How to Have a Successful Open Marriage

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It was once a taboo concept that couples felt they had to keep private, but times have changed; open marriages have grown to encompass between 4% and 9% of total relationships in the United States.

Sometimes, people who are married consider opening their marriage up. When they do, it's very important that they follow some simple steps in order to have the best possible chance at keeping their relationship successful once they do open it.

This article explains what an open marriage is, how to create boundaries, and how to open your relationship if you decide to do so with your partner.

What Is an Open Marriage?

An open marriage is a form of ethical non-monogamy (ENM). Unlike other forms of ENM, such as polyamory, that seek to establish additional partners in a relationship, open marriages are generally focused on outside sexual connections only.

Though couples may establish together that it's acceptable to pursue romantic and/or emotional connections in addition to sexual ones, a key point of open marriage (or any open relationship) is the prioritization of the primary relationship over any other connections.

Do Your Research

You're already taking the first step needed for having a successful open marriage by reading this article. However, you can take many more steps to learn about the ins and outs of an open marriage.

Here are a few ways to research open marriages:

  • Purchase some books about the topic: Read books on the subject, such as "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage" by Jenny Block or "A Happy Life in an Open Relationship: The Essential Guide to a Healthy and Fulfilling Nonmonogamous Love Life" by Susan Wenzel.
  • Talk to others: Chat with any couples you know who are open.
  • Find a virtual group: Find a local or virtual meetup group for couples in open marriages.
  • Download podcasts: Listen to podcasts about open marriage, like "Opening Up: behind the scenes of our open marriage" or "The Monogamish Marriage."

Confirm It's What You Both Want

Once both you and your partner feel completely aware of and comfortable with, what an open marriage entails, you should speak with each other to confirm that it feels right for both of you. If only one of you is fully on board, it will not work.

If you talk together and one or both of you feel unsure about whether opening your marriage is the right step to take, it can be helpful to speak to a couples therapist together.

You'll want to find a therapist who is affirming of non-monogamous relationship models, which there are online resources for.

Communicate Your Goals Together

Now that you've done your research and you've both confirmed that opening your marriage feels like the right choice for you, you'll want to communicate your goals with one another.

Every elements of an open marriage requires open communication with your primary partner, so this step is a helpful one to get you into the habit of talking more often about the relationship.

Listen to and Affirm Your Partner

This is a new topic, and it should feel exciting. Because of that, it may be tempting to want to talk a lot about your own goals. Instead, however, this is an excellent opportunity to learn how to listen to, and affirm, your partner.

When they make a point, it's helpful to affirm it with a statement such as "I heard you say..." and then summarize what you think they said. This should go both ways, and your partner should also listen closely to and affirm what you say about your goals.

Agree on Your Goals

Once you've both shared what you want out of this new dynamic, it's vital that you both agree. If one of you has a goal that the other doesn't share, things won't work well.

You'll want to pare your goals down to ones you agree on, even if that means that at first, you don't get everything you ultimately want out of this new arrangement.

Once you've agreed on your goals together, it's helpful to repeat them back to one another so each of you is fully clear about them. If one or both of you don't have excellent memories, you may want to put these agreed-upon goals down in writing.

Establish Rules and Boundaries

This next step is perhaps the most important one of all (save for, of course, actually following the rules and boundaries that you create together).

In order for an open marriage to be successful, you'll need to work together to decide the rules you'll both follow to ensure one another's emotional and physical safety.

Physical Safety

Physical safety has a few different meanings in this context. Here are the ways that it should be established together.

  • Safe Sex Practices: You and your partner should decide what, if any, safety practices you'll implement when being physical with other people, as well as between you two once you've begun being physical with others.
  • Home Space: Will you let other partners into your home? Will you tell them where you live? You and your partner should be in agreement about how your home is treated in this situation.
  • Physical Boundaries: For everyone's sake, it should be decided in advance what intimate behaviors can and/or will occur with others. Are you no holds barred, or do you save any sexual activities for just the two of you? Will you and your partner talk before you are intimate with a new person, or not? These are things to discern ahead of time.

Emotional Boundaries

As mentioned, open marriages are often more about outside physical connections than romantic or emotional ones. However, it's up to you and your partner to decide what will and won't be allowed while connecting with others.

These are a few questions you'll want to answer together:

  • Will you text or call people you see just to chat?
  • Will you say "I love you" to other parties?
  • Will you share intimate details about your marriage with others?

Time Investments

It's vital to decide together how much time each of you will spend with others. There is no right answer here; you may see other people nightly, or once a year, or anywhere in between.

You should each express how much, or how little, you want to engage with people outside of your relationship, and agree on a time amount that feels right for both of you.

Check-In Regularly

Once you've begun seeing other people, your communication with your spouse isn't over! In fact, it should remain as frequent and consistent as it was before you opened your marriage.

Check-ins don't need to always be conversations at home in a therapy-style setting. You can check-in at a dinner out, at a park, or anywhere else that makes you feel connected to your spouse.

Prioritize Your Spouse as Needed

No matter how much fun you have with other people, you'll always want to keep the importance of your primary relationship in mind.

There may be an ebb and flow as one or both of you is excited about someone new, or when one of you has a breakup. But there are certain situations, such as if your loved one becomes ill, where in order to be successful in the primary relationship, you defer to it as needed.

Your partner's birthdays, holidays, family dinners, important medical visits, and disciplining children are all examples of when one should prioritize their spouse over any secondary relationships.

An open marriage is not the easiest relationship model, but many people find it highly rewarding. With these tools, you'll be setting yours up for success.

A Word From Verywell

An open marriage may be a good choice for a couple, but it should not be used to try and save a marriage. If you feel your marriage is heading towards divorce, there are many better things to try, such as seeking couples counseling with your spouse. Opening your marriage will only add complications to an already difficult situation.

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  1. Zuckerman A. 30 Open Marriage Statistics. 2020/2021 Demographics, Popularity and Health Risks. Compare Camp. Published May 23, 2020.