May 13th, 2017

Open marriage and happiness

That’s the subject matter of this lengthy article that appeared recently in the Sunday magazine section of the NY Times. The author interviewed many couples who are in open marriages, and tried to describe what motivates them and how the arrangements are going for them. And although no open marriage is exactly the same as any other open marriage (the couples make up their own rules, such as whether the extra lovers will ever meet the other spouse), there are certain commonalities you might notice if, as I did, you manage to wade through the whole thing.

Open marriage has always seemed to me to be to be a recipe for marital disaster, but this article chronicles open marriages that profess to be successful. I believe the people interviewed are among the very few people who can compartmentalize and wall off feelings as primal as jealousy, and feel motivated to make the effort to wall off those feelings.

It’s not for me at all, and not for most people.

Open marriage also seems to require an unusual amount of intense talking about the relationship, and nearly continual verbal processing of feelings. It sounds like a great deal of work, much more so than a conventional marriage. Why would people want to take on that task? The author Susan Dominus doesn’t really tell us what might be the thing that’s different about these people that drives them towards it—she never mentions their religious beliefs or lack thereof, for example, although my guess would be that they would be markedly non-religious. They also seem strangely selfish, wanting what they want when they want it (and what they usually want is more variety, particularly sexually, to spice up their lives). But they also seem somewhat unselfish, at least in one way: they are willing to allow their spouses to be shared with another person.

The entire practice is a minefield. But the people featured in the article seem remarkably cool with it. What runs through their veins? And of course there is no dearth of couples therapists willing to work with such couples, not on ending the openness of the marriage, but on making the openness work, and smoothing over the psychological rough spots.

There’s also almost a complete ignoring of the issue of the effect on children, at least in the article. In it, children tend to be mentioned almost as an afterthought, and to be described as uniformly taking it all in stride. The question of what effect this arrangement will have on the psyches of the children of the couples doesn’t seem to be taken seriously, either by the open marriage practitioners in the article themselves or by author Dominus. And yet it’s my guess that the effect is profound, whether the children are talking about it or not.

This practice is described as “the new monogamy.” It’s many things—and I suppose, technically, it is “monogamy” in that its practitioners often remain married to only one person. But that’s quite a stretch for the definition of the word—something like calling atheism “the new religion.”

48 Responses to “Open marriage and happiness”

  1. Griffin Says:

    I heard somewhere some wisdom that I think about with stories like this. In every relationship one of the two people loves the other more than the other loves them. It just has to be as how can two people love each other the same. If you think about it with people you know it seems somewhat easy to spot sometimes.

    In stories about open relationships I think this applies also as I would bet you that in most cases one of the two is WAY more into swinging or whatever than is the other. And I don’t think it’s necessarily always the man either.

  2. Frog Says:

    These “open marriage” people are bizarre in many ways. Fidelity seems incomprehensible to them, so how do they trust their spouses in matters other than sexual?
    Will it be OK to infect the other with a STD acquired from a 3rd party? Not something trivial like gonorrhea, but rather hepatitis B.
    I expect the essential non-mention of effects on children is these people deem sex an act of fun, not one of creation. They don’t have kids.
    Soon it will be a right, just like LBGT.
    We are pulling our society down over our own heads.

  3. Griffin Says:


    Oh I bet most of them have kids. And they all probably say those kids have no idea about any of this when in fact most of those kids no something is ‘off’ about mommy and daddy. Or mommy and stepdaddy.

  4. parker Says:

    My question is why do they bother to become legally married? For the children, if any? I agree with Griffen, if there are any children they know something is not right between mom and dad, especially as they grow older.. People in an ‘open marriage’ must not realize sex is just one component of a life long relationship. They also must be unaware of how to keep a monogamous sex life fresh and exciting. But perhaps a life long relationship is not their goal.

  5. Oldflyer Says:

    Although not a Child Psychiatrist, I do have some opinions; and a few of them are actually grounded in professional opinion. One is that first and foremost young children crave security and stability. Admittedly, in this day of revolving marriages, those are rare situations; but, the open marriage idea seems to take it to a different, and lower, level.

