Open marriage relationship

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An open marriage,[1] sometimes referred to as a consensual non-monogamy[2] (CNM) relationship, is a type of union wherein the involved parties unequivocally consent to their partners entering or engaging in romantic and/or sexual relationships with other people.[3]

The impact of open marriage on relationships varies across couples, yielding positive, neutral, and negative outcomes. Some couples report high levels of marital satisfaction and have long-lasting open marriages. Other couples drop out of the open marriage lifestyle and return to sexual monogamy. Still other couples experience serious problems and report that open marriage contributed to their divorces. Scientists do not yet understand why some couples respond positively to open marriage while other couples respond negatively.[citation needed]

Positive outcomes[edit]

Many couples have positive experiences with open marriage. This does not mean couples never experience problems with open marriage. It simply means some couples enjoy open marriages and also maintain high levels of marital satisfaction and stability.

A national study of sexuality conducted by Hunt found that relatively few people engage in swinging style open marriages. Hunt attributed the low number of people in open marriages to various social, psychological, and practical problems. Yet, some of these people "confirmed what the advocates and enthusiasts have claimed—namely, that marital swinging can provide physically intense experiences, that it can be immensely ego-gratifying and that it is a temporary release from confinement and responsibility and a brief chance to live out one's wildest fantasies" (pages 273–274).[4] Open marriages can challenge couples with various problems, but open marriages can also offer couples extremely satisfying experiences. Couples may view the satisfying experiences as well worth the efforts spent managing the problems.

Some studies show that couples in open marriages can maintain satisfying relationships. Rubin observed no differences in marital adjustment between couples in open marriages and couples in sexually monogamous marriages.[5] Rubin and Adams reported no differences in marital satisfaction between couples in open marriages and couples in sexually monogamous relationships.[6] Gilmartin likewise found no differences in marital satisfaction between sexually open and sexually monogamous couples.[7] A study by Bergstrand and Willams found couples in open marriages had higher levels of satisfaction than couples in the general population.[8]

Some couples in open marriages report high levels of satisfaction with their relationships. A study conducted by Wolf found that 76 percent of openly married couples described the quality of their relationships as "better than average" or "outstanding".[9] Dixon found similarly high levels of marital satisfaction in a study of 100 bisexual and heterosexual husbands in open marriages.[10] In another study, Dixon observed that 80 percent of wives in open marriages rated their marital compatibility as "excellent" or "good", and 76 percent of the wives rated their sexual satisfaction as "excellent" or "good".[11] Buunk has also reported high levels of satisfaction in openly married couples.[12]

Some couples feel open marriage has increased their marital satisfaction. Bergstrand and Williams collected online questionnaires from 1092 people involved in swinging style open marriages.[8] Among those people who said they were "somewhat unhappy" or "unhappy" with their marriages before swinging, around 80–90 percent said they were happier with their marriages after they started swinging. Nearly half of people who said they were "very happy" with their marriages before swinging claimed to be even happier with their marriages after swinging. Open marriage can in some cases increase marital satisfaction.

Thus, open marriage can have a positive impact on many couples. These couples are able to enjoy open marriage while maintaining satisfying and stable relationships with one another. Levels of marital satisfaction for these couples are often quite high. Some couples even feel open marriage has improved their relationships.

Neutral outcomes[edit]

Couples sometimes drop out of the open marriage lifestyle and return to sexual monogamy. In a five-year study of bisexuals, 80 percent of whom initially had open relationships, Martin Weinberg, Colin J. Williams, and Douglas Pryor observed a definite shift towards sexual monogamy over time.[13] When first interviewed, a majority of these bisexuals preferred sexual non-monogamy as their ideal form of romantic relationships. Five years later, around 60 percent had changed their views, and most of those who changed their views said sexual monogamy was their new ideal. Some of these changes were motivated by the emergence of the AIDS epidemic. Monogamy was seen as a way to avoid getting HIV/AIDS. But, for many, the shift to monogamy was due to a genuine change in what they sought in relationships. Their desire to be sexually monogamous had nothing to do with the AIDS epidemic.

Couples who try open marriages and decide to return to sexually monogamous marriages may be left with different feelings about open marriage. Some may have negative feelings about their open marriage experiences.[14] Others may continue to "see nonmonogamy as possibly good for others but not for themselves".[13] Overall, open marriage has a relatively neutral impact on these couples.

