Will Having an Open Marriage Increase Your Happiness?

By Chris Ownby
September 23, 2020

Will having an open marriage increase your happiness? Maybe you’ve seen the trend among celebrities “celebrating” an open marriage situation. Maybe you’ve even thought about adopting an open marriage relationship with your spouse. 

I’d like to help you with some answers. Answers based on research, common sense, the multitudes of couples I’ve worked with, and what we know about healthy marriages.

The goal I have for you is to have the information you need to make an informed decision. Why? Because your marriage matters. 

Here’s what I have come to know based on research and experience: 

1. Marriage is exciting.

But there’s a point where marriage seems to lose its steam. The novelty, newness, and the excitement of what once came so naturally and easily wears off. Suddenly, sex, connection, and the sense of security and happiness don’t just “happen” on their own.

☆ This is the point where many people experience difficulty. And sadly, it’s where many marriages begin to end. 

2. If this is happening in your marriage but you want to avoid divorce, there’s a (seemingly) easy solution: arrange an open marriage.

You can have your cake and eat it, too! Excitement and novelty are shot back into your life, and you can still stay with your spouse! (As long as there’s an understanding between the two of you.) It seems like a real easy fix. You don’t have to work so hard at maintaining all that connection and intimacy. Except for one thing…

3. Marriage is meant to take effort.

I know that sounds cliché. But the problem isn’t that things come less “naturally” in marriage, like sex or connection or a sense of security. That’s actually normal. A healthy marriage doesn’t just “happen.” It takes attention. It takes purposeful action. It’s through the intentionality, the (sometimes tense) communication that your marriage is strengthened.

Because here’s a little secret: your marriage is like a living organism. It’s either getting stronger or it’s dying. There is no status quo in marriage. And an open marriage assumes that you can keep the status quo of your marriage steady while trying to get your sexual needs met by someone other than your spouse.

I’ve worked with lots and lots of couples. And I’m here to tell you: It just doesn’t happen that way.  

 4. Marriage takes a great deal of trust.

And an open marriage is not fertile ground to grow trust. But wait a minute, you say. What about all the celebs who have declared their own open marriages, who have said that trust is better than ever before?

Let me stop you right there
. With respect to Hollywood actors everywhere, when have we ever known the celebrity lifestyle to ever look like real life? I’m not going to say what is good or not good for those in the fame spotlight, but for the 99.9% of the rest of us, is it really fair to base the health of our relationships on those which we absolutely cannot relate to?

Here’s the thing about trust: it has to have an object. You trust your spouse for something. That you are the most important part of their life. You trust that they are reliable. And you trust that absolutely nothing else would get in the way of your relationship. At the very heart of marital trust is the idea that you are the only one for me and there’s not a single thing or person that’ll stand in the way of that. And what I’ve come to know over time is, this is what every person really wants in marriage: for their spouse to be all in.

Open marriage may be fun, adventurous, a bit taboo, but it isn’t all in. 

5. People often (mistakenly) believe the healthiest thing for them is what everybody else seems to be doing.

Well, first of all, we know that just isn’t necessarily true. (Haven’t you ever been asked if everyone was jumping off the bridge, would you do it, too??)

The funny thing is, despite all the TV specials, opinion articles, and celebrity news out there about the awesomeness and benefits of open marriages, very, very few people actually have an open marriage.

In one study, around 3% of adults in the U.S. reported being in an open sexual relationship. And 12% reported having ever been in an open sexual relationship in their lives. (Keep in mind these numbers reflect all open sexual relationships, not just marriage—cohabitating, any committed romantic relationship.) 

And let’s do the math: ¾ of those who are in or have ever been in an open sexual relationship are no longer in one, and there must be a reason. Oddly, you won’t find these people ever being interviewed on TV specials or opinion articles. 

To further the point: the vast majority of people out there still value good ol’ fashioned monogamous marriage. A Penn State study reports that a whopping 98% of women and 97% of men still believe monogamy is very important.

The bottom line:

Not everyone is doing it. And for those out there who have done it and are no longer, no one has thought to ask them, how come? Doesn’t it kind of make you wonder? 

That’s what I have come to know about marriages in light of the supposed “open marriage craze.” But let me also tell you one thing I don’t know (along with everyone else out there). 

We don’t (yet) know what open marriage happiness looks like in the long term.

No one has done any long-term studies to measure overall happiness in open marriages. Sure, you’ll come across some articles reporting claims that satisfaction, happiness, and trust is the same or even more than in monogamous marriages. But much of this is either based on either severely limited research or writers with agendas who just plain bend the numbers.

So, here’s the question to ask yourself: Do I want to take my marriage down a potentially dangerous path based on something so few people are actually doing? Open marriage goes against what researchers have known for generations about what makes a healthy marriage.       

 ☆ Ultimately, we know very little about the long-term impact of open marriages.

It’s not a gamble I’d be willing to take, and as an advocate for healthy relationships, I wouldn’t want you to take that gamble, either. 

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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