Before I get into the meat of this article, I need to dismiss one of the biggest myths about open relationships so there is no confusion: Being “open” doesn’t just mean sex, it means opening up everything in the marriage. For example, you’ve got to open your mind to deeper communication. Have those talks about fantasies! Bring to the surface all those topics that for years were taboo. You have to be open to leaning into these conversations because here’s the thing, whether you’re talking about them or not, you’re still thinking about them.
Being in an open relationship means you’re not afraid to put your inner most thoughts on the table AND learn how to listen. What will you do if your husband finally shares his fantasy of fucking a skinny redhead and you’re a brunette carrying around a few extra pounds? Will you be able to differentiate his fantasy from his love for you? Will you be able to hear his fantasy without getting wrapped up in fear?
What if you share your desire to sleep with some young stud? What response would you want from your “dad” bodied husband? Does your fantasy mean you love your husband any less? Does your fantasy discount all the years you and your partner have spent cultivating the marriage? What would happen if you explored your fantasies together? You might not be “skinny” but you could purchase a red wig!
You see, it’s about acknowledging our partner and ourselves. It’s about saying the relationship has such a high value that you’re totally confident with each other and you operate as a team. You become each other’s greatest asset!
John, just the other day, told me while we were making love that his appreciation for me has a lot to do with the fact that he knows I don’t “belong” to him. “Because I know you could have anyone you want at anytime makes me appreciate the times we have together even that much more… I know you’re here by choice.”
Some would be put off by John’s statement. Most of us have been taught (generation after generation) that marriage equals ownership. So to say, “You don’t belong to me,” could be perceived as not really caring about your partner or the marriage. But if you stop long enough and have the courage to hear the phrase and really listen to the words, you realize it’s the truest form of love we can have for one another. “Yeah, but if I give my partner free reign he/she will leave me?” Ah yes, but what makes you think restricting them won’t?
How do you want the relationship to sit? On a foundation of fear with an adversarial view of the world, or on a foundation of confidence, trust, transparency, and honesty? Besides, think about it, so many couples who operate from a fear mentality don’t end up showering each other with love anyway. A fear based relationship is typically saddled with spying, discounting our partner, and tearing our partner down in order to keep them with us, i.e., “What! You think you’re all that?!”
When you open a marriage the goal is to remove fears by facing them head on. Your partner doesn’t need your protection through isolation, he or she needs your support while in the masses. Those outside this openness concept will quickly discount its relevance. Again, saying that if we open the gate to freedom for our partner, we’ll become a doormat to their hedonistic behavior and cease to have value is a mirage. We say these phrases believing them to have substance and validity, and we’re not alone in this belief, society and religion are huge proponents of the illusion. We never stop long enough to really think about the beliefs we spout. If I’m in a marriage so fragile that giving my adult partner the freedom to make decisions will send them racing into the arms of another, then I’m fooling myself about the validity of the relationship in general. Where’s the mirage now?
Amazingly enough, it’s been my experience that “opening” a marriage brings the couple even closer together than in the old marriage paradigm. You see, marriage should have never been about restriction, if anything, marriage should be the ultimate freedom. A married couple should be able to bask in each others’ freedom, whether that freedom is in the form of communication, facing fears, challenging antiquated beliefs, trying something new, or yes, even sexual exploration. Look, we try new things all the time—food, hairstyles, cars, homes, hobbies—some things we like, other things not so much. Isn’t trying something new that much sweeter when we have the support of our partner?
Why do we accept this sweetness regarding almost everything except our connection with others? How can we in all honesty say that the ultimate objective is to live our lives tethered to restriction? We spend so much time contorting ourselves in an attempt to conform to the skewed view of either society or religion that we fail to recognize or acknowledge that maybe conformity is the problem. Maybe the fifty percent divorce rate isn’t a result of all these couples falling out of love, but because the formula is wrong?
