The Problem With Open Relationships

As in the 70’s, swinging or having open marriages seems to be gaining some traction again. I talk with a growing number of young couples that have tried to incorporate other couples or sexual partners into their relationship or marriage. Many choose to not deal with some of the underlying and more fundamental problems in their marriage, and some just want to add variety to the mix.

Looking at this through its sociology and economic implications, open marriages and  consensual,extra-marital relationships seem to be a sign of the times. I think that the economic recession has made divorce difficult. Many couples who have been struggling financially find themselves fighting and in more conflict, and in a situation where breaking up or divorce is not a possibility. it’s too expensive to divorce, and it would be too difficult for one partner or the other to make it on their own. High unemployment, job insecurity, and economic instability have led married couples to come up with other creative solutions to their troubles, and their boredom.

Some couples are able to incorporate these extramarital relationships successfully into their own marriage, but such a couple is the rarity. It would take extremely good indication skills, as well as full disclosure and honesty, to be able to maintain a primary intimate relationship while carrying on an outside relationship, or bringing another partner into one’s marriage.

But, for the average couple, swinging or opening up their marriage to outside partnerships usually ends in some kind of misery. I talk with a lot of couples that have tried this arrangement for whatever reason, sometimes to alleviate the boredom, sometimes to add some variety, and sometimes to flat out not deal with the fundamental problems that they have in their marriage. Swinging and open relationships based on these types of things usually ends poorly. Emotions almost always get in the way, and one marital partner usually develops an emotional attachment to one of the extramarital partners. Although it may be sex that’s agreed upon initially, couples don’t always lay out all the ground rules that they need, and one often gets hurt in the mix. In some combination, it’s secrecy,  poor communication, deception, or a sexual imbalance that combined to create problems in the primary marriage, and what started as something exciting and thrilling for the partners ends with more marital hopelessness.

I can’t say across the board that swinging is not for everyone. Each couple is unique, and each marriage is different from the next. What I do know, is that because so many couples have such a difficult time developing good, solid communication skills, and building a foundation of trust in their marriage or relationship, swinging and open partnerships would most certainly undermine those long-term efforts.

If boredom or variety is what a couple is seeking, I think that those things can be alleviated in other ways. Good communication skills go a long way. Opening up a conversation about unmet sexual needs, unmet emotional needs, and ways to improve one’s marriage through variety can most definitely reignite and turn around your marriage or relationship, without needing to risk hurting one partner or the other and eroding the fundamental trust that you’ve already built within your relationship.


About Jason

As "The Man That Men Will Talk To," Jason Fierstein, MA, LPC is a private practice counselor and psychotherapist for men and couples in the greater Phoenix, Arizona, area. He works with struggling men to find happiness in their lives, and with their wives.
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2 Responses to The Problem With Open Relationships

  1. heather says:

    i really want to know why would anyone want a open relationship if you cant handle one what makes u can handle two at once or how meny of eachother choos.e my boyfriend for one year wants to try a openrelationship so we dont have to watch over eachother at a party or can both be happy. I am so lost

  2. Jason says:

    Hi Heather: Open relationships are hard for any couple, and it makes me question your boyfriend’s motivations. I would try talking to him about your feelings, and if he’s still committed to open relationships, I would seek out couples counseling. I would try to understand why your boyfriend feels the need to be in an open relationship.

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