Negative outcomes[edit]

Couples in open marriages expose themselves to the potential for conflicts caused by jealousy. Couples in open marriages appear to experience jealousy more frequently than people in sexually monogamous marriages.[15][16] Studies have shown that 80 percent or more of couples in open marriages experience jealousy over their extramarital relationships.[17][18] Jealousy with its roots in open marriage can lead to serious conflicts. For example, attempting to interfere with a rival relationship may make a partner angry. Insulting or berating a partner may provoke retaliatory responses. Demanding greater commitment may ignite arguments. Indeed, many studies have reported that conflict occurs during episodes of jealousy.[19] The conflicts caused by jealousy can seem overwhelming and damage relationships.

Even when jealousy is not an overwhelming problem, open marriage may cause other complications. For example, a five-year study of bisexuals observed a shift from open relationships to sexually monogamous relationships in many participants because they "felt that nonmonogamy was too time consuming, took too much energy, or was too complicated. They also thought that it got in the way of developing love, trust, and more intimate relationships with a partner".[13]:262 Numerous authors have argued that open marriages disrupt relationships by interfering with intimacy and provoking insecurities.[4][20]

Some couples report that open marriage contributed to their divorces. Janus and Janus asked divorced people to list the one primary reason for their divorces.[21] Approximately 1 percent of men and 2 percent of women listed open marriage as the primary reason for their divorce. This seems like a small percentage, but keep in mind that only 1 to 6 percent of the population have open marriages.[4][22] Open marriage is perceived as a primary cause of divorce in a substantial minority of the 1 to 6 percent of people who have open marriages.

The extent to which open marriage actually contributes to divorce remains uncertain. Blumstein and Schwartz note a slightly higher risk of divorce among couples who engage in extramarital sex, even if the couples agree to allow extramarital sex.[23] However, Rubin and Adams did not observe any difference in the risk of divorce for couples in open marriages and couples in sexually monogamous marriages.[6]

Relationship maintenance[edit]

Scientists cannot yet explain why some couples respond positively to open marriage while other couples respond negatively. Nor can they predict which couples will respond positively or negatively. Strategies for maintaining relationships described below are simply a few examples. There are many strategies for maintaining healthy and happy relationships other than the ones mentioned here.

Gottman identified a particularly harmful pattern of communication that begins with criticism and ends with stonewalling.[24] The steps of the pattern include:

  • Criticism – attacking a partner's personality or character, usually attributing fault or blame, rather than complaining about a behavior. One can imply character faults in a partner by listing complaints about the partner's past behaviors.
  • Contempt – criticism intended to insult and psychologically abuse a partner. Contempt reflects very negative views about one's partner.
  • Defensiveness – denying responsibility, making excuses, attributing negative thoughts to a partner, countering a partner's complaints with one's own complaints, and repeating oneself.
  • Stonewalling – a breakdown of communication. The partners turn into "stone walls" and stop responding to each other.

Couples who exhibit this cascade of destructive communication usually get divorced.[citation needed]

Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg proposed their "Speaker-Listener technhnique" for managing conflict and maintaining good marital relationships, applied on the basis of six ground rules:[25]

  • When conflict is escalating, call a "time out" and either (a) try it again, using the technique or (b) agree to talk about the issue later, at a specified time, using the Speaker-Listener technique.
  • When having trouble communicating, use the technique.
  • When using the technique, completely separate discussing a problem from seeking solution (i.e., discuss the nature of the problem before jumping too quickly to finding solutions).
  • Bring up issues at any time, but a partner can say, "This is not a good time." If a partner doesn't want to talk at that time, he or she takes responsibility for setting up a time to talk in the near future.
  • Have weekly "couple's meetings."
  • Make time for the great things: fun, friendship, and sensuality. Agree to protect these times from conflict and the need to deal with issues.

Gottman and colleagues discovered that the ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions strongly predicts divorce.[24][26] Couples who maintain a ratio of five positive interactions for every negative interaction are likely to remain together. Couples who do not maintain this 5:1 ratio are likely to get divorced. Moreover, couples are more likely to stay together if they follow certain patterns of communication during conflict:

"…the marriages that wound up happy and stable had a softened start-up by the wife, that the husband accepted influence from her, that he de-escalated low-intensity negative affect, that she was likely to use humor to effectively soothe him, and that he was likely to use positive affect and de-escalation to effectively soothe himself. The alternative to the active listening model suggested by these analyses is a model of gentleness, soothing, and de-escalation of negativity…."[26]

The main message of these relationship-maintenance strategies fis to take time to enjoy positive interactions with each other and, when conflicts or issues do arise, take steps to prevent negative interactions from spiralling out of control.


