Whether you’re already in an open marriage or simply thinking it might be a good fit for you at some point in the future, it’s not hard to understand why you’d be interested in one. It’s a common misconception that non-monogamous people don’t care about or crave the commitment and security marriage can bring to a person’s life. Many of them do and an open marriage represents the best of both worlds – lifelong love and commitment that still allows them the sexual freedom they need in order to be happy and fulfilled.
However, knowing an open marriage is the right fit for you is one thing. Making sure yours is healthy, happy, and mutually satisfying is another. Open marriages require just as much work, compromise, and communication as traditional closed marriages do – maybe even more in some areas. The following are a few strategies for making sure yours is as strong as can be.
1. Make sure it’s right for both of you.
Open marriages only work when both people are equally interested in being in one. They don’t work in situations where one person is pushing for it while the other is simply going along to get along. They run into trouble when both parties are technically interested, but one is a lot more enthusiastic about it than the other as well.
It’s all too easy for the person that’s less interested to become conflicted or feel resentful, especially over time. If that’s the case for your spouse, don’t push or pressure in the hopes that they’ll eventually see things your way. Compromise by looking into alternative ways to spice up your sex life instead.
2. Understand that communication is key.
All happy, healthy open marriages have one very important thing in common – communication. In fact, it’s safe to say that your collective communication skills can literally make or break your relationship. For this reason, it’s important to set ground rules and clearly defined boundaries that work for both people right from the get-go.
It’s just as important to realize relationships, people, and needs can change as time goes by. People in healthy open relationships check in with one another on the regular to talk about things that have been going on and to make sure both people are still feeling positively about the way things are going.
3. Discuss each other’s views on marriage.
Whether or not you’re already married to your partner, it’s important to understand that two people can get along wonderfully, but have very different ideas as to what it actually means to be married. People have a tendency to take certain things for granted when it comes to marriage, simply assuming by default that the other person feels the same.
Sit down with your partner and have a frank discussion about each person’s expectations. Once you truly understand one another’s point of view, you stand a much better chance of setting up an open marriage that actually works while continuing to meet each partner’s individual needs.
4. Never introduce open marriage as part of an ultimatum.
Wanting your sexual freedom is perfectly reasonable. So is hoping to discuss the possibility of opening your marriage up with your partner. Issuing an ultimatum in order to get your way is not. Healthy marriages – open or otherwise – never involve one partner making strict demands that don’t take the other person’s feelings into consideration.
That said, the easiest way to make sure your open marriage crashes and burns is to decide that divorce is the only acceptable alternative at any point in your journey together. Even if your partner goes along with your wishes at first to keep you in their life, it’s just a matter of time before things go completely sour.
5. Talk to other couples in open marriages.
The best way to manage an open marriage successfully is to learn by example. If the two of you have friends that are also in open marriages that seem to be working, make it a point to spend more time together. Definitely ask them for pointers on how to resolve issues and keep things harmonious as you move forward together.
If you don’t already know any open couples, let your fingers do the walking and leverage the power of the internet. Join a few forums or Facebook groups dedicated to the topic. Consider attending any local meetups that are scheduled and go out of your way to get to know the people you hit it off with. Not only can you learn a lot, but you’ll have plenty of social support going forward and most likely you can enjoy great social sex as well from time to time.
6. Keep safety front and center.
It should go without saying, but a huge part of making your open marriage work is about taking safety seriously. STDs are very real, as are the consequences of any unplanned pregnancies that may occur, so make sure you and your partner set some boundaries there as soon as possible – preferably before the two of you actually start sleeping with other people.
Make sure each of you agrees on what it means to be safe and come up with some ground rules you’re both happy with. What will your policy be on fluid exchange when it comes to non-primary partners? What about STD testing for both yourselves and the people you’ll be sleeping with? How will the both of you be handling birth control and what is your strategy for dealing with a pregnancy if it does occur? Better safe than sorry.
7. Expect the unexpected and be prepared.
Almost everyone has a certain picture in their head when it comes to how they think their open marriage will play out and that’s fine. Just be prepared for the very likely probability that reality will be different from your mental picture. Even if you’ve been in an open marriage before, this one will be different in ways you may not be able to predict.
That said, always be prepared for the unexpected. Maybe you’ll run into a problem you didn’t anticipate. Maybe one of your worst fears will come to fruition. Maybe a given situation will be so much easier or simpler than you anticipated. Whatever happens, just go with the flow.
8. Consider talking to a therapist.
Don’t worry. The fact that you want to be in an open marriage does not mean there’s something wrong with your marriage, with you, or with your partner. The desire to make the transition to non-monogamy is perfectly normal and healthy in every way. However, a therapist can definitely help the two of you take the guesswork out of successfully making the transition.
Among other things, a therapist can help you set boundaries and ground rules that truly make sense for both of you, as well as for your relationship. They can give you valuable feedback, as well as help you anticipate any possible issues that might arise. A therapist can even help both parties sort out whether or not an open marriage is the best fit for the relationship deep down. Definitely something to consider if either of you has questions, reservations, or concerns!
9. Never ignore problems or negative emotions.
Whether you’re currently in an open marriage or are still merely discussing the possibility, ignore the urge to sweep any negative feelings or concerns under the rug at all costs. Many people think it’s the correct or mature thing to do, especially if they know their partner is really excited about going the open route, but such issues have a way of growing out of control over time, not to mention leading to other issues.
It’s normal and understandable for either party to have concerns regarding abandonment or jealousy at any point in the process. It’s normal to potentially have concerns about one of your spouse’s secondary partners. The key is to communicate those concerns and talk them out sooner rather than later. Being willing to see and understand both sides of the equation can actually help strengthen your relationship with your partner.
10. Decide when, how, and if you’ll ever close your marriage.
For some people, non-monogamy is a permanent state of affairs (at least potentially) – especially if they’re polyamorous or it’s otherwise in their nature to prefer non-monogamy. For others, it’s something temporary related to distance, prolonged illness, or something else entirely. Whatever the case may be for you personally, it’s important to discuss the possibility of closing the marriage again so that you’ll both have a clear idea of how that will go down when (and if) the time comes.
If you’re both planning on a temporary period of openness, decide when that period will end and under what conditions. You’ll also want to discuss the very real possibility that one of you will decide at some point that non-monogamy is no longer working out and ask to close the marriage. Always be respectful of your partner’s feelings and be willing to hear their concerns. It’s the best recipe for making sure all will always be well.