Hi Gigi,

My wife has asked for an open marriage, because the spark is gone for her. She is wondering if her sleeping with another guy will bring the spark back for me, which sounds ridiculous…

From my understanding, this can’t be a good foundation for opening up our marriage. To me, she wants her cake and to eat it too.

Wouldn’t we be more successful if our relationship is solid first?

-K

Hey K,

Thanks for writing in with this question. It’s certainly something we should be talking about. Alternative relationship styles are getting their time in the sun, and it’s about time they did. While some are quick to marginalize open marriages, polyamory, or any other relationship that falls outside the norm, the truth is people have been engaging in relationships like this forever. We just never spoke of it for fear of judgment.

There are so many ways to have a marriage, and while monogamy may work for some (and even most) people, it doesn’t work for everyone.

That being said, from what you’re describing here — an open marriage sounds like the last thing you and your wife need right now. I might be pro-open relationship, but I’m no dummy about what does and does not work.

Let’s talk healthy, functioning open marriages to start. It’s important to have a clear understanding of what constitutes a good open marriage and what DEFINITELY doesn’t.

Open marriages are built on a foundation of trust. They only work when the primary relationship between two partners is on solid ground. It’s a myth that an open marriage should be employed if the “spark” is gone. Absolutely not. That’s a one-way ticket to Divorce Town.

An open marriage means two people in a committed relationship decide to explore sexual relationships outside of the primary partnership. Emotions arise. Jealousy happens. But a couple who knows what they are doing and has excellent communication skills and a clear understanding of their goals can make it work. Sometimes.

Open marriages take a ton of trust and communication. Both partners need to understand the boundaries, limits, and setup of the outside sexual or romantic relationships and be OK with it. This means checking in nonstop with your husband, wife, or partner. If one person isn’t comfortable with the open marriage anymore, you have to close the relationship immediately. It’s not as easy as it sounds. And it certainly isn’t about having your cake and eating it too. It’s super exhausting and dramatic a lot of the time.

Some people want to have multiple sex partners. That’s perfectly OK. People have a lot of love to give and having sex with someone else doesn’t mean you love your partner any less.

You know when these arrangements do not work? When one person wants an open relationship and the other doesn’t. Far too often people open their relationships for the benefit of one person. One partner wants to have outside sex, and the other obliges because they are scared shitless of losing their person. This is a toxic situation and it will end in a breakup and many broken hearts.

Open marriages must be egalitarian. Both people have to be down for it. You don’t necessarily need to have both partners engaging in outside sex (you do you) — but both people have to be 100 percent comfortable with whatever boundaries are set.

As I’m sure you’ve gathered, K, you’re nowhere near a place where an open marriage could work for you. You and your wife don’t need to be sleeping with other people, you need to be in couples therapy. There are much deeper issues here than wanting outside sex.

If the spark is gone, that is something you can regain. You can work with a therapist or sex coach to work through these sexual concerns. The spark can almost always be found again as long as both people are committed to making the relationship work. Right now, it sounds like your wife is looking for the easy way out. This isn’t fair to either one of you.

I know it must be very hurtful to hear that the spark has been lost for her. That’s never an easy conversation to have. You have to think about what you want.

I would encourage open and honest communication about everything the two of you are feeling. How long has she need interested in having sex with other people? Is this more of a fantasy or is it something she’d really like to pursue?

If you wind up deciding an open marriage would work for the two of you (much further down the line), you’d need to figure out where she stands on your exploring sex outside of the marriage. Would that be OK with her?

There is a lot of foundational work that needs to happen before you move into an alternative relationship style. It’s easy to feel like the spark is going and to jump right to, “Oh, let’s have sex with other people!” It’s much harder to realize that your relationship is broken and you have to put in the work to fix it.

I hope everything works out for you. Hang in there. Where there is a will, there’s a way. Good for you for knowing this was not a good way to begin an alternative relationship and for taking the first steps toward finding a better way forward.

Sending you all the good vibes.

XOXO

Gigi

Gigi Engle is a feminist writer, sex educator, and speaker. A book with St. Martins Press is forthcoming.

For a chance to be featured on YSPSA’s original sex advice column, email your question to advice@yspsa.org. No topic is off limits.