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Open Marriage

Berkeley Parents Network > Advice > Family Relations > Open Marriage



Wife wants Open Marriage

April 2008

My wife is asking for an open marriage and more ''space'' in our relationship as she believes her needs cannot be met by me alone. There is no sexual dysfunction and I think I am a fairly easy-going open minded person, but this is causing me emotional difficulty. I want to keep the marriage together, but I don't really want to go along with this idea.

I've expressed my disinterest in the idea to her already, but I believe she already has outside relationships and will continue whether I want her to or not. I'm wondering if others have had any experience with this type of thing and what advice they might have. Thanks. anon


I am sorry for your pain. I urge you both to have an open discussion and find out if she is having affairs or just fantasizing. If she is and refuses to stop or is in denial, she could have a sex addiction. There are many good web sites to get information on this. ( SLAA- sex and love addition, SAA- sex addicts anonymous etc and you can google others) No matter what, you need to take care of yourself and don't do anything that would compromise your integrity to ''make her happy'' ...it never works. Good luck J
Both of you should be in marriage therapy pronto. Did you know when you got married if she was into polyamory? If so, you may be the one with the problem here. If she told you she was into this when you got married, you should have known what to expect. On the other hand, if this is a new thing with your wife, she may be using polyamory to keep you in her life while going out with other partners. Or perhaps she has been having an affair and wants to use polyamory as an excuse. An open marriage is a decision shared by both spouses. If one objects, it can't be an open marriage. I would start calling marriage therapists ASAP. Anon
I am sorry for your pain. I hope you don't have any children in the middle of this. Years ago, my wife, who I had supported through 2 degrees, asked for space--in this case, going to work in another state--and I told her she could have all the space she wanted, that she was free go live her life elsewhere. Not that I had a choice in it, but saying that was the hardest thing I'd ever done. After a few months, it was clear that she had no intention of coming back. I met another woman later on, a much kinder, wiser, less self-centered, more compatible partner; we've been married for 25 years now and have kids as well. Looking back, I can see the many wrong signs in my former relationship--the struggles, the misunderstandings--I'm so glad she chose to leave! I could very well be wrong, but maybe this one is not meant to be for you, my friend, maybe something better awaits you. anon
If you're not comfortable with an open marriage, then don't do it. I think you two would benefit from counseling, or you would if she won't go. I personally know three different couples who had open marriages. It was disaster in all three cases, mostly because in each case, one of the spouses only went along with it because the other spouse pressured him or her into it.

Here's how they turned out: Two of the marriages ended in divorce, and the third marriage eventually survived, but only after the spouse who didn't want the open marriage had a serious nervous breakdown. As for those that ended in divorce, here is what went down: In one, the wife initiated the open marriage then went completely Fatal Attraction when the husband took a lover. In the other, both said they were into open marriage, but I knew the husband very well and knew he wasn't all THAT into it. His wife fell in love with a lover and left him.

I'm not trying to freak you out, but you sound like you love your wife and want your marriage to survive. I don't think letting her sleep with other men is the answer. You two need to figure why she thinks this will solve whatever problems she/you have. I think you will feel used and diminished if you go along with the open marriage just to make her happy. I hear plenty of open marriages work, but I personally have never seen it happen.


This sounds very familiar -- my best friend had a similar experience with a woman he was involved with for a long time before they got married. He was not the type of person to want an open relationship, and from what he says, he knew nothing about her views before they got married. So, when she asked him he thought they could work this out (mostly by him trying very hard to adjust to her approach).

His conception of how his life was going to be, what his marriage was going to be like, and what he wanted his future to be were were based on the implicit assumption that it would be a monogamous marriage. This was going to be a very big leap for him. For him, this wasn't ''normal'', and he didn't have any understanding about how to approach the issue, what it meant, how he could cope with it, and what to do in say social situations where his wife might be flirticious, etc.

Some people do believe in open marriages, and so long as they have a basic understanding and agreement of how they relate to one another, whatever they choose to do should be fine. It is also possible that people could change, and no-one has a guarantee on anyone's future behavior.

