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Non-Monogamy: Do Open Relationships Work?

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So, then, what threatens monogamy? Certainly divorce, but what causes divorce? Lots of things, but the thing that I am concerned with most is–you guessed it–sex. More than anything else, sex with other people seems to violate the contract of marriage, and, in turn, monogamy. Sure, people still associate monogamy with marriage, but most people nowadays associate monogamy (or open relationships) with sex. And the majority of people also throw in love. If you love someone, you don’t have sex with someone else. If you are married, you don’t have sex with someone else. If you are monogamous, you don’t have sex with someone else. So, bottom line–love, sex, and marriage are all implicated in monogamy.

Look, I’m old-fashioned; I’m okay with it and not hiding it at all. I want the lifetime partner, “the one,” the soul mate. I want the house. I want the dogs. I want the kids. If I had a white picket fence–well as long as it doesn’t enclose a yard in the suburbs–I would smile every time I looked out my window.

But I am not an idiot. I am not waiting for the knight in shining armor to save me so we can ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. I know marriage takes work. It takes mind numbing, backbreaking work. Marriage is only a few words. It’s a promise that you won’t go anywhere, and you can’t. No matter what happens, you have to stick around. Well, that’s what it means to me.

Maybe not everyone is as old fashioned as me, and maybe there are many people who don’t want to get married, but I bet every person in the world who was offered a chance at true love would take it in a heartbeat and never let go. So why have some people given up on the possibility of being with one person forever, or at least at a time? Do we really believe monogamy is dead? Or impossible? Or is there something else going on here?

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897 comments

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10:08AM PDT on May 31, 2014

Thanks, Dawn. One quick note: polygamy and polyamory are different things. Polygamy refers specifically to marriage, most often con notating the one man multiple women variety. :)

8:04AM PDT on May 31, 2014

I don't know much about polygamy, only what I've seen on documentaries. And some of those relationships are far from being about sex from what I could deduce. I think this article is a bit off the rails, because a finger is being poked at other alternative lifestyle choices because of lack of understanding or caring to try and understand also the writer is too caught up with sex and what people are doing in private. And really does it matter if no one is getting harmed, everyone is fed and warm, kids are not suffering? From where I sit love comes in many colours shapes, sizes and arrangements that suit the people involved and when it doesn't they can pack their kit and kaboodle and move on just like all the many monogamous couples do that quit before the ink dries on the wedding certificate. I class myself as one lucky soul because I married a jewel of a husband when I was 17 and we have rarely been apart but I don't preach that my way is the way it should be done by others.
It's all down to individual choice and as far as I am concerned it's all a bit like religion...Respect, respect, respect for everyone's belief as long as the belief is kind, helpful and respectful and helpful to others no matter what.

8:03AM PDT on May 31, 2014

continued from above...
That is the basic tenets of life and religion no matter which one you gravitate towards. Me I can find God the Great Spirit or what ever name one wishes to use for their Deity in any religious building no matter what. And love is everywhere, and if you can't find it reach out and give some away even to a polygamist, homosexual, alternative choice folk or any other person that needs some.
ღƸ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ☻And♥now these three♥remain☻Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ ღ
*☻♥☻ღ•★• ღ♥Faith♥Hope♥Love♥ ღ•★• ღ☻♥☻*
ღƸ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄ƷღBut the greatest of these is loveღƸ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒღ
Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ♥☻★Love☻ღ*★♥love♥★*ღ☻love ★☻♥Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ
♥* ♥ ˚☻Love & Peace☻go with☻you all.☻˚♥ *˚

6:22PM PDT on May 30, 2014

As a happily married non monogamous woman, this offends me on so many levels. While I respect the authors right to voice her opinion, it would be the equivalent of me spouting everything that is wrong with being Buddhist, something I have never experienced myself. For starters, it's not all about sex. And even if it was, until one has experienced the joy and connection and passion that can be shared with someone you care deeply about, they have no right to deny it to anyone else. And even if they tried it and found it didn't work for them, still, none of their fricking business. The way that each and every one of us experiences life and love is entirely up to us as individuals. Just because I find liver and Brussels sprouts vile, I would never be so presumptuous as to tell anyone that they are wrong for enjoying them and making them a part of their happy healthy life.

3:13PM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

(c) some people it is a delightful and fulfilling life experience--and that it in no way cheapens or lessens the love of the relationships involved. Because, speaking as a blissfully married woman who gets asked for relationship advice by her friends all the dingdang time? I find that really insulting.

3:11PM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

(c) feel there was something you weren't providing or that you were doing something wrong if your partner asked for permission to be open. I understand the temptation to think that way, but again, not what it's about. Love is not a finite resource, and neither is desire. We want to be with our boyfriend--and we feel attracted to other people sometimes--because of who they are, because of the sum and total of that person. It's not some transactional issue of "I want sex act D which I feel this other person can provide." That's not how people really experience attraction (not most people, anyway). When you were dating, did you go around assessing people based on their willingness and ability to perform certain sex acts, or did you just become attracted to people as whole beings?