Do I think couples CAN stay together for the long haul? Absolutely! But in order for the divorce rate to plummet, we have to accept a different definition for marriage, which includes extending trust and confidence to each other. Why would I ever want to leave someone who honors my freedom? Don’t forget, this freedom is a two-way street. We think that freedom will be accompanied by wild abandon, but most people do understand that true freedom comes with responsibility and respect. We tend to not take our freedom for granted, nor do we take for granted those who support our freedom. How about this for a kicker! John and I have complete freedom to explore our sexuality with others, yet we very seldom act on this freedom. We find ourselves more often than not in each others’ arms. Go figure! Could it be that we’re actually drawn closer together because we support each others’ freedom?
I recently spoke to a monogamous couple who put into practice some of these open relationship principles. This couple did not “open” the marriage with the objective of bringing others into the union, but in the hopes of dealing differently with triggers in the marriage. In the past, fears would result in days-long arguments. These arguments never resolved the core issues nor did they relieve the fear. The world is my opponent and self depreciating views were the culprits in many of their battles. John and I approached their fears from the opposite direction. Instead of validating the fear with a negative, we validated it with a positive.
“He wants us to watch porn! His fantasy includes a woman that looks nothing like me!” We didn’t play into the common response most would give: “Kick him to the curb! I can’t believe he would tell you he wants to have sex with someone else… kick him to the curb!” No, instead we capitalized on what positives could be derived by rebuilding the relationship: “That’s so cool you guys are watching porn together! Absolutely nothing wrong with finding something you both enjoy! A woman who looks differently than you? This is why it’s called a fantasy. What an incredible honor to be the recipient of your partner’s fantasy! Don’t fall into the trap of discounting your value simply because he thinks about some difference. The definition of difference or variety isn’t something better. Just because we like many things or think about a variety of things doesn’t automatically decrease our desire for what we hold true in our lives.”
Sometimes giving couples permission to take their relationship outside the lines can have transformative results. This woman’s husband didn’t want to leave her for his fantasy. He didn’t want to throw away the marriage and run off with a porn star. But this wife had to push past her fear and ask. We have to be willing to acknowledge our fears. Fear facing is also the only way we can acknowledge our own self image; those thoughts about ourselves that keep us trapped in a destructive cycle. Days-long fights can stem from a self generated issue. I’ve heard it said that if you’re bothered by an issue after say 15 minutes, it’s likely to have triggered something within. Fear facing also relieves us of automatic or taught responses—those split second moments in which we play over in our mind how we should respond to a situation instead of how we honestly feel.
I remember those first few times I came up against my truth vs. my trained response when I finally admitted I was turned on when John would return home from a date. It was difficult for me to accept rather than deny this truth because my feelings went against how society and religion had told me I was supposed to feel. A lot of my fear was wrapped up in how I would be perceived, not just my own self image, but how I thought others would view me. I remember thinking how alien it felt to give myself permission to be okay with how I felt. All the years of fighting against myself and my true feelings only left me exhausted and slowly unraveled the fabric of who I am.
It’s hard work spending life protecting yourself against behaviors the outside world has deemed negative. We naively believe it’s the “negative” issue creating all the drama, when in some instances the drama is really coming from the denial of our true response. To feel joy and happiness in my partner’s happiness, especially when the joy or happiness was initiated by someone other than myself took me a minute to process. My all or nothing training had me battling against this more peaceful and confidence based response. If I agreed that it was okay someone else had produced a good feeling in my partner, then it meant things like, “Our love must not be real.” Not real? I mean, how on earth did I ever buy into that storyline? Not real?
Can we let go of the fairytale storyline long enough to open the door to other thought patterns? Can we even let a fantasy share space with us? How about a sex toy? Can we be confident enough in our partnership to allow the marriage to explore new venues? Can we stop pitting ourselves against an ideal (redheaded portn stars/young stud muffins) long enough to switch from fear to excitement and not buy into the, “Yeah, but if I play into the fantasy, I will lose my partner” line. Most of us are gambling this thought pattern without ever throwing the dice. We don’t know if our fear is real because we think/believe it’s safer in the long run to never test its credibility. Why ask for trouble we justify?
