Open Relationships: Is it the Way To Go?

February 27, 2011  |  

We live in a society where greater than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, and a great proportion of those are due to cheating. A recent reportpublished in the Journal of Sex Research, claimed almost a third of partners who said they were monogamous had in fact slept with someone outside of the relationship. And some behavioral scientists claim that monogamy is indeed unnatural. Some would argue that it appears monogamy isn’t working for people. And if it truly isn’t, many debate whether open relationships are the way to go.

An open relationship is one in which a couple agree to be together, but also agree to have romantic or sexual relationships with additional people. There are no set rules when it comes to open relationships. It’s basically up to the couple to determine the boundaries of acceptable behavior.

Many have opposed the idea of open relationships, and condemned people that practice them, claiming that the lifestyle is simply for the “selfish” and “immature.” And many people in open relationships assert that they have a better grasp on love and reality, unlike their monogamous counterparts that secretly cheat, deceive, and pretend to be monogamous. For an unmarried individual like myself, I wonder if those really are the only two choices: 1. Be in a monogamous relationship where someone secretly strays from time to time or 2. Be in an open relationship.

The topic of open relationships is definitely a hot button issue for people- especially those that have been cheated on. And while monogamous relationships aren’t convention, there are many couples that have had successful open relationships. For example, iconic couple Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis admitted to having an open marriage. And when asked to explain their rationale for that type of relationship, the late Ossie replied: “It occurred to us, from observation and reasoning, that extramarital sex was not what really destroyed marriages, but rather the lies and deception that invariably accompanied it — that was the culprit. So we decided to give ourselves permission to sleep with other partners if we wished — as long as what we did was honest as well as private, and that neither of us exposed the family to scandal or disease.”

But it didn’t just end there. Interestingly enough, Ossie also went on to say this: “Looking back, I’d say no matter what did or did not happen, we freed each other. And in doing that, we also freed ourselves…Sex is fine, but love is better. That’s the most important part of being free. In light of what we learned, is extramarital sex something we recommend as a regular part of marriage? Not now…not anymore. Not since AIDS has entered the equation, and genital herpes, syphilis, and other diseases.”

It sounds like a lot of us could learn from Ossie and Ruby. And after reading what they had to say about love and marriage, I’ll say this: If I ever get married, my goal is to have the type of relationship that Ruby and Ossie shared- an honest, happy, and healthy one. I’m a romantic, but I’m also a realist. I don’t believe that people who expect monogamy are unrealistic; and I don’t believe that people who desire multiple lovers are selfish. No matter the type of relationship that you choose, whether your relationship is successful all boils down to how honest you choose to be with yourself and your partner. There are pros and cons to both types of relationships, monogamous or open.

Can open relationships work? Yes. Is monogamy too much to ask? No. I have my own opinions about relationships- some of them conventional, others not so conventional. And for those that simply argue that open relationships are better because monogamy doesn’t come naturally, I will say this: Even if monogamy doesn’t come naturally to our species, this doesn’t mean that honesty doesn’t as well. Monogamy may not be a choice- but honesty is. And regardless of what type of relationship you ultimately choose, each will take a foundation of mutual respect and open communication. If you don’t have that, any relationship will fail.

What are your thoughts on open relationships? Why do you think people cheat instead of being honest with their partner?

Dr. Phoenyx Austin is a physician, writer, & media personality. Known for writing on health related issues as well as witty, straightforward commentary on life, love, and culture, Dr. Austin is also working on her first fiction book- a psychological thriller. If you want to know more about Dr. Phoenyx Austin and her future projects- check her out on Facebook!

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