What It's Like to Be in an Open Marriage


Open marriage is becoming more common. A recent Kinsey Institute research poll, for example, estimated that 20-25 percent of Americans have engaged in some form of consensual non-monogamy (CNM) — the proper term for agreed-upon open marriage — at one time or another. That number is likely to increase, as evidence shows that people under 30 are more open to the arrangement. A growing number of relationship experts, too, are lifting the stigma on CNM, offering it as an option for couples to consider before divorce.

Jenna (not her real name) and her husband entered their marriage as monogamous partners. But soon, they realized that they might enjoy exploring CNM. The path to this decision was long, starting with swinging clubs and then moving to double dates and then dates on their own, but, Jenna says, it has also been very fun. For her, adjusting to CNM made her realize how much she and her husband needed good, solid communication for the new arrangement to work, which in turn, made them better partners. Here, Jenna explains how she and her husband arrived at CNM and how it works for them.

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My husband and I met in our 30’s. We got married in 2010. It all started because, a lot of times we’d have sex, and we’d talk dirty, there was always this fantasy of another person being there. But it was just dirty talk. It was just sort of playing around.

Things changed when we were going to Vegas in 2011 My mom’s boyfriend was turning 65 so we were going to celebrate. My husband and I are not big Vegas people. I don’t gamble, I’m not a huge drinker, I don’t really care about seeing shows. As I began researching what we could do in Vegas that’s not those three things, I ended up finding swinging club called The Red Rooster.

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My husband and I talked about it and said we’d go on an adventure. It wasn’t what we thought it was. We thought it was going to be more anonymous. We were there for a few hours. We just sort of observed and never went into any of the back bedrooms. When we went back to our hotel, I my husband what he thought and he said it wasn’t for him. I agreed.

Then we put that idea of experimenting with other people on hold for six months. But the conversations started creeping back into our sex life. We didn’t really know what to do or where to go with it, so we just ended up going on Craigslist. We found some swing clubs near us. That wasn’t really for us. Then someone told us about a website called Swinglifestyle.com, which is like a dating website, but for swingers. We explored that, and we made rules. We always needed to be in the same room, to be together, and to talk about it the next day.

When we started exploring with single women and men, that came a little easier. There was a woman we ended up meeting, in a platonic way, and then we found out that she was poly.  She became a semi-regular for us. Then one time, I was out of town, and I told my husband he should hang out with her without me. That was a new thing for us. They did, and then I had a talk with him the next day, and I talked with her the next day, and we decided we could have other relationships. So we created OKCupid accounts. Our profiles are connected to one another and it clearly says that we engage in consensual non-monogamy. It’s all on the up and up.

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Since we’ve opened our marriage, it became more intentional. We recognize that we have certain needs and we can’t always meet them for each other. But that doesn’t mean we love each other less. If anything, it forces us to communicate.

It’s like kids. You don’t have a kid to fix your relationship. Finding outside partners isn’t going to fix your relationship. That’s not going to fix anything. You have to have a strong base of communication in order for this to even happen.

People always talk about jealousy. But we feel compersion, the opposite of jealousy. Compersion is more like: ‘You have that, and I think that’s great, and I want that, too. But I don’t want to take it away from you.’

Being open has really forced us to carve out time for each other, too, intentionally. Right now, every Thursday night and Saturday and night is our time. We don’t schedule dates on those days. And it might just be us doing nothing — watching old episodes of Parks and Rec on the couch together — but it’s just that we cherish that time a little bit more together.

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Dealing with an open marriage is not just cut and dry. Even last night, we got into a discussion about boundaries, because we’re always navigating and negotiating the world. Were there arguments? Definitely! There have been some hard times. But our relationship is solid. The idea is that I’m not interested in replacing him, and he’s not interesting in replacing me.

We’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned how to be better partners with each other. We’re more well-rounded now, too. I’m not saying that people in monogamous relationships aren’t well rounded, but we’re getting needs satisfied that maybe our main partner couldn’t have. I think that’s kind of an archaic way of thinking, that your partner in life will be able to satisfy everything you need.

People cheat on each other all the time. That’s a social norm. I’m not saying it’s right, but it happens. And yet, consensual non-monogamy is weird, it’s taboo. Cheating is normal, and they’ll openly talk about it. And then you bring up being non-monogamous and they’re like, oh, that’s weird. I ask: Don’t you think it’s weird that people cheat on each other and lie to each other? That’s weird. For us, this isn’t.

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