But this approach doesn’t do anything with our fear other than push it off to the side. It doesn’t relieve us of our curiosity. No, our fear sits patiently for the next argument, explosion, or round of tears. We as married couples should be sick AND tired of this treadmill on which we’ve been placed. Do you have to open your relationship to include others for a long lasting marriage? Of course not, but you DO need to open the relationship. You’ve got to open those lines of communication (especially the sexy, erotic lines). Be honest with your partner about how you really feel about issues without fear.
Look, you’ll never control a marriage into submission by falsifying who you are. Either your partner will accept you or they won’t, but “faking” a marriage isn’t any healthier than “faking” an orgasm… you both end up missing out. A transformative marriage will eradicate judgement of our partner. When your partner finally works up the courage to give you a peek inside their deepest thoughts, remember the place of honor you have been given. This is time for rejoicing! If you want a closer bond, then you have to be willing and ready to be the confidant to your partners deepest, darkest, wildest secrets.
One of my married couple friends have been opening their relationship these past few months. When I spoke to the wife recently she said she couldn’t believe what had happened. “I didn’t realize how much self judgement I had carried throughout our entire marriage. I never realized that all the years I spent looking down upon myself because I wasn’t a virgin when I married caused extensive damage to my sexuality and my marriage.” This poor woman had spent so many years buying into a lie. She wasn’t a bad woman because she had experimented with sex before marriage, but she lived her entire marriage believing she was.
When my friend finally had her own day of reckoning, her own fear-facing, she was ready to accept a different definition of self. “Can you believe it! Now, that I’ve stopped accepting a story of guilt and shame, our sex life has blossomed! Isn’t that crazy? Now I’m the one seeking out my husband throughout the day. We’re cuddling and kissing more. We’re making out like we did when we were dating,” she excitedly explained. “We’re not swinging or anything, but we’re talking. I’ve learned more about my husband in the past two months then I have in the past 20 years!
I wouldn’t have believed it had we not tried opening up our relationship. Our new code of honesty is peeling back layers of our union that I thought after all these years were already exposed! I realized we’ve only scratched the surface! Oh, and the judgement I used to carry around! Ever since I’ve learned to accept myself, my acceptance of my partner has skyrocketed. I’ve discovered I have a wonderful partner. Do you know how great it is to feel great about your partner? I wish every married couple could see the benefits of an open relationship!”
As I sat listening to my friend, I couldn’t help but smile. My friend gets it! She and her husband are successfully rebuilding their marriage based on the open relationship principles!!
Sometimes I feel as though my articles have an undertone of anger. Maybe I’m bothered by all the needless shame and guilt society and religion put people through and is perpetuated generation after generation. What are we doing?! How can we sit back and allow people to suffer a lie? Yes, my open marriage involves swinging, but again, an open marriage doesn’t necessarily mean sex with others. Sex becomes a subject of exploration when a couple opens their marriage. Each partner is able to share thought patterns, beliefs, and truths with each other.
Sex shouldn’t be used as a means of control, but as a means of strengthening the marriage. Sex naturally creates closeness, and closeness engenders trust, which effectuates open communication, which leads to more sex. Shame, guilt, and fear are replaced with respect, honesty, and freedom. The principles of this circle, whether open to others or closed to only you and your partner, can and should be applied to any relationship model. They are what open marriage is founded upon and what my marriage is founded upon. The formula works, I promise!
John and Jackie Melfi are married swingers and in an open relationship. They were featured in an ABC News Nightline special report “Getting ‘Naughty in N’Awlins’: Inside a New Orleans Swingers Convention” and are the force behind the industry famous colette swingers clubs in Dallas, New Orleans, Houston, and Austin and the award-winning blog Openlove101.com with over 20 years of combined experience in open relationships and coaching thousands of couples.