Could Trying An Open Relationship Be The Right Move When Working On Your Marriage?

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Keeping a marriage alive is a lot of work. Two very different people who have vowed to stay together till death do them part are faced day in, day out with communicating properly, making compromises, and fulfilling each other sexually. Add to that the challenges of child rearing, financial responsibilities, and maintaining in-laws and social circles. After the initial sparks of passion slowly start to fade, couples are expected to settle into a comfortable rhythm with one another. 

This rhythm, however, is more of a challenge for some than others. Maybe the trouble is with communication or perhaps your sex life has become non-existent. Can a marriage survive without intimacy? If you and your partner have hit a wall in your marriage and you're looking for ways to mend things, you might be considering opening up your relationship. 

An open relationship is just one kind of consensually non-monogamous partnership, with some others being polyamory, swinging, and throuples. Author and therapist Susan Wenzel explained to Oprah Daily that open relationships are an "arrangement wherein a couple decides to include experiences with other people often for sexual pleasure." The couple usually has a primary relationship (with each other), and other sexual partners. Emotional attachment with others is discouraged. This unconventional concept has a growing momentum in society: open relationships, at least in theory, could seem like a good way to fix the problems within a monogamous union. Is it the right move though? 

The answer might be disappointing

If the ironic and condescending term RBAMP (meaning "Relationship Broken. Add More People") in polyamorous circles by itself isn't a good deterrent, the idea of using an open relationship to fix an existing marital issue is not something most experts would recommend. According to Dr. Liz Powell, a psychologist specializing in non-monogamous relationships (via Refinery29), "If you're already struggling to talk about what you want and need, if you're already struggling to advocate for your needs or have those needs met, non-monogamy is unlikely to fix those problems — aside from the fact that it's likely to end your relationship." 

Open relationships come with certain rules regarding what to communicate, what to keep private, and what specific sexual activities to engage in, and oftentimes, these rules vary from couple to couple. The rules themselves could become a source of conflict for a marriage that's already struggling, adds Powell. 

Open marriages are built on a bedrock of complete trust and good communication skills, not to mention the deep desire to continuously work on yourself and deal with the feelings of jealousy or insecurity that are sure to creep in. Adding that dynamic to a marriage that is already strained is not a good idea. Tristan Taormino, sex educator and author of "Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships," told Oprah Daily that opening up your marriage is only going to exacerbate existing problems.

When is a good time for an open relationship?

If you're trying to work on your marriage, the focus should be on mending what's broken within the marriage before you start venturing out. Try couples counseling or reaching out to trusted friends and family to see if that helps. All marriages get to a place of mundanity and it's important to separate fantasy from reality when dealing with problems related to lost sparks.

Susan Wenzel shared with Oprah Daily that open relationships call for "deep and difficult conversations," so it goes without saying that you and your partner have to value open and honest chats before thinking about trying anything new. Even if fixing a problem isn't your reason for trying it out, it helps to sit and think about why you want an open marriage in the first place. Knowing if an open relationship is right for you takes some time and patience to navigate the difficult questions. Do you want more sex? More love? Do you want a sense of freedom to act on your urges? Self-awareness in the areas of how you deal with jealousy and whether or not you're insecure could also help. 

Checking in with your spouse to see if this is something they'd be open to is a crucial step too. Open relationships are just as hard as monogamous unions, if not more challenging. Attempting to add that dynamic into your relationship should be a carefully thought-out and mutually agreed-upon decision.