‘I’m a Sex Therapist, These are 3 Signs You Should Open Your Marriage’

Most of us have heard the statistic that almost 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce. While divorce is certainly not always the best option, it makes sense that couples might choose divorce instead of staying in a miserable marriage.

However, one increasingly common alternative for finding pleasure with your spouse and reigniting the spark, is opening up your marriage.

Since the pandemic, I’ve seen a considerable uptake in open monogamy inquiries. I’ve witnessed a 45 percent increase in inquiries about the subject in my therapy practice in California. And for those already in an open marriage, it seems to be working.

A recent survey of Ashley Madison members revealed that those with an open monogamy agreement reported higher satisfaction in their relationships. In fact, 76 percent of those in open relationships said they were very fulfilled or somewhat fulfilled compared to 28 percent in closed relationships.

Among those who are not yet in open relationships, 72 percent of people in monogamous relationships want to introduce some form of non-monogamy. They just aren’t sure how to start the conversation.

Polyamorous Relationship or Open Marriage
Stock image of an open relationship. Dr. Nelson writes that having other sexual partners could improve your marriage.
iStock / Getty Images Plus

So, how do you know if an open marriage is the right step for you? The following are some of the signs I have observed in my career as a sex and relationships therapist.

1. You already have a solid, committed and loving relationship

Before either of you consent to opening your marriage, create a safe space to talk in detail about your ideas and concerns. Learn to trust each other and make sure your foundation is strong before you take action. An open relationship is not a way to fix what’s broken.

Two of my clients, Jen and Eric, have been married for fifteen years. They came to therapy because they both felt they wanted more out of their relationship and didn’t want to cheat on each other. Jen had been looking at old emails from her ex-boyfriend and shared that information with Eric. She wanted to know if it would be OK to contact him.

This opened up a whole new conversation about what an open monogamy agreement would look like for both of them. Instead of hiding the conversation from Eric, she wanted to make sure that this new element of their relationship could add value for both of them. This first step into an open marriage was comfortable for both of them and they continued to talk about what a more flexible agreement would look like.

Dr. Tammy Nelson
Dr. Tammy Nelson shares the signs that indicate a couple might benefit from opening up their relationship.
Dr. Tammy Nelson

Opening your relationship can add more excitement, more adventure, and help you better connect to each other. To change your current monogamy agreement, you should first agree that nothing is written in stone and that everything can be up for discussion. That makes your vision a shared idea with a flexible and fluid future.

2. You’re looking for more excitement, variety, and fresh experiences

There are some myths in our society about long term marriage: it’s boring, it’s nonsexual, and we lose our erotic potential when we become parents. But sacrificing sex for a stable marriage is not necessary.

Sarah and Susan were in therapy with me to explore their curiosity about a consensually open relationship. It was important to both of them that they remained primary partners and, no matter what happened, their commitment to their marriage would remain the number one value for each of them.

Neither knew how to start the conversation, and we talked about that in the session. Sarah followed my suggestion to have a “what if” conversation. She asked Susan, “What if we saw other people together, only when we were in the same room, maybe starting with drinks, and only moved forward from that if we liked the people?”

This opened a dialogue between them that began with a fantasy and moved into action steps that were small and manageable. Susan agreed that having drinks with other people who might also be interested in open monogamy could be a place to start.

3. You and your partner have mismatched libidos or kinks

It is possible to create a new, more conscious intimate relationship at any point in a marriage, and to restore sexual and erotic desire, as long as both partners are willing to work on it.

When Jen and Eric negotiated their open monogamy agreement in therapy, they realized that Jen was more interested in having a sexual relationship outside the marriage than Eric was, and that it made sense to both of them that if Jen could pursue her fantasies with other people. It didn’t threaten their marriage; in fact, it could be more exciting for Eric.

They agreed that Jen could date other people as long as she came home and told Eric about her encounters. Eric liked hearing about her feelings of desirability and watched her blossom into a newly erotic partner. Their sex life improved at home and their intimate conversations brought a new level of connection to their relationship.

Outsourcing your sexual needs when the erotic life at home is less than ideal doesn’t mean you need to break up or divorce. Traditional forms of monogamy do not have to be the standard for love. Love can take many forms and with a variety of people. An open monogamy agreement means the two of you create whatever type of agreement works for you, and start living the life you truly deserve.

Tammy Nelson is a sex therapist and author of The New Monogamy.

All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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