Monogamous Marriage vs. Open Marriage

by Kathryn Rateliff Barr

Today, about half of marriages fail, and estimates of infidelity range between 15 to 55 percent of wives and 25 to 65 percent of husbands, depending on whose statistics you read. You could wonder about the long-term fate of monogamous marriages, according to Tammy Nelson, Ph.D. in her Psychotherapy Worker article, “The New Monogamy. Nelson suggests that adults consider whether “traditional monogamy” or “the new monogamy” -- open marriage -- best fits their personal needs.

Monogamy Advantages

Traditionally, monogamy was seen as the best way to protect the family, ensure that fathers supported their wives and children, and allowed for property to be inherited when the parents died. You might feel that monogamy is your best option because it provides a stable environment to raise children reduces jealousy and provides a safe environment to engage in sexual behaviors. You often receive financial benefits not accorded to non-married partners, such as insurance and tax breaks.

Monogamy Disadvantages

In strict monogamy, your sexual desire and frequency often decreases over time, according to Bella DePaulo, Ph.D., in a Psychology Today article entitled ,“Are Monogamous Relationships Really Better?” Monogamous marriage can also succumb to boredom, lack of variety, sexual ruts and taking one another for granted,” according to love columnist Dan Savage in a New York Times article, “Married With Infidelities” by Mark Oppenheimer. You might assume that one person can meet all your sexual and emotional needs. You can become complacent about sexually transmitted diseases and omit safe sex practices if you assume your partner is faithful, when one or both of you are not. Many spouses cheat, causing pain and marital crises that can end in divorce.

Advantages of Open Marriages

Nelson defines an open marriage as one where the married partners are the primary sexual and emotional relationship, but allow for extra-marital partners that do not sexually or emotionally threaten the primary relationship. In an open marriage, people outside your marriage can help meet your emotional and sexual needs without the secrecy and broken trust that follows an affair. You can create rules and boundaries that protect your marital bond while allowing for sexual variety and relationships with others. Openness about sex with others, and the limits imposed by you on those relationships can preserve the trust and bond necessary to preserve your marriage. Your children can benefit from the influence of other close adults you invite into your marriage, according to Deborah Taj Anapol, Ph.D., author of “Polyamory in the 21st Century,” in a Psychology Today article entitled “Why Open Marriages Sometimes Work.”

Disadvantages of Open Marriages

An open marriage isn’t for everyone, according to Anapol. Jealousy can still happen if both of you are not secure in your relationship and willing to abide by the rules you set up. Your partner can push for the open relationship and you might only agree out of fear that the relationship will end if you don't agree. You could fall too hard for an extra-marital partner and leave the relationship. Many people feel an open relationship is wrong and can put negative pressure on you.

Your Needs

You and your spouse can best determine what kind of a relationship works for you. You could go through phases where the marriage is open when conditions are acceptable to both of you and monogamous during other phases. Decide based on your and your partner's needs, and revisit your agreement from time to time to ensure it still works for you.

About the Author

Rev. Kathryn Rateliff Barr has taught birth, parenting, vaccinations and alternative medicine classes since 1994. She is a pastoral family counselor and has parented birth, step, adopted and foster children. She holds bachelor's degrees in English and history from Centenary College of Louisiana. Studies include midwifery, naturopathy and other alternative therapies.

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