What is an open marriage and why do people choose to have one?

Live-in and Open | | Expert Author , Relationship & Intimacy Coach
Updated On: July 18, 2022
What is an open marriage

What is an open marriage and why is it becoming popular?

It was no surprise when I started counselling married couples facing several intimacy issues. Either the wife was not cooperative or the husband had a low libido. And another who was shocked to know her husband was gay. Another couple wanted an open marriage after a few years of boredom for sexual adventures. Some just wanted to know more about it and how to broach the topic with their husband or wife.

Because it is more interesting

Karan (42), an entrepreneur, and Kirti (35), a homemaker, have been in an open marriage for over 1 year. He confessed that he started cheating on his wife when he was travelling for his business. “For two years, she wasn’t aware I was having sex with other women. Then, one day, she found a condom pack in my suitcase and confronted me. I admitted my infidelity to her, but explained my sexual frustration and fantasies had nothing to break her heart, as I love her. In fact, I even gave her my consent to get intimate with other men if she wanted,” said Karan. Although it took some time, Kirti eventually came to terms with the arrangement. “Now we’re open to exploring together with other couples too, but our concern was safety and how to go about it.” They have two children, who are unaware of their open relationship.

Because it is more interesting
Because it is more interesting

Because he is gay

Another was married to a gay and struggling emotionally to accept the fact. Laxmi (25), married to Srinivas (28), an IT professional, called me for counselling. She felt cheated and angry. She admitted, “My husband is a good man and he is caring, attentive, intelligent, but sexually prefers men. How do I deal with such an emotional turmoil, as I love him for who he is? Even though we had an arranged marriage after a few months of engagement, I never suspected him to be gay. Though Srinivas has given me the liberty to choose another man or men for my sexual needs, I am yet not able to make such a choice.” Being conditioned in a conventional family belief system, this was a huge dilemma for her.

Because we aren’t compatible

Because we aren't compatible
Because we aren’t compatible

“Our marriage has been a conflict since the beginning, but our children had kept us together. We weren’t compatible in bed either. It was tearing me and her. We then sat and discussed our issue with a friend couple one day who were already swinging, and they suggested an open marriage to allow personal happiness sexually and emotionally, too. However, Maria and I, born Catholic, are not sure how it will affect us and our reputation. Can you tell us if that is the only way to seek solution to our marital problems?” helpless, confused John asked.

Not such a taboo subject now

Open marriage is no more a taboo or ridiculous relationship matter. In today’s fast paced life, it is becoming very common to have extramarital affairs or an open marriage. There are many factors. Many have chosen to resort to open marriage to avoid divorce. Lack of time and patience to resolve the marital or intimacy issues has also encouraged many couples to opt for open marriage. And in some schools of thought, it is also natural to favour open marriage as against the traditional marriage.

Some believe that no man or woman can stay faithful or loving towards one person for a lifetime.

Some believe that no man or woman can stay faithful or loving towards one person for a lifetime.

It is unnatural to even expect it. We are always evolving and changing with passage of time and so do our preferences change. Our needs or primal desires may be quenched by many more than just our wedded wife or husband.

Open marriage, as the term suggests, refers to an open relationship in which a person can have more than one sexual partner with the consent of their spouse. It is another name for swinging.

It is a blessing for someone who wants to be in a steady relationship but doesn’t want to commit. But it is not everyone’s cup of tea, as it can be very painful and not everyone has the heart to share his/her partner (even sexually) with somebody else.

Reasons for choosing an open marriage

Reasons for choosing an open marriage
Reasons for choosing an open marriage

Broadly speaking, there are a few reasons why people opt for such a settlement:

  1. When a marriage or relationship is emotionally satisfying, but lacks physical intimacy.
  2. When, for whatever reason, a couple is unable to divorce, due to societal pressures, family expectations, financial status and therefore, must somehow continue living as a married couple.
  3. In a marriage between a gay person and a heterosexual person, which is now becoming common issue in India, too. Sometimes, the wife of a gay man even bears children from another man to hide the issue.
  4. There have been cases when husband has a bisexual wife, who then opens up for a threesome or open marriage to seek other partners for a kick too.
  5. When either becomes medically unfit, they allow the partner to seek physical satisfaction elsewhere.
  6. Sometimes when partners work abroad for long years, there is a silent understanding to be in an open relationship or with mutual open desire without making each other guilty.
  7. When both desire sexual exploration as swinging partners or within a polyamorous structure of sexual encounters.

Being happy in an open marriage depends solely on you and your partner. But before getting into an open relationship, just know the pros and cons, so that you can make the right decision.