  6. Cornhead Says:

    This story is just the beginning of the NYT agenda to normalize and legalize polygamy. Do not doubt me on this. Within 5-10 years there will be federal court cases out of the east or west coasts by Muslims complaining that their First Amendment and equal protection rights are being denied to them by state law.

    I recall reading a paper NYT a few years back (pre SSM cases) and was astounded at the number of stories about gays.

    The constitution is not a suicide pact and but for Trump’s win we’d be further down the cultural slide. Trump is slowing the descent.

    I hate the NYT. Full of sick people out to destroy America.

  7. OldTexan Says:

    Fifty years ago as a young married couple my beautiful wife and I became acquainted with a couple that lived in our apartment building. We would go out to eat with them and have them over to play bridge from time to time. On night after a few drinks they explained their decision to have an open marriage and asked us what we thought about it.

    We were at their place and could not wait to get out of there and away from them because the whole concept was creepy and strange. There was no temptation on our part and not much discussion between us except we knew it was wrong, a sin and an action that could never be taken back, like a genie out of a bottle.

    My wife stayed friends with the woman for a couple of years and learned from her that she had no trouble finding her friends but he was not successful at all and complained about how unfair the world was. When my wife told me that I though, duh?, not hard for a decent looking woman to get laid but a kind of a jerk guy would probably have to work at it.

    It was my impression that their marriage did not work out but that was long ago and I was not always paying attention. I think most people realize that marriage is a covenant, contract and at times a fragile relationship and sex with other outside of the marriage is one of those wrong, ten commandments things, most realize that when it happens it injures the marriage.

    That marriage for me lasted over twenty years and we had two wonderful children who have grown up to be fine married adults with kids.

    I was never going to be married again however in my 40’s after I was divorced I started spending time with a lovely widow about my age with a daughter in college and 25 years ago we were married and we like being married.

    With the right person, based upon my experience I can recommend marriage but that is just me. By the way, in my case I marry women born in 1946, educated in Catholic girls schools, younger of two sisters with mother named Margaret who majored in accounting and passed their CPA exams the first time.

    And now Happy Mother’s Day to all the great women who are mom’s, not the easiest task in the world, thank you.

  8. Lizzy Says:

    So this is what comes after SSM, then? Legalized polyamory.
    They’ll sell it as some open-minded lifestyle choice, but it’s pretty obvious who will benefit the most when/if this is legalized.

  9. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    An ‘open marriage’ is a means to an end. The variety allows these couples to substitute the ‘infatuation of the new’ for the deepening of intimacy that monogamy demands, if a monogamous marriage is to thrive. It’s about avoiding the realization that an internal barrier is preventing a deepening of emotional and psychological intimacy.


    Rather than polygamy, plural marriage (which includes polygamy without the patriarchal onus) is the next societal taboo to be overcome. Once that is approved, societal acceptance of incestuous relationships between consenting adults will follow. All that will then be left is the sweeping aside of the age of consent barrier.

    Many on the left profess to believe that societal taboo’s are counter-productive, antiquated barriers to progress in the modern world.

  10. Yancey Ward Says:

    I read this article a couple of days ago when Ann Althouse wrote about it, too. I also noticed the lack of discussion about the children in all but one of the cases discussed- the one where the wife’s lover moved in with them and took on raising the young daughter (my memory there was one young child, but they may have ignored others).

  11. BillR Says:

    A book on the subject in the early 70s entitled Open Marriage, a New Lifestyle for Couples was written by Mr. O’Neil and his soon to be ex-wife. Noted. My first wife thought it was a good idea. Correction: ex-wife. So, color me skeptical.

    I’ve actually seen better success from folks I knew (long story) who were in the “swinging” community. But I expect that is fraught, too. One + one has sufficient difficulties, the more, the not merrier.

  12. hjk Says:


  13. neo-neocon Says:


    Most of these couples were married for many years before the “opened” their marriages. So they originally got married for the usual reasons.

