An open relationship certainly seems alluring on the surface: sexual gratification and novelty without the harm or shame of betrayal, especially for long-term monogamous couples who are no longer sexually satisfied. It is entirely possible that open relationships can work for some people and may be the shape of things to come. But that path needs to be taken mindfully, with careful consideration, and no illusions about the pitfalls. The ideal of the open marriage may be as much of a fantasy as an idealized monogamous marriage is.
Our culture has developed unrealistic expectations about sex, often fueled by unfettered access to online pornography and dating apps that promise constant and immediate opportunities for sexual gratification. The idea of being able to have it all—a primary partner and a diverse sexual life—is tantalizing. However, when the New York Times publishes articles on the joys of open marriage, it often gives short shrift to the very real pitfalls.
As a couples therapist, my clients are often struggling to manage the unresolved, unconscious issues open relationships bring up. The inconvenient truth is we bring our unprocessed issues to every relationship we’re in—particularly when we feel threatened by insecurity, anxiety, possessiveness, attachment issues, and jealousy. No matter how consciously an open arrangement may be negotiated, there are no guarantees that partners can maintain control of the situation or that love and sex will stay neatly compartmentalized. It gets messy.