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Non-Monogamy: Do Open Relationships Work?

What makes a relationship something that people want to hold onto? What makes it special? Intimacy with your partner? Shared goals? Sex? I think the thing that makes a relationship special is that you are with the person you love. It’s special because it is two people doing something together that they are not doing with anyone else. That’s what marriage is, and the reason we outlaw polygamy is to preserve the sanctity (specialness) of marriage (love and sex).

Why would you want to preserve something that isn’t special and beautiful anyway?

Maybe I just don’t get it. Maybe because I am a woman, and have a hard time separating sex from emotion (love), I can’t possibly see the awesomeness of open relationships. And certainly, I want people to do what they want to do. I would never judge others for being non-monogamous, I just won’t date them.

I just feel–and it’s a gut feeling–that there’s something larger going on beneath the surface. It’s just a hunch, but I really think that it’s not monogamy that people don’t believe in. People who are into open relationships will tell you that they don’t believe in having sex with one person and that same person forever. But I don’t believe it. I think they don’t really believe in love, and I think they force themselves to deal with the thought of the person they love having sex with other people because they think that’s the only way to really hold onto their love.

I think what motivates people is often fear of loss or getting hurt, so they dumb down their relationships in order to protect themselves against pain. But people who do all they can to avoid pain, and I am often guilty of that myself, never truly get all the great feelings because they are constantly worried about the bad feelings. Pain and loss exist to make happiness and love feel even better.

If you don’t believe in “the one,” can you at least respect the one you are with right now enough to not sleep with everyone else? If non-monogamy is practical and “saves” relationships, then why do they break up just as often as monogamous couples do? If you are probably going to break up anyway, then why not at least have something special along the way? There is nothing you can do to avoid pain, so why not truly value joy while you have it?

Again, from The Princess Bride, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” And folks, I did not get paid to write this article. I work for love.

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DivineCaroline

At DivineCaroline.com, women come together to learn from experts in the fields, of health, sustainability, and culture; to reflect on shared experiences; and to express themselves by writing and publishing stories about anything that matters to them. Here, real women publish like real pros. Together, with our staff writers, they’re discussing all facets of women’s lives from relationships and careers, to travel and healthy living. So come discover, read, learn, laugh and connect at DivineCaroline.com.

899 comments

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11:58PM PDT on Aug 28, 2014

Abby H. The reason you'll see so much defensiveness from people living in non-monogamous relationships is mostly due to this article completely misrepresenting our lifestyle. Her very first sentence is that our lifestyle is about sex alone. If someone came along and told you that your happily committed marriage of 10+ years was simply about sex, would you not be a little defensive? Were this person to publicly state that, would you not be compelled to correct them? This sort of article severely misinforms people about non-monogamy and is pretty offensive. I don't think it matters how 'liberal', 'evolved' or 'enlightened' (not that I or most the people I know who practice non-monogamy claim to be more evolved or enlightened than monogamous people - those who do are frankly full of crap) being upset over someone accusing your relationships of being based solely on sex simply because you have more than one seems like a fairly normal response.

8:42PM PDT on Aug 28, 2014

Thank you for such a wonderful, insightful article! I think it's one of the best I've ever read on this subject.
The only thing I've found a bit disappointing is all the defensiveness and insecurity in the comments coming from all the people living this life. If they are so liberal and evolved why be defensive? Why attack her for her viewpoint? Seems to be that 'enlightened' hip people are all for freedom of expression unless of course it comes from someone who has a different take on things. Me thinks thou protest too much!

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

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