  14. hjk Says:

    Open marriage??

    Its not new this sort in this world.
    Iranians have what the call it, MUTA MARRIAGE

    Or like in most Gulf Countries they call it, misyar marriage

  15. Griffin Says:


    I, like many, thought plural marriage would be next for the left after they won on gay marriage but instead the transsexuals jumped ahead in line. I do think they are starting to run into more trouble with each step because with every level they are talking about less people in total for the average person to identify with. Most people know at least one gay person who may be utterly normal but how many know transsexuals or polygamists or incest proponents? They are nearing a point too far for the citizenry in whole to go.

  16. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    I was engaged to a woman I did not marry, in the 70s.
    We sought a church and minister and went Unitarian.
    The minister in his premarital counseling suggested the Open Marriage book BillR mentioned.
    Neither of us saw the point.
    We both had decided to be monigamous..
    I feel many want to be “Advancced” beyond norms.
    Disaster looms.

  17. Grammar Bully Says:

    “And of course their is no dearth of couples therapists willing to work with such couples….”

    “Their”? Argh! Normally, I would let this pass, but you are better than this. I expect to see this sort of thing in The New York Times, but not in Neo-neocon.

  18. Big Maq Says:

    Wonder what the stats are on those marriages?

    Do they have the same divorce rate?

    Do they have the same level of psychological based problems?

    Do their children have the same success rates through life? (e.g. graduation rates, employment rates, income levels).

    It’s not a life I ascribe to, but maybe the stats show us something different than what we’d expect? Then again, maybe not?

  19. Gringo Says:

    Ed Bonderenka
    We sought a church and minister and went Unitarian.
    The minister in his premarital counseling suggested the Open Marriage book BillR mentioned.

    It doesn’t surprise me that a Unitarian minister would suggest that, based on my experience in high school with Liberal Religious Youth- the Unitarian youth group. As self-professed Liberals, they believed that all change was to the good. Those who experienced the changes in Germany from 1930-1945 would beg to differ.

    Back in the day I knew of two couples in an open marriage. One was the sister of my best friend.


  20. Frog Says:

    Couples therapists ‘working’ with ‘troubled’ open marriage couples? The healing will come how? To get them to return to the Mosaic Code?
    The therapists prostitute themselves for fees, and the “open” couples prostitute themselves for non-monetary reasons. They deserve one another.

  21. Rufus Firefly Says:

    Grammar Bully,

    I can’t comprehend why anyone bothers to point out grammatical errors in blog posts. If the point is clear and well communicated what does it matter? Many of us use devices that occasionally auto-correct and make typos. And, even if the error is human caused, why bother?

    I don’t know your reasons, but frankly, it always comes across as a narcissistic act when I see it done. Obviously neo-neocon is very well educated and knows the rules of grammar and spelling. She types hundreds of thousands of words for our entertainment. For free! You may think this makes you appear smarter than her, but, rather, it just makes you seem petty.

  22. Mike Fuller Says:

    Thank you, Rufus, for your perfectly accurate comments.

  23. Grammar Bully Says:

    Rufus Firefly,

    I can’t comprehend why anyone bothers to respond in this way to a comment that was obviously not intended seriously. I don’t know your reasons, but frankly, it always comes across as a narcissistic act by someone who lacks a sense of humor. You may think this makes you appear smarter than me, but, rather, it just makes you seem petty. Lighten up!

  24. OldTexan Says:

    Thank you Rufus, well said.

  25. Geoffrey Britain Says:


    That’s a valid point and I hope it’s determinative but I’m skeptical that it will stem the tide. In 1948, the great majority of adults would have laughed at the suggestion that the left’s agenda would by now have advanced as far as it has. How many back then would have agreed that someday major businesses would allow grown men into women’s bathrooms?
    That schools would be forced to comply? That anyone who objected would be accused of hate as being their motivation?

    Had we a time machine and could bring someone from 67 years ago to today, they’d look at the world and exclaim, “My God! What has the world become?”