That said, I also accept that no-one can ask you to change your world view in such a fundamental way just to be with them. Is your wife trying to have everything she needs for her happiness, without any regard for how much of a stretch, effort, or sacrifice this might be to you? Does the continuation of your marriage consist of you having to change drastically, and radically, and her not having to sacrifice anything?

Having seen my friend almost completely devastated trying to adapt himself to the desires of his ex-wife, I would caution you to try to be very kind and gentle with yourself and to really listen to your inner self about what it is you are really all about, rather than how much you want to meet your partner's needs, at the risk of injuring yourself emotionally.

What was your gut feeling? Was this a bit of a shock to you when you first heard it? Deep inside you did you think that you are expected to accept her wishes as your own way of life, no matter how different this might be?

Ask a very close friend to tell you whether he thinks you will be able to handle this type of challenge, or not. My friend was very tough and severe with himself over his inability to adjust to his wife's wishes and along with a couple of other friends, we staged a sort of intervention -- and our only objective was to get him to realize that marriage doesn't have to be that much of a challenge. In the average garden-variety marriage there are far more mundane and everyday things that will challenge you to your limits (kids, a mortgage, juggling carreers, relatives, etc).

For what it is worth, back then my buddy thought that his ex was the person that he was meant to spend the rest of his life with, but he is now happily married to someone he met later, and together they keep very busy balancing their jobs, their two kids, their mortgage, etc, and occassionaly taking a 4-day trip to Hawai to spend a few days by the beach. He was very miserable back then, and now he is happy that he is married to someone who wants to spend their time together working on challenges that are more in line with who he is.

In what you are describing, it should be upsetting that your wife has chosen to go outside your marriage without first coming to an an agreement with you about her wish for this lifestyle. In a marriage, whatever the type, before anyone can make such drastic changes, they need to square it with their partner, rather than unilateraly decide what suits them and pursuing that. Noone in their right mind would consider this unilateral approach to be unselfish or stable behavior.

Incidentally, I saw a TV report a while back covering the issue of how some couples have worked through a spouse's desire to take on a second partner. In one case in Oakland, the wife thought this never happened anymore, but said they discussed this together and decided that they should try it out. The husband especially said that he wanted to be very careful to have a discussion first, and not to make any rush moves. The end result is aside from some minor adjustments, all three adults report they are very happy with the arrangement, and have a great relationship. Among consenting adults, life can be mysteriously wonderful, but there has to be respect for the other person. anon


My sister-in-law and her husband decided to ''branch out'' after about 15 years of marriage, and each of them started developing friendships with others. They're now separated, her husband moved in with his girlfriend a few years ago, and my sister-in- law is alone with 2 children. Chris
If you're not the polyamorous type, what makes you think you can stay in this relationship? You could try it for awhile. You coudl try to disconnect from her inside yourself, and think of her as a friend with benefits, and do your own thing additionally, until you're really ready to cut the ties. If that doesn't appeal, then the sooner you cut the ties, the better. It only gets worse from here if you're the monogamous type. Monogamy, thanks!
I am in an open relationship going on 9 years and we have a 3- year-old as well. We do hope to marry in the next couple of years (the reasons for not marrying have to do with finances mainly). We are active in the Bay Area polyamory community, which numbers about 1,000. All my previous relationships were monogamous and I felt constrained in them. I would be happy to talk to you about our relationship and other things I have learned during the past nine years.
It doesn't work for most people. My wife ''talked me into'' an open marriage back in the seventies and it was a disaster. I discovered that she encouraged me because she had been having an affair for several years (I was blissfully ignorant), and wanted to continue without the guilt.

The problem was that when I ''went along'' with her wishes, I found myself falling in love with the woman with whom I was having the extramarital relationship and when my wife decided to end her extramarital relationship, things got dicey.

To make a long story short, several good people got hurt in the process; and while my wife and I eventually reconciled (back into a ''traditional'' monogamous marriage which remained so for many years until she passed away in the eighties), there has always been a sense of ''what if'' in my own mind which can still raise some sense of pain.

