Open marriages are becoming more common. Per a 2015 study published in the Journal of Sex Research, searches for terms related to open relationships have been rising steadily for the past 10 years. In a follow-up study, the same group of researchers found that more than one in five Americans have engaged in a non-monogamous relationship at some point in their lifetime. In other words: American couples are realizing that they might have needs greater than or outside of what a monogamous partnership can offer, and so they’re finding new ways to craft non-traditional arrangements that work for them.
But, even those on board with open relationships can have a hard time figuring out how to execute them. How do you bring it up? What open-marriage rules do you discuss? What are some missteps to avoid? Here, John*, who lives in Arizona and has had an open marriage for about six months, talks about how the arrangement came to be and how he, his wife, and his partner make things work.
How did you ask your wife for an open marriage?
My best friend, Sandra*, wanted to come over one night and spend the night. She had just moved into her own apartment and was unsure about being by herself. Sandra and I were, at the time, writing sex stories back and forth, because we’re both writers. We were just writing stories, and it just basically progressed from there. She got to imagining what it would be like with me. I obviously did the same.
I asked my wife if she minded if I stayed on the couch with her that night. My wife said, no. I said: You do realize that it may turn into something else tonight. My wife said: Yeah, I do. And then I said: That’s okay? And she said: Yeah, that’s okay.
You hadn’t had any previous conversations?
What were your feelings when you brought that up to her?
Well, to be honest, knowing Sandra the way I did, I almost knew something was going to happen. The three of us are in a creative writing class together, so obviously my wife knows Sandra almost as well as I do. So my wife knew how flirtatious she could be. My wife figured what it was going to be, too. She could see we were mutually attracted to each other. It wasn’t a big shock that I brought it up to my wife. My wife had come to that conclusion on her own.
So were you surprised?
I guess a little bit, yeah. I guess — yeah, I was surprised, and a little shocked, maybe. But, you know, I should say I was pleasantly surprised.
I would imagine so. That’s sort of a best-case scenario. So how does it work now?
Basically, Sandra wants me to come up to her place every so often. Sometimes, it’s not for anything other than she just needs someone with her to talk to her. And that’s perfectly acceptable. Every once in a while, she’ll come over here and stay the night at our place, and she sleeps on the couch and I sleep out there with her.
Are you and Sandra just friends?
To be honest, we’re more than friends. But, obviously, her and I, we still get intimate with each other on occasion. She relies on me to be a shoulder to cry on. When I go up there, it’s not about going up there to have sex. It’s about me being a best friend. That’s how it really started out: We were friends. To be honest, we tell each other all the time that we love each other, and that we’re in love with each other, but there’s a difference between that sort of intimacy and the kind that I have with my wife.
What’s the difference?
Sandra and I, I know for a fact, we never have a chance to really be together. She has a girlfriend over on the East Coast. She wants to marry her. The only thing that we have to base our relationship on is that we know that we can talk to each other and be supportive of each other. That type of thing. And I’ve told her, being lovers comes last in our relationship. Me being her best friend — that’s the most important thing. And she agrees with that, too. I haven’t had a friendship like this since high school, which was a very long time ago.
To work properly, open marriages require a lot of communication. Do you and your wife check in with one another to see how things are going?
As far as any discussion about maintenance or anything like that, my wife knows that any time that I’m going to go see her, or whatever, there’s always that possibility that something is going to happen. I’m blind. I have to order para-transit and all that stuff to get up to Sandra’s place. It’s not like it’s secretive. It’s wide open. There are people in our circle that suspect what’s going on, but nobody really knows what’s going on.
How has opening your marriage affected your relationship with your wife?
There are some things that I like. Sometimes, she comes across as jealous about it. But for us, it’s just a matter of us working through those times, and just trying to let things roll off my back. She doesn’t show that jealousy to anybody else. It’s just me — and that’s fine, too.
Many people in open marriage often say it’s helped them talk more openly about their relationship with their spouse. Do you feel the same?
Yes, it did. It’s a good thing. There are times when she wants to cuddle more, whether it be on the couch or in bed, since this started back in October. That’s always a good thing, too. To an extent, it’s also increased our emotional intimacy.
What are the main rules you and your wife maintain to ensure everyone is on the same page?
The only rule is that I don’t do anything in front of her or where she’s within earshot. She doesn’t really want to hear it. And I understand that. And when Sandra stays at our house, she stays on the couch, which is the opposite end of the house from where the bedroom is. If I go up to Sandra’s place, she obviously isn’t hearing or seeing anything.
So out of sight, out of mind.
Yeah. Don’t be blatant about it. And I’m not seeing anyone else, it’s just Sandra. Most of my friends are women. At this point, I don’t know of any male friends I can depend on as much as I do my female friends. But as far as seeing someone and being intimate with anyone else, no. It’s just Sandra.