  26. AesopFan Says:

    David Frum wrote on this also today, and pursued somewhat the same aspect as some commenters here: that this is only one of many slippery steps on the slope to perdition.

    “Sorry, but hedonism and self-obsession aren’t “advanced nanotechnology”; they’re sins as old as mankind. And the more Dominus writes, the more apparent it becomes that these old sins still have the same familiar consequences….
    Even the “successes” aren’t always models of transparency and consent. In one of the profiled marriages, the wife has a long-term “happy” relationship with a married man who’s concealing the affair from his wife. So much for honesty. So much for all relevant parties consenting to the relationship.

    Among the many fascinating findings in Charles Murray’s seminal book Coming Apart is the reality that our secular elite speaks blue, but largely lives red. In other words, our wealthy, progressive, urban centers are hardly hedonistic enclaves. They’re chock-full of intact families, featuring moms and dads who waited until marriage to have children, value education immensely, and work hard to make sure that their kids make the same choices they did. When it comes to actually arguing for the traditional family values they practice in their own lives, though, liberals are silent. They wouldn’t dare go so far as to pass moral judgment on those who live differently. No sir. Instead, you can count on them to simply consider their chosen lifestyle as just one among many valid lifestyles, including polyamory, cohabitation, promiscuity, or anything else that consenting adults can imagine and enjoy. Indeed, they may even take great pleasure in embracing the few “transgressive” couples in their orbit as living symbols of progressive tolerance. In the meantime, those who actually act as if all choices are equally valid, fidelity is optional, and a lifelong faithful marriage is no more “right” than serial group sex, fall into a cultural and economic abyss. Lift taboos, and people will indulge in those taboos. The misery from their mistakes will reach across the land. What’s that you say? Open marriage is still frowned upon? Adultery is still unpopular? Well, friends, that can change. And heaven help us when it does.”

    Frum links to this fascinating graph.

    Heaven help us, the changes Frum worries about have already happened.

    “Corey Maison, 15, who loves mascara and lip gloss, was born a boy.
    “I always wanted to be a girl,” she said. “I was very girly when I was younger.”
    Corey is one of five and her mother, born Erica, never felt comfortable in her female body. Erica transitioned to Eric.
    “I definitely felt like I identified with boys but I didn’t actually realize it was possible I could become one,” Eric told Inside Edition.
    It wasn’t until four years ago, when the two watched a TV special on transgender teen activist Jazz Jennings, that everything became clear.
    “I said, ‘Wow, I’m just like her. I’m a girl trapped in a boy’s body’,” Corey admitted.
    Corey started taking puberty blockers at 11 to stop facial hair growth and the deepening of his voice.
    “Just seeing her courage and bravery in the face of so much adversity, I think that’s what ultimately gave me the courage to come out myself,” Eric said.

    The transition has proved challenging for Les Maison, who is Corey’s father and Eric’s husband.

    That’s got to be the understatement of the decade.

  27. hjk Says:

    Cornhead Says:
    May 13th, 2017 at 5:08 pm
    This story is just the beginning of the NYT agenda to normalize and legalize polygamy.

    However this is not new matter by NYT or US History

    The passage of time shaped the experience of life within plural marriage. Virtually all of those practicing it in the earliest years had to overcome their own prejudice against plural marriage and adjust to life in polygamous families. The task of pioneering a semiarid land during the middle decades of the 19th century added to the challenges of families who were learning to practice the principle of plural marriage. Where the family lived—whether in Salt Lake City, with its multiple social and cultural opportunities, or the rural hinterlands, where such opportunities were fewer in number—made a difference in how plural marriage was experienced. It is therefore difficult to accurately generalize about the experience of all plural marriages.

    Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah

  28. neo-neocon Says:

    “Grammar Bully” is always somewhat humorous in tone. And I actually appreciate grammar/spelling corrections, because I’m persnickety that way. Of course, I try to catch my errors in the first place before they get posted, but if one slips by I want to know about it so I can correct it.

    That said, I appreciate those who came to my defense here. Thanks! I can certainly understand why someone would think Grammar Bully was being annoying, but it’s not meant that way at all.

