My husband and I were recently asked how we keep our relationship special. What is it that we do to differentiate our marriage from our other encounters—if we’re going on dates, holding hands, kissing, or having sex with others, what’s left for us to share?
My guttural response was, “Are you kidding me?! What’s left for us to share? EVERYTHING!” But then I remind myself that it wasn’t all that long ago that I would have and did have the same question. I shared the same belief as the majority, the belief that the physical intimacy I shared with my husband was what separated us from others with whom we came into contact. I know for me, the reason I believed in this concept of intimacy was largely based on how I was raised to view marriage.
I was taught that marriage was all about finding that one other person on the entire planet with whom to share my life. This sharing of course was to be confined to the two of us. We would be giving or sharing with our partner certain things that we weren’t supposed to give/share to anyone else… EVER! This “thing” was sex, the pinnacle of intimacy and what defined a union. Sex was what severed a married couple from everyone else, what made the partnership special, sacred even. I was told that the only time sex was permissible was upon marriage, so yeah, I can see why I thought the intimacy of sex was what made marriage so specialized. Marriage entrusted me with certain “freedoms” that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to partake, and that’s pretty special indeed!
As much as I tried to refrain from engaging in sex before marriage, I didn’t. I had sex when I was in college with my boyfriend at the time. As a matter of fact I had sex with him quite often, and it was wonderful. I loved the connection I felt towards him, I loved the way making love felt, and I loved the newness of the experience.
I tried to justify having sex with my boyfriend based on the fact that we were engaged. Did I marry him? No. Did I sometimes struggle with my “sin?” Sometimes, but interestingly enough, NOT when I was having sex. During sex, when my brain was not weighted down by rules and structure, when I was free to let my senses be my guide, I didn’t feel shame. Was it because the sex felt so great? Was it because I enjoyed the total focus my boyfriend and I were sharing at the time? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that when I ended up having sex with the man I DID marry, my view of sex was the same. I loved the way sex with my partner made me feel. I liked seeing my partner satisfied, I liked being satisfied, and I loved the connection.
So there it was, I had sex before marriage, an act I was only supposed to have with one other person my entire life and only after marriage. I had already broken the rules I had been taught. I had already stepped outside the confines of how life was supposed to proceed, and in a way, had exposed the myth that you can only have special feelings for one other person. I had loved both these guys. During each one of those relationships, I could picture myself with them for an extended period of time. We all brought something viable to the table, all different, but no less important.
At this point in my young life, I still wanted to believe in what I had been taught, so I kept striving to attain the goal of marriage and solidarity with just one other person. I believed my marriage would automatically lead to a bond and intimacy that separated us from the herd. We would form an alliance, an us against the world kind of union, and attain the zenith of what society deemed a success.
And I did! I did attain that status. I married and nestled myself into cultivating and deepening those bonds with my partner. But something unexpected happened. Here I was with this great guy, a man I loved who was funny and smart and who loved me, and yet I was still catching myself looking at other men when they walked by. I was still fantasizing about having sex with that hot actor on screen. What was wrong with me? I was married! Why on earth was I having these kinds of thoughts? I believed and had been taught that once I was married I would be gloriously spellbound and satisfied with my partner, that I wouldn’t even be interested in anyone else. Oh boy, no one prepared me for this. My thoughts seemed to have a mind of their own. I wasn’t LOOKING for anyone else, but for some reason I would look at other men and wonder what it would be like to have sex with them. Sometimes it wasn’t even about having sex with them, sometimes I would fantasize about just talking to them or being close to them whether through conversation, a touch, or a kiss.
I was convinced there must be something wrong with me, so much so that I even talked to my doctor about it. What made all of this even more bizarre was that although I was having these thoughts about other men, I still loved my husband. As a matter of fact, sometimes I found I could become excited while having sex with my then husband while fantasizing about having sex with someone else. I never told my husband this because, well, because I couldn’t. I came from the, “If you even THINK about anyone other than your spouse sexually, you’ve already committed adultery” mindset. I wasn’t trying to fantasize about these other men. I did love my husband after all, but somehow the perceived variety turned me on.
