Here's an old one I haven't reposted for quite some time, but it is growing in its relevance as more and more adults are coming to eschew the shackles of tradition and obligatory behavior in relationships. Fewer people are getting married these days, and when they do, it is at a later age. Fewer are having children, as well, and again, when they do, it is at a later age. "Polyamory" and "open marriage" are becoming more prevalent in our culture today, as well.
This is definite progress in the self-actualization movement of our species. In my decades of psychotherapy practice, I have witnessed firsthand the overwhelming statistical reality that young adults with kids rarely commit to their own self-actualization, don't even consider therapy, at least not until they're in their forties and they're looking around and saying: "How the f**k did I end up here?!" Children are an astoundingly all-encompassing, two-decade distraction from one's inner life and self-work.
A while back, I offered my comments on whether or not having an affair was potentially "good" for a marriage. I was responding to an article that was in the NY Times on the subject called, "An Odd Turn of Affairs."
On the Huffington Post there was also an article on the same subject, taken from Tango Magazine, entitled: "Portrait of an Open Marriage," by Jenny Block. The piece has this caption under the title: "Jenny Block reveals an unconventional marriage arrangement that worked."
So, I took a look, because I believe that openness is the key to a good relationship, along with the two partners being genuinely in love with each other, of course.
Here are some samples of what I found in Jenny's piece, interspersed with my interjections and conclusions. Check it out and offer your own comments.
"When my husband and I first started dating, it was obvious even then that our drives were quite different. As much as he enjoyed sex, he didn’t need or want it as often as I did. But I fell so madly in love with him, I figured it didn’t matter. We had an adequate sex life, probably pretty darn good by some standards. Still, there were always things I wanted that I simply couldn’t get from him."
After having an affair that ended with a lot of bad feelings all around, Jennie and a girlfriend of hers talked and decided to try another approach.
"My husband and I had a six-month affair with my close friend. The three of us had sex. He and she had sex. She and I had sex. And, of course, he and I continued to have sex, just the two of us. The arrangement eventually faded out, and we all slipped back into our previous relationships. But my marriage was forever changed. Our experience with her was the catalyst that led us to explore open marriage."
Okay. And how exactly is "open marriage" actually defined and lived out for Jennie and her husband?
"Being secretive, lying, or sneaking around—those would be surefire ways to destroy our marriage. But the extramarital sex itself is not a threat."
I'm with you there, Jenny. Dishonesty is the real killer of all relationships, especially in the form of self-deception.
Jenny goes on to reveal that her husband had decided to be "open" to Jenny having extramarital sex, even though he wasn't interested in partaking himself anymore after the threesome experience. That's pretty open, right?
"My husband hasn’t pursued anyone since my friend. He says he’s too shy to pick up girls, and, really, he doesn’t feel the need. I can sometimes tell that the fact that I do hurts him."
What is Jenny's basic motivation in this situation? Well, her husband's not as into sex as she is and...
"I think of it as the 'playpen effect': You keep a kid locked up in one of those things and all she thinks about is how to get out, how much she’ll love what’s in the other room. But let her roam free and check it all out, and odds are she’ll end up at your feet."
So, now, let's see, Jenny's the kid in the playpen and her husband is who? The parent who can either keep her penned in or set her free? Uh-oh. Time for some rationalizations.
"Lots of people are basically in open marriages: They have illicit affairs. My husband and I simply decided we were ready to be honest, with ourselves and with each other, about what we want and need."
Well, here's the thing, Jenny - honesty, and open marriage, like open anything, should really mean, first and foremost, open to the kind of truth that can only come with real self awareness. Unfortunately, the concept of "open marriage" has been co-opted to merely mean having sex with more than one partner when you're married. Two people can be having sex outside of their marriage, even with the other's knowledge, and not be in a relationship that could realistically be called "open," certainly not if they're unable to be fully honest with themselves or each other.
As in, "don't ask, don't tell?"
"If I’m with another woman, he wants every gory detail. But when I’m with another man, sometimes he’d prefer not to know it happened at all."
Next, Jenny asks herself the excellent and obvious question, and then, gives the telling answer.
"Why am I married, then? Many people have asked me that question. So I’ll tell you exactly what I tell them. As hot as it makes me when a new conquest whispers something scandalous in my ear, nothing thrills me like the sound of my husband’s voice when I hear him say, “Hey, baby, I’m home.”
Hmm... There is a word for that - codependence!
One partner plays the role of the permission-giving parent to the other partner, who acts out the suppressed, vicarious fantasies for said parental partner, and even though the mutual levels of Eros and sex aren't experienced at a self-actualized adult level "At least we love each other, right honey?"
Well, look, by now, anyone who knows me knows that I'm neither a prude, nor a conventionalist, and I have no moral judgement whatsoever about extramarital sex. Most things by themselves are neither good nor bad, marriage and/or extramarital sex included. It's the intentions behind most actions that determine their positive or negative effects.
So, is there a situation in which partners in a marriage could have sex with someone outside of their marriage that would be a functional action of that marriage?
Yes. Of course.
But it would be quite rare in our culture and here's why: You'd have to be talking about two people who are so in love, so hot for each other sexually, so honest with themselves and each other and clear about their intentions that introducing another person into the mix could actually be a spontaneous, creative expression of that high level of Eros in any given moment. It would not be coming out of sexual incompatibility or dissatisfaction with one's partner, nor would it be coming out of boredom in the relationship. It would instead be almost like an overflow of the passion and playfulness in the sex-life of two lovers. And finally, it would mean that both partners experience themselves as adults, not as kids wanting to escape the playpen!
Open marriage? Sure. But how about open everything else, too?