.

        So far, we’ve only gotten two negative reactions. One was from a cousin who I think misunderstood what our relationships were like and had some baggage of his own on the topic, and the other was from my mother-in-law. We wouldn’t have told her (we’ve avoided telling people we think will react badly), but a situation arose in which she would have thought my husband was cheating if we didn’t explain. She was really upset for a while, but she mostly just ignores it now and is polite when she can’t totally ignore it.

        My girlfriend and I are both considering telling our mothers soon, since we’ve been together two years at this point, and we’re not sure how either of them will react. We’re both hopeful that it will be fine.

        • Kalë

          Thanks for sharing, it’s always so interesting to hear perspectives from those living different lives than your own! Sounds like your family and friends have been supportive and open to your relationships. Best of luck telling your mom(s)!

  • Natasha Romanova

    I would be fine opening the marriage on one end (for him) if my partner wanted to after plenty of thoughtful discussion, but I personally would not have the energy or interest in sexual or romantic relationships with other people. I have actually discussed this with my FH, and he has no interest in romantic relationships with others either. So we’ll stick to monogamy. I do know a few people whom non-monogamy works for, and I applaud them for living their lives as they wish without worrying about the often rude and ignorant opinions of others. Every relationship is different and what works for one will not work for another, and vice versa.

  • Erica G

    I personally have a super hard time with the idea, as does my husband. We feel no need for other people to be involved! But we do have some friends in poly relationships and while I keep an open mind, I do worry that they can be unfair to some of the people involved. At one point in my life, I had a bf who cheated on me but then just sort of expected to keep seeing us both. He was incredibly manipulative and took advantage of our living situation to essentially put me in a poly situation that I didn’t want. So I definitely acknowledge that I probably have some baggage on this subject. I think as long as both partners are fully honest and open about what they want, I am sure it can work, its just not for me!

  • Anon for Today

    This topic comes with baggage for me. I was with a man for several years who, in hindsight, was clearly a narcissist with serious patterns of controlling and emotionally abusive behavior. There was a substantial gap between us in terms of both age and life experience, and so I saw myself as the easygoing ‘blank slate’ who felt pressure to get on board and fall in line with all the things he wanted out of both a partner and a partnership.

    He told me relatively early on that he needed to be in an open relationship. I didn’t have enough dating experience at the time to know that was a dealbreaker for me, and I felt some pressure to be flexible to keep the relationship going. I’d hoped this would turn into a conversation with room for gentle exploration, respect for boundaries, honesty, and compromise; instead, I felt the sole pressure to do emotional gymnastics for years in a desperate attempt to make myself feel ok with nonmonogamy (all the while, my whole body was SCREAMING at me that this wasn’t right for me). When I’d bring my discomfort to the table, he’d state coldly that he’d be pursuing relationships with other people regardless of whether I wanted to do the same, because that was ‘his right.’ (That’s if he wasn’t screaming at me after having a few too many, for trying to infringe on his freedom, or make my feelings his problem.)

    Toxic experiences aside, I’ve learned that monogamy is both deeply comforting and satisfying to me — and from having honest conversations with my current guy on the subject, I know we’re on the same page. I totally recognize that consensual, healthy nonmonogamous relationships are possible when both parties are fully on board and deeply committed to being considerate. There’s just no room for coercion in that picture.

    • Amy March

      I think the intersection of non-monogamy as a powerful feminist choice and the reality of living in a patriarchal society where in many ways women do not hold equal power is interesting and deserves more consideration, particularly by male advocates of non-monogamy.

      • Anon for Today


      • Sarah E

        Standing ovation.

    • Abby

      “I felt the sole pressure to do emotional gymnastics for years in a desperate attempt to make myself feel ok with nonmonogamy”

      I think this is key in all kinds of relationship behaviors. If the behavior doesn’t feel right to you, if you’re constantly trying to justify it, etc – its probably not right (for you at least).

      I personally spend so much time trying to dissect my thoughts/feelings on things that I forget to listen to the simplistic reasons inside me sometimes.

    • toomanybooks

      I was in a situation like this myself, with a woman. And also have had experiences in my wider social circle (like at friends’ parties) with poly guys just not understanding my boundaries as a monogamous lesbian. I’m very aware of how ethical and great polyamory is supposed to be and quite well versed on the topic, but my real life experience has been horribly uncomfortable, to the point where even if I ever did want to try an “open” relationship of some kind, I’d probably have too strongly negative associations with the whole scene to try it again.

  • laddibugg

    Not a fan of polyamory for myself or my relationship but I’d like to think I would be ok with an occasional extra marital affair.

    My issue isn’t the sex, it’s the likelihood for some people (my finance included) to become too emotionally attached. My partner is the type to see out that attachment and wrap sex into it, whereas I can have intimate physical relations with a person separate from how I feel about them as a person.

