Open marriage is an arrangement between spouses where secondary relationships and intimacy are allowable outside the marriage. As open marriage becomes more common, openly discussed option, you may be wondering if it's worth considering for a current or future relationship in your life. Open marriages and traditional, monogamous marriages have their advantages and disadvantages on both emotional and practical levels. Consider these as you think about the role an open marriage could have in your life.
Defining the Rules
The general definition of the difference between monogamous marriage and open marriage is that open marriage allows for secondary, extra-marital relationships and monogamous marriage does not. In practice, however, every couple must negotiate boundaries for appropriate and inappropriate behavior outside their relationship, open or not. Couples in an open marriage may restrict certain activities and monogamous couples may allow certain degrees of flirting or even physical intimacy. This process of negotiating and agreeing upon boundaries can be beneficial however you choose to define your relationship.
In general, people willing to be in open relationships are less prone than monogamous couples to feel jealousy over their partner's activities with other potential love interests. This makes interactions with others generally more free in terms of the rules of the relationship. For example, when relationships outside the marriage are allowed, neither spouse is likely going to be concerned about flirting in the context of mere friendship. This freedom can create challenges, however, if you are in an open relationship but have coupled friends who expect more restrained flirting behavior.
Open relationships present practical challenges that monogamous relationships do not. Juggling multiple relationships is not only a strain on schedules, but the choices you make can send strong, sometimes unintended messages about your romantic priorities. Jealousy can arise over choices in scheduling even if it hasn't been in issue before.
Having multiple intimate partners creates vulnerabilities and uncertainties that monogamous couples don't have to face, akin to the challenges of being a sexually-active single. Couples in an open marriage must continue to take precautions against sexually-transmitted infections and must be prepared to face the possibility of a pregnancy with someone outside the marriage.
Many couples in open relationships choose to stay relatively secretive about their relationship status because of the social backlash and stigma against non-monogamy. This means that secondary relationships must be almost as clandestine as they would have to be in a traditional marriage. Revealing an open relationship may mean dealing with the scorn, questioning and social rejection of friends and family.