The term “open marriage” has come a long way. It once implied that people had the freedom to choose who they would like to marry. Current research and views of Western marriage support the idea that an open marriage, supporting the growth and development of the individuals within a marriage, creates the healthiest environment for a happy, long-term relationship. That understanding of the ‘open marriage’ term was coined by in their book Open Marriage, though it has been widely misinterpreted over the years with the whole focus of the ‘open marriage’ meme shifting to non-monogamous sexual relationship.
As David J. Ley points out, “when Nena and George O’Neill wrote their book, Open Marriage, the media and society grabbed onto a small piece of their concept, the idea that married partners might have sex with people other than their spouse. In later writings, the O’Neill’s expressed regret over this, and the fact that the term “open marriage” was now synonymous with sexual nonmonogamy. The O’Neill’s were writing at the end of an era when women had been returned to the kitchen, after working in the factories during World War II. During the Fifties, American culture strongly asserted the value of the traditional marriage, where a wife stayed home and the husband went to work. A wife and husband were supposed to be everything to one another, to satisfy each other’s every need. Best friend, soul mate, confidant, bedmate, all wrapped into one pretty, neat, tidy package.
But, this is a stifling, growth-retarding package and recipe for a relationship. Fifty years ago, the O’Neills argued that healthy marriages were ones that recognized the need for individual growth of each person in the marriage. And growth comes from encountering and reacting to new things, new ideas, and new people. Rather than expecting people to grow, trapped in a fishbowl with one other person, the O’Neills said that husbands and wives needed relationships and experiences with people other than their spouses. Not necessarily sexual or intimate relationships either, but even just friendships, and professional relationships. Experiences that help each person to continue a lifetime of growth, in partnership with their spouse.”
This view is supported by the Arthur Aron and Gary Lewandowski – psychologists who recently published research about the things that make healthy marriages last. They found that “people who feel that their husband or wife has helped them to grow as a person, to learn new things, to become a better, different person, are most likely to view their marriage as a positive, healthy and vibrant thing.”
What about sex then and non-monogamous relationships associated with the ‘open marriage’ term this days ?
It is surprisingly difficult to find statistics on whether non-monogamous ‘open’ marriages work. Ironically, non-monogamous ‘open marriage’ isn’t something we talk about all that openly.
Several definitional issues complicate attempts to determine the incidence of open marriage. People sometimes claim to have open marriages when their spouses would not agree. Couples may agree to allow extramarital sex but never actually engage in extramarital sex. Some researchers define open marriages in highly narrow terms. Steve Brody, a psychologist in Cambria, California, explains that less than 1 percent of married people are in a sexually open marriages.
According to anecdotal evidence, the impact of open marriage on relationships varies across couples. Some couples report high levels of marital satisfaction and have long-lasting open marriages. Other couples drop out of the open marriage lifestyle and return to sexual monogamy. These couples may continue to believe open marriage is a valid lifestyle, just not for them. Still, other couples experience serious problems and claim open marriage contributed to their divorces. Some research suggests that open marriage has a 92 percent failure rate.
Is maintaining the non-monogamous open sexual relationship easier than traditional monogamous relationship?
Stephen J. Betchen, who treated a number of open marriages (most polyamorous), came to the following conclusion: “I would argue that a couple that partakes in an open relationship be close to perfect: Their love and commitment should be unquestionable; their ability to communicate and to problem-solve equally skillful. Why? Because we humans tend to have trouble setting limits when we want something bad enough. And when we’re angry, all those rules that were painstakingly agreed upon can be used as weapons to attack or destroy our mates. Then again, if a couple were close to perfect would they even want an open relationship? Is open marriage just another vehicle to avoid intimacy or should we loosen up a bit and embrace this alternative lifestyle? The debate will no doubt continue…as will open marriage.”