I'm going to guess the latter. Again, it's not about coldly and emotionlessly seeking sex or certain kinds of sex--it's about being able to be attracted to others without it becoming an explosive secret, and being able to act on that attraction without damaging your relationship. Sometimes it's about the ability to expand that love to something you can share with your partner and a third person, which, when you do it right, can be really magical.

I recommend that you read Sex at Dawn for more information on human social evolution and sexual behavior. But mostly I'd like it if you could accept that, even if polyamory isn't for you, it's as much of a valid choice as monogamy, and that for s

3:10PM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

(c) other that my wife and I have had sex with since we opened up our relationship. Just to provide one example of a situation in which poly isn't about the sort of indiscriminate casual sex you seem to think it's about. He's a source of emotional support for both of us, and the intimacy and affection of our time together has been hugely rewarding.

It's also been eye-opening. I have always deeply trusted my wife, and we are very open and honest in our communications, but the experience of becoming part of this triad has made me much, much less jealous. And that. feels. AMAZING. Not to mention much more sustainable than the kind of pain and insecurity I had in previous relationships--because I was wondering who else they might find attractive, or because I couldn't share it if I found someone else attractive. Because the very normal, human experience of being attracted to more than one person at a time was treated as a problem, a symptom of something wrong with the primary relationship, a relationship extinction level event. It isn't, it doesn't have to be, it SHOULDN'T be, given what we know about human sexuality and emotion. Even if you and your partner choose to be monogamous and not act on those attractions, there needs to be some room in a healthy relationship for remembering that you're both human and both experience these things. As my best friend's sweet and proper mother said ages ago, "I'm married, that doesn't mean I'm dead."

You mention that you'd fe

3:07PM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

See, you kinda got off on the wrong foot right off the bat when you said that polyamory and open relationships are all about sex.

Because they're not. And if that's your impression of them, you probably should have learned more about them before deciding you were the expert, judge, and arbiter.

My wife and I love each other deeply. We are deeply, seriously committed to each other. Sometimes I look at pictures of her from our wedding and feel so full of love that I almost start crying. And then I tell her that. And it's a lovely loop of affection that just keeps going. One of the happiest parts of my day is curling up to go to sleep together. The mercifully few times in my life I've thought I might be about to die (generally being silly and freaking out over turbulence in an airplane), my primary thought was that I just wanted to see her again first.

We also have a boyfriend. (We're both queer women.) He's a good friend who's a fantastic communicator, very sweet, and very respectful of our relationship. All three of us had a discussion at the start of this in which we made it clear that A) my relationship with my wife is The Couple, if you will, the primary relationship or dyad, but B) that doesn't mean our relationship as a triad is meaningless or insignificant (likewise our individual relationships with him). He admires the bond the two of us have and would never intentionally do anything that might damage it.

He's also the only person other than each

2:19PM PST on Jan 28, 2014

Gabriel, the thing is polyamory isn't about having more sex partners and it's not even about your existing relationship not being enough. If you look at it like that, you're never going to understand it. Polyamory is about not limiting the ways in which relationships can develop. For some people, once they are in a relationship, they cease to see other people like that. They no longer fall in love with other people and they don't continue to develop new sexual attractions. For most people, those feelings are still there and they just suppress them (or cheat.) For those of us who've found polyamorous partners, however, we are able to explore those feelings without cheating. For us, we encourage our partners to develop their relationships fully because we've found the benefits outweigh the risks. The biggest benefit I've found is that if I happen to develop romantic feelings for a friend, I don't have to hide them and my partner isn't threatened by them. Personally, I've found monogamous relationships to be just as risky, if not more risky because when people can't explore those feelings, cheating is much more likely to happen. When people are cheating and thus already lying about their involvement, they're less likely to be honest about their sexual health. It's also important to understand that if you're not getting "enough" from a relationship, another relationship isn't going to change what's lacking in that one. It is because my partners provide enough for me individually,

1:18PM PST on Jan 28, 2014

If my partner came home and said "Honey, I want to have more sex partners", my first response would be "What am I not giving you sexually that you expect to get from other people?" And being that I am one of those people who have very few limits in regards to what I will do in the bedroom (outside of actually hurting someone) I feel it's a rather good question/response.

As much as people hate the phrase "having your cake and eating it too", it very much applies here in my opinion. Because if you aren't done having sex with multiple people then why even get into an emotionally committed, respected relationship in the first place? Or why not just admit that once you are actually determined to sleep with other people, that maybe the relationship is just over because you aren't in love anymore, regardless if its after 2 years or 30.

Lastly, for those who say that they are safe in their open relationships (i.e. use protection and interview the candidates) I pose an obvious question in turn... what on earth do those candidates owe you and your commitment to your partner? They don't owe you honesty about their health nor do they owe you respect to your relationship. Their only debt to you is giving you a good time in the bedroom and I like to think that I get more than that from my committed partner.

At the end of the day I am just exhausted from thinking about the number of doctors visits I had when I was younger worrying about whether or not I caught something or if I ca

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