Varietal Sex





Qualities of Successful

Open Relationships

  • What follows is not for everyone; only those wanting to pursue an open relationship lifestyle.

     In analyzing open marriages—the ones that stay together and the ones that don't—some underlying factors emerge.

There are two types of relationships that stay "open" and intact.

Neurotic-Dependence Relationships

     Often—possibly entirely too often—these relationships represent a dominant husband or wife who simply "dictates how things will be" with little regard for the feelings of their partner. The partner may stick with the relationship out of love, out of fear, or out of financial or emotional need.

Interestingly, this arrangement may serve the need of one spouse for dominance and the other for subservience, and/or humiliation. Thus, the neurotic needs of both partners may be met.

An example is the pimp-prostitute syndrome. Although money may be a large part of the motivation, as in classical prostitution, it may also be important for him to prove his control by demanding that she have sex with men. When money is not involved, he may offer her to his friends as a way of proving his ability to control her.

Although we might assume she's being forced to do this, some women like to prove their love to a man through their sexual subservience. This may fit in with her damaged self-concept. She may even suggest things: "If you want me to, I will go to bed with your friend."

Emotionally Stable Open Relationships

     Although many therapists argue that any relationship that is open signifies underlying marital problems, I have not found this to be the case. In fact, throughout history some highly accomplished and respected and couples have had open relationships. (Although this fact has commonly been ignored in the "official historical record.")

Although the data on this is admittedly limited, certain personality characteristics seem to be associated with successful open relationships. We are obviously not including the previously discussed neurotic-dependence relationships in this category.

First, let me reiterate the caveat that I've often stated: very few couples can successfully handle an open relationship. At the same time, we know that some people can, and many open relationships have lasted longer than the average closed marriage.

     There are seven characteristics that seem to be associated with successful open relationships.

1. The relationship first must be well established and stable. The individuals involved must know, love, and trust each other. Typically, the relationship will have endured—often, through some formidable tests and hardships—over a number of years and neither spouse will have a desire to "throw all this away."

2. Neither partner is threatened by their spouse's sexual involvement with another person. For this, each spouse must possess a strong sense of personal stability.

Although each spouse prefers that the marital relationship continues, their personal happiness does not depend upon it.

The view is that if the marriage should end for any reason—about half of all marriages do—then the relationship was simply not meant to continue.  Although this may be regrettable, the person's happiness does not depend on it.

Personal stability and maturity also implies that if the marriage or relationship breaks up, it does not mean that the original love suddenly evaporates or turns into hate (which would throw the nature of the original love into question). If there was and is love in the true sense, and if one partner should decide to pursue another route in life, that partner is wished the best on his or her new path.

Simply put, if you truly love another person, you want the best for them—regardless.

3. Certain rules are agreed on and carefully followed. These are covered elsewhere.

4. The difference between love and sex is understood. Although social convention always seems to pair sex with love, the people involved understand that a person can engage in sex for its own enjoyment and benefits, without the partners having to be in love with each other.

5. There is open, uninhibited, loving communication in the marriage. As issues arise, especially as they relate to sexual partners or prospective sexual partners, they are discussed and amicably dealt with. At the same time, the original partner and the primary relationship are always put first.

5. The married partners desire new sexual experiences, both for themselves and for their spouse. At the same time, it may be enough that one spouse puts the other's happiness and desire to have sexual experiences above any personal feelings of jealousy and possessiveness. This e-mail quote illustrates this.

When she's sexually satisfied, she's happy; and when she's happy, I'm happy. And that doesn't even include the other guys she makes happy.

6. The individuals involved are emotionally mature. Those who have truly successful open marriages respect others, are at ease with then, and seem to evidence a kind of spiritual connection with other people. They are secure in themselves and pay little heed to what others may think.

7.  Very much related to all this is education and socioeconomic status. Throughout history open relationships have been associated with both. In contrast, and generally speaking, the severity of the consequences of adultery and the ability to "forgive" are reversely related to both education and socioeconomic class.

     These seven attributes were distilled from personal interviews and the many e-mail letters this site receives.

These points should eliminate the need to deal with jealousy, which, of course, is tied in with being possessive. Partners must be especially sensitive to each other's feelings in this matter. This means not making unfavorable comparisons or putting time with another person ahead of time with the primary partner.

Since interpersonal issues may inevitably arise, the partners must be determined to "talk through" feelings -- especially hurt feelings or feelings of being slighted.

     If you are considering an open relationship with the attitude of, "We're not really sure, but maybe it could work in our case," you should consider this article.

NOTE: Sexual disease, especially AIDS, is now widespread. It is estimated that almost of half of people with sexually-transmitted infections don't tell a new partner. Sex with anyone other than a trusted partner requires protection — generally in the form of a condom. Although if properly used, condoms provide a high degree of protection, that protection is not 100%.

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