    • Meg Keene

      I love this comment.

  • emilyg25

    Nope. It just seems way too complicated. Too much talking and trust and possibly broken trust or hurt feelings. Not worth it. If I felt the need for something on the side, it would mean something was broken in my relationship and I should fix it or leave it.

    • Kelly

      “If I felt the need for something on the side, it would mean something
      was broken in my relationship and I should fix it or leave it.”

      Same here. I don’t naturally have a roving eye at all. The times I’ve been in a relationship and found myself having feelings for someone else, has been when the relationship was already in trouble. When I was married, the marriage was sexless for 10 years. I met a guy at work who had evidently been attracted to me for a long while without my knowing. We got to know each other and the mutual attraction was off the charts. His marriage was borderline sexless and certainly without passion. His wife actually told him she thought of him like a brother. Ouch.

      I went ahead and asked for a divorce because the attraction made me face up to how profoundly unhappy I was. After that, they guy at work and I had a short relationship with the most passion I’ve ever experienced. We managed with great difficulty to end it, because he wasn’t out of his marriage yet. I nearly lost my mind in grief. But I got my divorce finalized and moved across the country. Married guy got a divorce a couple of years later. We’ve kept in touch a little, but have no plans to reunite. I can’t say I regret it, because it would be a lie. He was the catalyst I needed to get out.

      So yeah, I am never tempted unless my relationship is a bust.

    • arkhamescapee

      I’m trying to not react strongly to the somewhat judgy language but “too much talking and trust” really stood out to me. I mean, shouldn’t you have tons of trust in your partner?

  • 1234anon

    Question for anyone in an open relationship- would you consider yourself to have a high sex drive anyways? I struggle to maintain an average/below average?? sex drive in monogamy, so the idea of having more sex has never really appealed to me in a more sustained way.

    • Anonosaur

      I’d say I have an average/sliiiightly higher than sex drive, but I will say out of my non-monogamous friends I feel like my sex drive is on the lower end… So I don’t think it’s outlandish to assume a trend toward higher sex drives?

      I’ll also say, for me (& actually a few other women I know) my sex drive is higher when I’m in an open relationship, & more likely to drop when I’m in a long term monogamous relationship ¯_(ツ)_/¯

    • Melody Jones

      I’m asexual and in a triad. If you or your partner define romantic partnerships as requiring sexual attraction or actions in order to be ‘real’ relationships, then an average/low sex drive might be a very difficult situation. If sexual attraction or interest isn’t though, it gets easier. I don’t like sex, and I go out of my way to not have it. I do however like being in a relationship (actually, I love it, and them, and yes) so I had to find people who were okay with the idea of snuggling and giggling and kissing and dating without it ever leading to sex. I found two, and we’re at 3 years now (7 for me and my husband).

  • Anon

    My partner and I are polyamourus. We are not married though. I am an asexual woman romantically attracted to men while he is a pansexual man. He has another partner, a bi man who has a 4 year old daughter, and they have been together for over a year now. My partner and I have been together for almost 3 years and this is the second additional partner we have had. My partner had been dating a non binary individual when we started dating, they have since broken up but we still remain close friends with them. I personally have no interest in having another partner of my own, but I definitely have a platonic love for my husband’s partner and his daughter. My husband splits his time between 2 apartments- his partner’s and mine, contributing to them both. I spend time at his partner’s apartment as well. The lifestyle is not for everyone but we love it. We have had issues with our families and friends. My father disowned me when he found out that I was not only dating a man who also likes men but I was allowing him to openly “cheat” on me plus I don’t experience sexual attraction. My mom and stepdad have been accepting, it took them time to adjust and educate themselves but they embrace my partner and his partner and his daughter as part of the family. She is a wonderful grandmother figure to her. My brother distanced himself and his family at first but he has started to email again although we still haven’t seen each other or talked on the phone. I lost so many friends when I came out as asexual I barely had any left when I came out as poly. My partner’s parents both passed before he came out as poly but he says they were both very accepting of him being pan and were PFLAG members. His partner’s family completely rejected him for being bi and poly, including his ex wife. She tried to fight for full custody but then she married another man and forgot about her daughter.

    • Jessica

      That sounds like a really difficult path–what you’re doing is literally best for you and your family (however “unconventional” or “alternative” that may be) and people who don’t want to understand are just pushing you all away. I’m sorry that you have to go through that, but I’m glad you have found the love that you seek–and that your partner is able to do the same.

      I wish that bi and a sexual people got a bit more of the spotlight. It’s difficult for my friends to come out as bi or to embrace that label in any way because of the stigma attached, even within the LGBTQ community. And I only just started reading about asexuality in the last year or so, which seems ridiculous.

