by Dr. Phoenyx Austin
A few weeks ago I wrote Open Relationships: Is It The Way to Go? And the article created much buzz and discussion. People asked me whether I advocated open relationships. And my response was this: “Whether I advocate them or not is irrelevant. But what I do advocate is knowledge and healthy relationships based on a foundation of honest communication.”
Shortly after the article, I received an email from a young woman (married 5 years) that expressed concerns about her desire to sleep with a male friend. She wrote this: “I’ve always found monogamy to be kind of unrealistic and stifling. I’ve never understood why I can have lots of friends but only one lover. But I’ve always kept these thoughts to myself because I was afraid what people would think. I love my husband and I don’t want a divorce. But I constantly find myself thinking about one of my guy friends. He’s a great person. I fantasize about him and I enjoy spending time with him. This is weighing heavy on my heart and I’ve gone into therapy. I would never cheat on my husband, but I feel like I’m already cheating on him because of my thoughts. Is there something wrong with me? What should I do?”
This story isn’t uncommon. I’ve talked with countless individuals that have expressed desire to sleep with another person (even though they’re happy and in love with their current partner). And I’ve spoken with individuals that believe they are in love with more than one person. Do I think there’s something wrong with them? No.
The model of heterosexual, monogamous relationships is a lifestyle that has been sanctioned by society, religion, and the law as the only acceptable type of sexual relationship. As a result, most people find it hard to understand or accept any other way of life. In fact, we are so heavily socialized to believe in the ideals of monogamy and marriage (despite the divorce rate and statistics on cheating), that many people cannot even imagine any other option. But the reality is that many successful models, other than traditional monogamy, do exist.
Ultimately I told this young woman that she needed to speak openly and honestly with her husband about her feelings and thoughts. I offered advice, encouragement and asked her to follow-up with me. I’m curious to see if she and her husband will decide to explore the possibility of an open relationship. I explained to her that open relationships, just like monogamous relationships, take work. And having a successful open relationship/marriage is not easy- but it is not an impossibility.
What’s sad about this situation is that many people will chastise her. Many people want to believe or argue that all people who desire open relationships are just “unrealistic” and looking for a reason to “ho around.” I think this is a very ignorant point of view. This woman clearly states that she loves her husband and doesn’t want to get a divorce. Would it be better for her to say nothing, smile in her husband’s face, and continue to feel tormented because she’s secretly fantasizing about her guy friend?
I commend this young woman for seeking advice, therapy, and for not just acting on her desires without trying to gain clearer understanding and perspective. Her actions speak volumes about her character. The conversation with her husband won’t be easy, but I’m happy she’s willingly to put in the hard work to be a better wife and person.
Interestingly enough, many people cling to the idea of monogamy, yet cheat and have extramarital affairs. And perhaps it is this, more than anything else, that puts many people off to the idea of open relationships: Cheating is simply easier.
What would you do if your partner wanted to discuss having an open relationship?
What if you were the one that wanted an open relationship? Would you tell your partner how you felt- or keep the thoughts to yourself?