  29. Sharon W Says:

    Big Maq- You might be interested in this short Dennis Prager video where he addresses the notion of “studies show”.

    Our societal slide correlates to turning away from wisdom, often ancient wisdom, and “studies show” have been a great tool in this falling away. Jacques Barzun wrote of this in his book From Dawn to Decadence. He spoke of “scientism” and how many times vaunted studies have been reversed in due course. When I read it, I was surprised how far back the examples go, thinking only of the ones that I was aware of in my own time.

  30. Big Maq Says:

    @Sharon – don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    Prager does have a lot of good things to say.

    Agree that not all “studies” are carried out with scientific rigor, and that the ones promoted in the news media often are cherry picked to fit an agenda.

    But stats can be used to give us a closer to real, and often counterintutive, picture.

    You’d be surprised how much businesses use and rely on statistics for their business decisions.

    In fact, there is a huge and growing field of study (and jobs) in data analytics.

  31. Eric J Says:

    I do wonder how the number of open marriages compares to the number of marriages where one or both spouses carry on decade-long affairs and they just silently agree never to talk about it (or talk themselves out of the knowledge that it’s happening.)

  32. Frog Says:

    Big Maq:
    I prefer “data” to “stats” or “statistics.
    The reason is contained in this definition, which I find useful:
    statistics definition. The branch of mathematics dealing with numerical data. (See mean, median, mode, normal distribution curve, sample, standard deviation, and statistical significance.) Note: A particular problem of statistics is estimating true values of parameters from a sample of data.

    Statistics has to do with the interpretation of numerical data, in other words. Thus, “statistical significance”, or two standard deviations, which means there is “only” a 1 in 20 chance the conclusion is accidental, not fact.

    Thus studies as you say are often not carried out with scientific (which includes statistical) rigor, yet are promulgated as proving previously unkown or unappreciated “facts”.

  33. n.n Says:

    Polygamy without commitment and elective abortion of any inconvenient burdens. These people think long-term.

  34. pst314 Says:

    “The minister in his premarital counseling suggested the Open Marriage book BillR mentioned.”
    Just to make sure: The minister brought up “open marriage” out of the blue? If so, that makes the minister particularly emblematic of Unitarian folly.

  35. Beverly Says:

    The leftwingers are already edging toward normalizing incest for our college kids. I worked on a book recently (anthropology textbook) addressed it thus: First, they say that incest is generally prohibited in all societies. BUT, they then address each reason for its prohibition and argue that reasons vary in each society, degrees of kinship that are verboten also vary, and…. you can see the taboo beginning to dissolve in their minds already. It’s all relative, you see.

    They’ll get there. Because they never stop.

  36. Ed Bonderenka Says:

    Pst314: Yes, and although we had been in a group before, it caught us by surprise in the context of embarking on a commitment to marriage, the two shall become one.

  37. Francesca Says:

    About the ‘Grammar Bully’, I am also annoyed with the very many errors I see all over the internet. I would characterize them as spelling errors as well as grammar errors.

    I only correct a few: rein/reign, aisle/I’ll, toe the line/tow the line, you’re/your, it’s/its, etc.

    People should take a moment to preview their posts as everyone makes errors including typos.

  38. pst314 Says:

    Ed: Good Lord.

  39. Frog Says:

    Try as they may, “Two shall become one” will endure, as it always has.

  40. Bill Says:

    My wife and I are 28 years along in out marriage. I keep thinking (perhaps hoping foolishly) that at some point people will begin crawling out of the wreckage of all the “groundbreaking” modern mores regarding sex and long for – to put it in ways a hipster might relate to – a more “retro” arrangement of life long monogamy. .

    Particularly because I think the thing often missed (on purpose) in the discussion of these trends is how completely they screw up the children. I’m not an expert but have been working with students for decades and I’ve seen the universal bad effects of less than optional situations at home

    God’s way works.

  41. Janet Says:

    The children are barely mentioned because they barely think about the needs of the children. It’s all about them.