Because this was sinful, I knew I was in a world of trouble. The only thing left for me to think was that my marriage must be over. In order for me to even be looking at someone else must mean that I didn’t really love my husband the way I thought. My marriage was destined to fail because I had failed in my ability to stay focused on only my partner.
Had my marriage really failed? If you had asked me at the time I would have said absolutely! I had all kinds of evidence to support this view. I was looking at other men, thinking about being with other men, and by the demise of the marriage was actually WITH other men. I was fulfilling all the prophecies of marital inadequacy, with sex at the top of the list. If the sex was compromised then of course the marriage had to be over. During all the years I was married, I believed it was sex that differentiated the relationship with my partner from all others. Sex was that pinnacle factor of a sacred marriage.
Fast forward to today and I have a vastly different view of what makes a marriage sacred.
No longer am I a slave to the confines of the traditional marriage diagram. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE marriage. I love BEING married. I love the companionship, the late night talks, the early morning runs, and the afternoon delights. I love having a travel buddy, who also happens to be my favorite f**k buddy! I savor our conversations and revel in our vulnerabilities. After being in a swinging marriage for half a decade, I’ve learned a few things. The glaring neon flashing fact is that sex in and of itself isn’t what makes a marriage special or sacred. It’s NOT what holds a marriage together. It’s NOT what differentiates a marriage. What makes a marriage a marriage is SO much deeper.
If I were to list all the wonderful things about my marriage, yes sex would be in the top five on my list, but so would things like honesty, trust, communication, companionship, and humor. These would be merely a sampling of the sacredness we bring to marriage. But even more than this, if we were all to make a list of all the things in our marriages that have made our connections so special, surprisingly enough, they would also be things we do on a day-to-day basis with the other people in our lives. Honesty for instance. Just because honesty with my husband is on my list doesn’t mean that he is only honest with me. No, one of the personality traits I love about my partner is his honesty towards everyone with whom he comes in contact. Same with communication. I adore our talks, but my husband doesn’t just communicate with me, he has a network of friends, family, and associates he speaks openly with on a daily basis. I don’t stand around complaining that the specialness or sacredness of our communication is diluted because my husband is talking with someone else. What makes the communication sacred between us is the communication between us. No matter how much he talks with others, it will NEVER be the same as when he and I communicate. This is what differentiates our marriage from everything or everyone else.
The other realization I’ve found about being in a swinging marriage is that neither my husband nor I have to restrict or confine ourselves from the rest of the world. This was revolutionary for me. No longer was my marriage going to be defined by a list of don’ts and an undertone of fragility but would be rich with an ever increasing circle of people. As a matter of fact, the larger our circle, the more special/sacred our union. The fact that we have this HUGE legion of people to which we can express ourselves, and yet return to each other is the apex of sacredness for me. We’ve learned to let go of the teachings of our youth to incorporate an ease in our relationship. If I kiss someone else, rather than jealousy and fear, the kiss is seen as a caring gesture, and the act is never blown out of proportion. We’re free to respond to whomever in whatever way we feel appropriate, with the full trust, love, and support of each other.
So when I’m asked how I keep my partnership sacred or special as a swinger, I tell people it isn’t just one thing over another, it’s the sum total of everything. We love each other for who we are, we share the same goals, we both value family, we both love to travel, we work as a team in all our endeavours, we have awesome chemistry, and yes, we’re on the same page about marriage/sex. We know that our marriage is one of freedom in which every avenue can be explored.
I no longer feel shame or doubt the love I have for my husband because I look at or fantasize about other men. I know my husband loves me for who I am, and I also know that if we ever decided to stop swinging, our marriage would survive and remain special because we share so much more.
Note: This article was first published on Jackie’s Huffingtonpost blog.