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  3. ^ Balzarini, R. (2017). "Perceptions of primary and secondary relationships in polyamory". PLoS ONE. 12. 
  4. ^ a b c Hunt, Morton M. (1974). Sexual behavior in the 1970s. Chicago, Illinois: Playboy Press. 
  5. ^ Rubin, Arline M. (December 1982). "Sexually open versus sexually exclusive marriage: a comparison of dyadic adjustment". Alternative Lifestyles. Springer. 5 (2): 101–108. doi:10.1007/BF01083247. 
  6. ^ a b Rubin, Arline M.; Adams, James R. (1986). "Outcomes of sexually open marriages". The Journal of Sex Research. Taylor and Francis. 22 (3): 311–319. doi:10.1080/00224498609551311. 
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  14. ^ Gates, Jennifer (2001). Survivors of an open marriage. Spokane, Washington: KiwE Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9781931195188. 
  15. ^ Trost, M. R.; Brown, S.; Morrison, M. (November 1994). Jealousy as an adaptive communication strategy. New Orleans, LA: Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Speech Communication Association. 
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  18. ^ Ramey, James W. (October 1975). "Intimate groups and networks: Frequent consequence of sexually open marriage". The Family Coordinator. APA via PsycNET. 24 (4): 515–530. doi:10.2307/583035. JSTOR 583035. 
  19. ^ Citations:
    • White, Gregory L.; Mullen, Paul E. (1989). Jealousy: theory, research, and clinical strategies. New York, N.Y: Guilford Press. ISBN 9780898625325. 
    • Bryson, Jeff B. (1991). "Modes of response to jealousy-evoking situations". In Salovey, Peter. The psychology of jealousy and envy. New York: Guilford Press. pp. 1–45. ISBN 9780898625554. 
    • Buunk, Bram P. (1991). "Jealousy in close relationships: an exchange-theoretical perspective". In Salovey, Peter. The psychology of jealousy and envy. New York: Guilford Press. pp. 148–177. ISBN 9780898625554. 
    • Guerrero, Laura K.; Andersen, Peter A. (1998). "The dark side of jealousy and envy: desire, delusion, desperation, and destructive communication". In Cupach, William R.; Spitzberg, Brian H. The dark side of close relationships. Hoboken: Taylor & Francis. pp. 33–70. ISBN 9781410601117. 
    • Hansen, Gary L. (1991). "Jealousy: its conceptualization, measurement, and integration with family stress theory". In Salovey, Peter. The psychology of jealousy and envy. New York: Guilford Press. pp. 211–230. ISBN 9780898625554. 
    • Schaap, Cas; Buunk, Bram; Kerkstra, Ada (1988). "Marital conflict resolution". In Noller, Patricia; Fitzpatrick, Mary Anne. Perspectives on marital interaction. Clevedon, Avon, England: Multilingual Matters. pp. 203–244. ISBN 9780585175928. 
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    • Bancroft, John (2009). Human sexuality and its problems (3rd ed.). Edinburgh New York: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier. ISBN 9780443051616. 
    • Turner, Jeffrey S. (1996). Encyclopedia of relationships across the lifespan. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313295768. 
    • Olds, Jacqueline; Schwartz, Richard S. (2002). Marriage in motion: the natural ebb and flow of lasting relationships. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus Pub. ISBN 9780738208305. 
  21. ^ Janus, Sam S.; Janus, Cynthia L. (1993). The Janus report on sexual behavior. New York: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 9780471525400. 
  22. ^ Other citations:
  23. ^ Blumstein, Philip; Schwartz, Pepper (1985). American couples: money, work, sex. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company. ISBN 9780671523534. 
  24. ^ a b Gottman, John M. (2007). Why marriages succeed or fail: and how you can make yours last. London: Bloomsbury. ISBN 9780747593607. 
  25. ^ Markman, Howard J.; Stanley, Scott M.; Blumberg, Susan L. (2010). Fighting for your marriage: a deluxe revised edition of the classic best seller for enhancing marriage and preventing divorce. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 9780470485910. 
  26. ^ a b Gottman, John M.; Coan, James; Carrere, Sybil; Swanson, Catherine (February 1998). "Predicting marital happiness and stability from newlywed interactions". Journal of Marriage and Family. APA via PsycNET. 60 (1): 5–22. doi:10.2307/353438. JSTOR 353438.  Pdf.