  42. artemptydgr Says:

    I was polyamorous before I settled down
    It’s tough… One lady is hard enough…

  43. DNW Says:

    I’m of the opinion that

    1, from the married guy’s point of view, there’s something off about a guy who will “share” his wife with another man. Something psycho-sexually not quite straight with him probably enables this; it’s not just a matter of turnabout being fair play. After all, you can go to any bar and pick up an attractive and willing chick if you want to commit adultery. You don’t need to hook up with another couple.

    Look at the case of that clown Richard Carrier, and one will see how in retrospect it appears that a only partially veiled sublimation of his so-called poly-amorous bi-sexual impulses was the driving force for that dweeb’s program of attacking Christianity.

    2. This idea of purely recreational multi-partner sex is itself, while superficially plausible in a well scrubbed and sufficiently antiseptic world of imaginary barbie dolls, ultimately intellectually incoherent and conceptually dishonest. Unless, that is, you are already a nihilist. But even then, it’s self-refuting logically; and even if it is not “felt” to be that way. This, because all of the nihilist’s actions become equally pointless, even its seeking of pleasure … much less the programmatic seeking of such activities.

    It is the program of a not too finicky glutton who has no reason to live anyway.

  44. DNW Says:

    The other problem of course are the spill-over costs imposed on neighbors by polyamory.

    I suppose in a society of organisms all of which are alike in this, there will develop methods of dealing with the issues which the participants may find acceptable. And nowadays, bastard and abandoned children are likely to be less of a problem since contraception and abortion are so readily available.

    In a mixed society however, the problem comes in with the establishment of the progressive-liberal social predicate, which as Rawls states it is a primary, group “commitment to a shared fate”.

    Obviously the poly-amorous and the monogamous have divergent existential interests, and their life-ways are going to be functionally incompatible.

    As always, in a truly libertarian (and not just sexually libertine) society many of these issues would become moot; as the obnoxious (from whichever point of view) could be socially distanced and disengaged and left to undergo their separate fates.

    But in a system of redistributed life costs, the price of your neighbor’s neuroses or behavioral incontinence is an increase in your own burdens: Eventually, to the point where the cold medication you could once freely buy becomes inconvenient to get; or the antibiotics which your child needs, become useless; or you pay millions in taxes to treat a disease contracted by men who seek to be buggered by other men. An act you would justifiably kill in order to prevent being perpetrated upon yourself.

    Those kinds of social alliances or cost sharing alignments, simply do not make any sense.

  45. Big Maq Says:

    @Frog – you are correct in how statistics and data can be jumbled and abused.

    That said, statistics and data analytics are not of themselves problematic, and can be / are very useful. A number of industries and advances we enjoy would not exist were it not for the employ of the methods these use.

    From where I stand / believe, and from my own intuition, says there are many problems with “open marriage”, many of which have been articulated here.

    Would like to see if there is any information to back that all up, is all my query was about.

    Seems to me if we are as certain as we are that we have the correct view of things, it should stand up in comparison by several measures, should it not?

    Could divorce rate, as just one example, not be one of those?

    I’d expect it to be higher, precisely because of those complications we talk about here. Don’t you?

    Or, should we not dare bother to ask or seek the answers to these questions?

  46. neo-neocon Says:


    But the children are barely mentioned by the author of the article, as well, and the author does not have an open marriage. I find that omission odd.

  47. Bilwick Says:

    Definitely not for everyone. In my experience it is best suited for an intellectual elite.

  48. Janet Says:

    Neo, I did not read the entire article so I didn’t realize that. It still doesn’t surprise me that children are barely mentioned. When it comes to anything regarding sex – practices, identity, procreation, etc. – the only aspect that seems to matter is self-fulfillment. The idea that there may be some obligation or responsibility to anyone else when seeking sexual fulfillment is barely considered by a lot of people. I’ve been involved in adult religious education in the past 10 years and have encountered this mindset over and over again. The true transgression is seen as “stifling” the sexual impulse and not acting on showing “love”.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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