Opening Your Marriage: Staying Together and Transitioning to Polyamory

Exploring non-monogamy and polyamory is more and more common as people question and reject traditional monogamous models of dating and love.

But what about those people who are already in a long-term monogamous relationship, people who are married?

Read: Why People Choose Monogamy

Opening your marriage is an increasingly common occurrence. People who are monogamous are becoming polyamorous, and staying together while they transition their marriage to a polyamorous one.

Polyamory is not just about choices made by single people about the way they want to date and love. Happily married couples are choosing the option of opening their marriage.

Read: Polyamorous Marriage: 8 Common Questions

Deciding to Open Your Marriage

Are you in a monogamous marriage and thinking about opening your marriage to polyamory?

Many married couples are choosing to open their marriage and explore swinging, non-monogamy, an open marriage, polyamory, and a variety of kinds of non-monogamous relationships. You can transition to a happy open marriage from a monogamous marriage too.

Read: ENM Relationships: 10 Examples of Ethical Non-Monogamy

Open Marriages are Not New

While polyamory and consensual non-monogamy is a modern movement that consciously rejects traditional relationship designs, choosing to pursue multiple relationships or sexual partners, they are not a new idea or practice.

There are historically an endless variety of ways to form romantic and family bonds, with countless cultural expressions and traditions.

Read: 11 Types of Monogamy

Polygamy and polygyny are sociological terms for marriage practices today and in the past. Polyamory differs because the term reflects a conscious personal directive rather than a cultural one. Polygamy may have been a cultural custom in the same way monogamous marriages were/are cultural traditions. Polyamory is about personal choice in relationship design.

In western cultural traditions, monogamy has been ultimately valued and definitive of a successful marriage. But some couples have opted for open marriages, usually with a discreet arrangement away from prying public eyes, for a variety of their own reasons. Some brave couples flouted convention and were open about their open marriages. Others faced judgement if discretion was breeched.

Read: Why People Hate Polyamory (and How to Deal with Them)

Sometimes open marriages were euphemistically referred to as “an arrangement.” Marriages today that have an arrangement are sometimes looked on suspiciously by the polyamorous community, with expectations that polyamory should be considered healthy and handled openly.

The arrangement can be viewed as benefiting one person in a marriage to the detriment of another. This is of course classic, but some couples genuinely consent positively to arrangements. They have their reasons and value privacy, but are happily married with specific arrangements and allowances “on the side.”

Read: A Guide to Open Relationship Rules

The Swingers Phenomenon

Swinging, once called “The Lifestyle,” is undergoing a modern day resurgence as a form of open marriage.

Also known as wife swapping, a term that has changed because some view it as sexist and because it does not reflect the reality that swinging is often female driven, swinging probably started during the second world war, where some pilots made arrangements with others to “look after their wives” due to the high mortality rates.

Swinging started at intimate parties and spread quickly, ramping up in the sexual liberation, free-love, rock and disco decades, and with the wide spread use of The Pill.

The origin of this form of opening your marriage is contested and probably was multifaceted.

Read: Swinger Lifestyle 101: All About Swingers

Nonetheless, many married couples felt that sexual variety and sexual adventure was a natural inclination, and chose to open their marriage to outside sexual experiences. Swinging is basically hooking up with other like-minded couples, rather than having individual sexual affairs. The marriage is at the center of the open marriage!

Swinging fizzled as a social phenomenon during the 80s and has since returned—full swing—in contemporary times.

While polyamory is very popular, swinging is a unique form of polyamory for committed couples with a primary partnership who wish to explore extracurricular sex and open their marriage that way.

Read: 10 Swinger Blogs, Websites, and Forums

Reasons for Opening Marriage

Couples who choose to open their marriage do so for a variety of reasons. Exploring sexuality outside the marriage, or together as a couple, are anecdotally the most common.

Others choose to open marriage as a way to deepen intimacy and trust, share new experiences together, accommodate one or both partner’s desire for other relationships rather than breaking up, to practice compersion, or as a philosophical rejection of traditional understandings of marriage.

Read: Read: Still Deciding? Open Relationship Pros and Cons

7 Tips to Open Your Marriage

Couples seeking to open their marriage can successfully transition to polyamory, whether a swinging relationship or other form of non-monogamy. Here are some tips for opening a marriage.

1. Open Your Marriage Together, or Not at All

Don’t choose an open marriage because one party wants it and the other hopes that will help them stay together. A successful open marriage depends on both parties full consent and willingness.

Read: Why Open Relationships Don’t Work (and Why Some Do)

2. Prioritize Your Marriage

There are many different views inside polyamory about relationship hierarchies and whether primary partnerships are desirable or beneficial.

However, couples who are already in a monogamous relationship who want to keep that relationship while opening the marriage, are “in this together” and need to prioritize the relationship. Keeping the relationship strong and prioritized is the key to a strong open marriage.

Read: Tips for Your First Open Relationship

3. Communication Is Essential

Learning to improve communication and gain the confidence to communicate builds intimacy and trust and helps avoid pitfalls when opening your marriage. It can be very difficult to talk about your desires and fantasies, your fears, your jealousy, your needs, but doing so increases trust and understanding.

Read: 5 Essentials for Open Relationships

4. Address Jealousy when Opening a Marriage

Jealousy is common and natural. Polyamorous people choose to overcome jealousy and deny the emotion’s tendency to control or dictate life and love. They aren’t automatically free of it.

Jealousy is a strange animal. It can surface unexpectedly, even for those who have considerable control over it. It can arise out of nowhere. You may be fine with your wife’s last ten escapades, but are suddenly seething with irrational jealousy at the new one. It can arise with triggers, such as someone younger, richer, more beautiful, or with larger breasts.

When opening your marriage, talk openly about jealousy. Share the ways you expect jealousy to confront you, how it makes you feel, what your insecurities are, and how you intend to tame it. Easier said than done, but the way to truly deep intimacy and trust.

Read: 4 Jealousy Triggers & How to Deal

5. Address Privacy and Disclosure

It’s all fun and games until your adult child confides in you that she thinks mom is seeing another woman! This can and does happen when opening a marriage. What will you say? How will you explain things? Who will you trust with the fact that you are opening your marriage? And how will you respond if someone tells someone or sees something?

Decide together if it’s okay to confide in close friends, if it is wide open as a public declaration, and how to handle family frictions that arise.

Read: Is it The Right Time to Come Out of the Poly Closet?

6. Decide on Sexual and Emotional Boundaries in Advance

Swingers generally choose social and sexual adventures together. Polyamorous marriages can be about dating independently. Is it just sex when opening your marriage, or are relationships desirable too?

Some couples open their marriages to specific kinds of relationships and sex, for example, a wife wants to explore her bisexual side, but dating another man is crossing a boundary. Polyamorous couples may have rules about dating each other’s exes, or want to pursue polycules, with sex and relationships limited inside.

Some couples opening their marriage have limits to the kinds of sex that are okay. They may choose to keep specific things to themselves. They may be opening their marriage so that one party can explore a kink or they may want to keep that kink between them. They may have sex boundaries for safety or for intimacy, for example, no anal sex.

Safe sex boundaries are nearly universal. When opening your marriage, you may choose to have condom-free sex only with each other.

Read: Polyamorous and Open Relationship Contracts

If you are starting to open your marriage, you may be exploring polyamory and not sure what you want or expect ultimately. So decide on your boundaries to start with and continue to communicate and discuss and share your experiences, shifting gears as you go.

Do you want to open your marriage? Are you in an open marriage? Please share!

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