Pros of an open marriage

Pros of an open marriage
Pros of an open marriage
  • The biggest benefit of being in an open marriage is that you can have all the perks of being single while being committed to a relationship.
  • It is human nature to feel bored with an unchanging lifestyle. In an open relationship, you can experience variety in your life.
  • Communication between the couple improves, as the open relationship is all about communication.
  • You don’t feel burdened with guilt and can enjoy your life in a better way
  • As your partner is aware of offers you are getting, he/she may work hard to meet your requirements. In short, a little completion is always healthy.
  • Your intimate life with your partner improves as you learn new sex techniques with other partners.
  • Faithfulness in your marriage increases.

Cons of being in an open marriage

  • As there is more than one sexual partner involved, there is always the fear of Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
  • It is not easy to share your partner with somebody else. The feeling of jealousy can creep in.
  • Sometimes it becomes hard and embarrassing to communicate each and every detail to your partner.
  • You have almost zero privacy.
  • Society doesn’t support open relationships and you may be judged for it.
  • There is always a fear of getting into an emotional relationship which will affect your marriage.
  • It’s time-consuming and difficult. You could just as easily spend your life with one person, see them all the time, get used to them entirely – instead of remembering multiple people and different loves.
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Readers Comments On “What is an open marriage and why do people choose to have one?”

  1. Open marriages are nothing but animalistic way of living with knowledge of each spouse. It is totally based on .materialistic and lust centred as if one is borned for variety of mating only. Over the years purpose of marriage and role of marriage in spirituality are lost. Introspecting purpose of human birth is lost. Open marriage promotes only animalistic way of living as the only purpose of living as objective of human birth. That’s all.

  2. Deb Chatterjee

    Unlike the others here who have been in support of open marriage, I am against it for the following reasons:

    1. It is all about the greed for sex and lust. That is to me a feature that animals display. Animals do not care about the partner. They have sex and move on. And, yes they are not monogamous. Advocating open marriage suggests that we should place premium on the non-monogamous behavior of humans. I find that demeaning. While we have truly advanced, we are still confined to thinking that we must satisfy our sexual appetite any way we can.

    2. What happens if the partner, who is out there for lust, suddenly comes down with a long term disease that requires treatment and care? Who is going to take care of that person then? What if being sick prevents that person from having sex? How will his/her desire be fulfilled?

    3. If the female partner in an open marriage gets pregnant, who is going to take responsibility of the child? How will paternity be determined? Will the onus be on the father to take care of the child?

    4. Polyamory, since it survives on lust and lust alone, is a desire that is generated from human greed. Greed is fundamentally a vice. If a society promotes open marriage, then that society is promoting the fact that greed is good. The silent support for greed for lust could then be continued into other areas of human activity and could potentially lead to chaos. What happens then? We should accept the eventuality that may come from greed?

    5. Understanding that men and women could get lusty, it would be unfair if one partner does not agree to open marriage and other is just waiting to run. Thus, will every partner come clean about his/her sexual prefernces before entering into any relationship? What if one of the partners suddenly “evolve” as prone to polyamory after marriage and the other does not? What will be the consequences? The situation is that of betrayal. Why should one partner suffer because the other chose to have threesome?

    6. Ancient civilizations which had such form of relationships somehow got destroyed. The two that come to mind are: Pompei and Herculaneum, and our own Mahabharata times. The lessons learnt from such history shows that lechery does not pay. Lust driven open marriage relationships must have something sinister because it does survive on the dark side of human character.

  3. I belong to a very conservative family though they have tried very hard and also have adopted to the modern world. The concept appears useless to me.. It all depends on your understanding of your partner.

  4. Quite a new and controversial concept in the sub-continent of India, it is not a wrong concept. It can help to resolve a lot of marital issues to a large extent. Then again, the Indian system which is more monogamy-oriented and orthodox in various aspects, would make it extremely difficult for couples to accept or even adopt such a system into their lives if needed as well.

    1. Deb Chatterjee

      @aksa sania

      Don’t blame the Indian society for being orthodox with open marriages – since by definition open marriages promote lust and promiscuity.

      Please answer: why should a society promote lust and greed for one’s personal gratification?

      If someone is given to promiscuity it is his/her choice. But the same person should declare his/her choices and sexual orientations before getting into any relationship or dating. Otherwise it would be hypocritical and an act of cheating on the new partner who may not know anything.

  5. This article plays an important role in educating the masses about open marriages which is a new concept here. It also describes pros and cons of that system and gives a fair idea of what one needs from his or her relationship. A good job done.

  6. Couples may still not be comfortable to talk about their open marriages, as the more we make them less of a secret, the less “dirty” the concept becomes. They need to be normalized just like monogamy.

    1. Deb Chatterjee

      @Sneha Gupta:

      Monogamy and polyamory are totally different. The latter is only based on lust and certainly not love.

      Society has defined monogamy for various reasons. If you are polyamorous what would happen if you found out you got pregnant. Are you going to be a proud single mother?

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