A look at the new monogam-ish.
Standard discourse would have you believe that the age of the traditional, monogamous relationship has come to a close. In lieu of the cut and dry couple, we’re looking a whole lot more often at romantic groupings characterized as monogam-ish. In the dating scene, there are “situation-ships” and happy throuples and perhaps most prevalently, with long-term commitments, there is a newfound belief in the sanctity of an “open marriage.”
For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, the traditional marriage has historically operated under the contract of monogamy. But as our standardized conceptions of love, partnership, and sexuality grow broader by the day, we’re no longer holding the contract of marriage to all the same standards we once did. By the numbers, psychologists have found that nearly 1 in every 25 married couples have committed to an open marriage. And better yet, the arrangement has proven, in most cases, to be emotionally beneficial.
Why, you ask? Well, according to psychologist David Ludden Ph.D., it’s common in marriage to place pressure on your spouse to meet all your physical and emotional needs. While you typically have other outlets that help supplement on the emotional front—friends, hobbies, a career—the same is not exactly true on the physical end of things. As it turns out, infidelity is actually the leading cause of divorce. And surveys say that around 20% of married couples find themselves confronting issues of infidelity at one point or another. Moreover, recent research suggests that a decreasing libido amongst women, in particular, may actually be a symptom of monogamy—and the introduction of new partners can act as a balm for that very dilemma.
The idea here is simple. In the interest of preserving the absolute specialness of your relationship with Your Person, you find ways to ease the pressure—to lower your expectations of one another, and in turn, earn your right to enjoy one another a little more often. Typically, that shows up in a few standard forms.
The classic open marriage by which a couple determines both parties are welcome to see other people, often privately and separately from one another. This particular form of consensual non-monogamy requires a lot of mutual communication. The rules aren’t hard and fast.
Polyamory which means both spouses are welcome to keep long term, serious partners aside from their primary partner—and in most cases, all parties are involved and regularly interact with one another.
Swinging (you may be familiar with the canonical Vince Vaughn film, Swingers), in which couples swap partners for sexual purposes.
That said, according to The Internet, there are a few precautions veterans of the open marriage suggest taking. For starters, communication is key. If you and your partner are seeing other people, while still making a point to prioritize one another, be sure you’ve addressed your terms so you can both remain guilt-free and at ease (how often do you see your extraneous partners? Where do you see them? Are all versions of intimacy acceptable?) Next, be sure to agree on rules surrounding protection. You have both of your sexual health to consider here. And lastly, remain flexible. An open marriage need not remain as such until the end of time. Communicate constantly, renew your terms, continue to address what does and does not make you both feel comfortable.
Whether or not we’re willing to characterize open marriages as the new normal, they certainly represent a new normal. Some food for thought.