      Best of luck to continuing to make your family the best possible for you!

    • Aalihte Maureen

      Thank you so much for sharing your story.

  • Annie

    I don’t think I could be in a true “open marriage” with other long term partners, the energy and communication required for one relationship is enough. But my long-term partner and I also have a hard time imagining only sleeping with each other for the rest of our lives. We’re committed and love each other to death, but I think we’ve been avoiding marriage out of fear of not being able to promise faithfulness (although we have been monogamous for the past 5 years). I enjoy travelling alone and have had beautiful, unattached affairs in the past that make me smile to this day. There’s something dreamy about meeting a stranger and feeling that connection, without it lasting long enough to know each other’s faults. It’s not real life of course, but it’s thrilling. If we were to have an open marriage, I could definitely picture my husband having similar experiences without feeling jealous. As long as being with each other feels like home.

  • honeycomehome

    Even if I was emotionally ok with and interested in having a sexual relationship outside of my marriage, a large part of me doesn’t get it on a logistical level. Like… Where do you find the TIME to maintain another healthy romantic/sexual relationship? On a work day it feels like it’s all the time in the world just to work, make dinner, and have a couple hours with my person. And weekends are easily filled up with family and friends, a few hours on a hobby and chores, and we don’t even have kids to suck up every extra minute.

    It feels silly, but I’m genuinely curious how it works. Do you sacrifice time with your primary partner? Do you stop having non-work hobbies? Do you prioritize all your friend time with your second partner instead of platonic friends?

    • cpostrophe

      As with many things in marriage, it varies according to the couple and their style. Certainly, scheduling time is one of the most significant challenges in managing an open relationship. Sometimes, couples with new kids will pull back from having additional relationships while they focus on the demands of early child raising. Sometimes the new relationships actually turn into supplemental childcare. Sometimes you do prioritize time with your partners over your friends. Sometimes you ask your friends if your partners can come along to a party or event.

      How we spend should be a true reflection of our priorities. Sometimes we get mixed up about what our priorities should be based on what people/society dictates vs. what we define for ourselves. I don’t think there’s any one right way to set it up short of ensuring that it’s right for what you recognize as what you specifically need.

  • Jess

    We are both excited by the idea of occasionally having a guest appearance of either gender. Not extramarital non-monogamy, I guess intramarital? (monogam-ish?)

    There’s a lot of stuff to work through (how does this look? how would we go about it? what are our emotions about it? how are we comfortable with communicating limits? what about changing those limits?), but it’s an option we’re allowing for room for in the future, without committing to it.

    I’d love recommendations of good ways to build some fantasy around this, because I’m at a loss for how this looks in real life!

  • Amelia

    Recently married and still in an open relationship!

    My husband and I started dating because we both wished we had some more non conventional dating in our lives (we’re both super queer and not so monogamous).

    To be honest, in our two years together neither of us has properly dates another person. To us it mostly means we’re free to flirt with other people with out fear of ‘crossing a line’. We love gossiping to each other abou the crushes we have, and if one of us wants to pursue something further, we talk about it.

  • Tree

    Seriously dating and on the way to marriage…
    non-monogamy has never ever been an option for me. BF and I acknowledge we’re going to be attracted to other people, and will even comment on other people’s interesting qualities or attractiveness, and I quite enjoy pointing out attractive women on the street who I think he’ll appreciate. But for us, that being-attracted-to-others is superficial, and we’ve agreed it’s only ok when it can be channelled directly back into our relationship. If one of us feels like that attraction is going too far, or is to somebody who we actually interact with daily, we’d need to talk about that and get some distance from that person. Opposite-sex friendships are fine, but come with a bit more discussion and sensitivity around them than same-gender friendships (we are both incredibly heterosexual). For us, this strict monogamy doesn’t feel like a burden: it feels natural, and fits with our beliefs about marriage as Catholics/Christians – there really isn’t room for more than one person in a marriage within our worldview, though of course I hope that those who are in more-than-two relationships that are acknowledged socially or civilly are able to love, respect, and be healthy within them!

  • Erica G

    You know, I have been trying really hard to be open to the fact that some people swear that polyamory works for them. Though, after seeing a 3rd couple go through a horrifically bad divorce because of their poly lifestyle and jealous feelings that developed, I am having a hard time. I feel like one person always ends up shafted and left in the dust with hurt feelings or worse.

    • arkhamescapee

      I don’t know you or your friends, but I’m hesitant to accept that they went through horrifically bad divorces *because* they were poly, and not because there were other issues at hand. Or that’s at least often not true. Poly can add stress to a relationship but it’s unlikely to be the sole factor in a divorce (otherwise they would have switched to monogamy, no?).

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