My best advice is that, for most folks, ''open marriage'' is doomed to failure and is dangerous to one's health, both emotional and possibly even physical. If one is not happy in one's marriage, and cannot resolve such, then end one relationship before embarking on another. R.


Bi-sexuality and open marriages

May 2006

Coming up on my 41st birthday and have been married to a sweet man for 13 years. Suddenly, I'm finding that I am sexually interested in women. My sexuality has blossomed over the last few years (yes, very sexually repressed for along time)so this part of my life with my husband has improved and been good. What I'm wondering is: are there couples where one or both partners are bi-sexual and they have openly and successfully enjoyed ''playing'' with someone else outside of the marriage but have stay committed to their marriage?
Bi-curious


My husband and I have had an ''inclusive'' marriage from the beginning. We have been married for 16 years and we have 2 children. We are allowed to share intimaticies with any other person provided that person is non-toxic, as in emotionally stable and non-distruptive to our family. We also practice safe- sex. For a bisexual woman, that means dental dams or other barrier devices for any bodily fluid contact. For men, bisexual or straight, the same thing applies and condoms condoms condoms. I will admit we VERY often are much too busy to take advantage of this arrangment, but I trust him and he trusts me and we communicate about any plans with other people. I hope you find people to be with who will be good for you. Anonymous
There is a great support network out there called Straight Spouse Support Network: http://www.ssnetwk.org/ Within that group there are many great support groups via yahoo groups that you can learn about couples who continue being married in your situation. It is possible. Good luck to you! anon
I am dealing with the very same issue. I have been attracted to women since middle school but have never acted on it. I consider myself bisexual. My husband is very open to the idea but more in a ''let's do a three way''. Um...no. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this and working with a therapist. I know my husband says that it is ok but for me to have sex with a woman but if I did it would be because I care for that person and that makes it a threat to my marriage. I am not a casual sex one-night-stand person...with either sex. So for me I don't see how it can work out unless I am single and that is not an option for me. It is hard. I am conflicted. I am still thinking about it and will continue to discuss it with my husband and therapist. married
Yes, generally speaking there are few things that will make a man more angry and he will find less sexy then his wife's bi- sexual dalliances. I apologize for the sarcasm, but your question seems more like an intro to erotica then a legitimate question. Most men should be fine with you experimenting with women, especially if they are included, at least usually included.

I should note, some more conservative men will find any dalliances or bi-sexuality in general to be painful and unacceptable. Also, if you want to have relationships which exclude him, he may rightly be jealous and hurt, especially if you want to experiment but demand he remain ''faithful''.

A warning- while all of this may be fun and is likely healthy, I have found that while many men enjoy and are aroused by being with a bi-sexual woman, the ''extra'' activity, even group activity which involves them, can be hurtful, and the man may not even be aware his feelings are being hurt.

All in all I say congratulations, enjoy yourself, include your husband as much as possible, and be aware that he may not be aware of his own feelings. anon


I identify as bisexual, but have been happily married to a man for almost 11 years with a child and another on the way. Before this, I mostly was committed to women partners. I am glad that you are explorig your sexuality, and that can be very freeing and exciting. However, I would ask that you look beyond the gender issue and look at what you are really asking about- a sexual/emotional experience outside of your marriage. Gender aside, I know of very few committed relationships that have been able to survive a change to an open relationship, because it affects so deeply both partners and the family that you have created. I know of many people setting up this type of relationship from the beginning, and that has seemed to be the only way this works, regardless of gender. If I were you, I would explore your feelings with a really good, experienced psychotherapist. I can tell you that the same issues that you are probably having with your husband right now, (who does what chores, how free time is spent, who watches kids, how money is spent, how much sex you are having, extended family issues, etc.) are all of the same issues that came up in my long term relationships with women. In fact, these were magnified and made much worse by the fact that society did not approve of our relationship in the first place. So, its great to fantasize, but before you act on anything, figure out more about what is going on with you and your life. Not an easy thing to do... but worth it. happy with one ''person'' at a time
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