Open Marriage: A Celebrity Solution or a Contradiction in Terms?

Open marriages are just an invitation for sexy, exciting, thrilling and potentially lethal distractions.
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The other day I was watching comedienne Chelsea Handler being interviewed by Piers Morgan when she dropped a speculative bombshell, suggesting that Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore had an open marriage, and that's what led to their union's inevitable demise.

"I think they probably had a lot of good times with some other women. I mean, read between the lines," Chelsea told Piers. "They probably had a lot of threesomes that led to twosomes without Demi and that leads to a divorce."

Who knows whether any of this is true, and shame on Chelsea for chiming in if it's not, but add to her observation the latest rumors of Will Smith and Jada's marriage troubles and it gets me thinking about the challenges so many marriages face, even when a couple appears to have everything.

There's no word yet on a divorce for the Smiths; the other shoe has yet to drop, but after 13 years it appears they are trying hard to keep their family together. I hope they make it. There's a candor and integrity to this couple that I've always admired. Will Smith even made a statement years ago that inspired me to fight for my own marriage: "Divorce just cannot be an option. It's really that simple."

But he made another statement about marriage in a 2005 Daily Mail article, where he is quoted as saying "You're going to be attracted to people. In our marriage vows, we didn't say 'forsaking all others'." Then he added: "The vow we made was that you will never hear that I did something after the fact."

To be clear, this is not a piece designed to judge or sensationalize what may or may not be happening in the lives of these powerhouse Hollywood couples. In fact, I applaud them for exploring every option to stay together. These are obviously not decisions they are taking lightly, and they clearly have enormous respect and love for each other whatever they are going through. They are trying to do what's best for each other and their families -- for their beautiful kids.

I don't want to stand on top of a mountain and be holier than thou. I've been married for 17 years and I know how gratifying and challenging it can be. Many traditional marriages are far from perfect, and if someone looked at my marriage under a microscope they'd see plenty of dysfunctional and unhealthy moments in our life together. Far be it from me to cast the first stone.

But it is worth having a meaningful discussion about this new variation on an old institution that may be beneficial to those of us who are married and want to remain that way.

When we hear the term "open marriage," no doubt there is a range of thoughts, emotions and judgments that leap forward. For some, open marriages are unconscionable on moral grounds. For others, they are a recipe for relationship disaster, and for a few they are a viable way to live.

Let's start by trying to separate the emotion from it and clearly define what open marriage really means. For that I visited the trusty Merriam-Webster on-line Dictionary, and this is what I found:

"A marriage in which the partners agree to let each other have sexual partners outside the marriage."

This seems like a reasonable definition. However, things become more interesting and perhaps more lucid when we review the definition of the word marriage itself:

"The state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law or the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of traditional marriage."

In other words, a marriage is between two people, and no one else. Remember this line from your wedding day? "What God has joined together, let no man [or woman] put asunder." That means protect this precious union from outside influences. It's bigger than the both of you.

Open marriage may seem sane to some as it allows for forgiveness on both sides if and when both partners give into the inevitable temptations and stray. The thinking is, "If we're going to cheat, let's at least be honest about it." But it is not a real solution. I don't have the statistics to prove it, and with today's divorce rate, traditional marriages aren't exactly stellar in the numbers department, but from a purely practical perspective, we can't have it both ways.

I don't think my marriage could stand up to this kind of pressure and I'm not sure that any healthy marriage could. I believe it prudent to intentionally keep things that are potentially damaging to your marriage away from your marriage whenever and wherever possible.

During my nearly 20 years of marriage I've almost been divorced on more than one occasion. I can say with absolute certainty that when I was on the brink of divorce I was distracted big time. I was more interested in being a successful executive than being an involved and present husband and father. In other words I was "open" to nearly every major job assignment that came my way. Instead of focusing on being the best husband and father that I could be, I allowed, and dare I say invited, distractions in the form of career to take my mind away from proactively dealing with the problems in myself and the challenges in my marriage. As a result, I was merely delaying the inevitable. And while I was temporarily enjoying my career distractions, my personal life was becoming more miserable, as I was putting a good but false public face on it. I wasn't open to another sexual partner, but my openness to other outside influences was almost as damaging to the foundation of trust and love that my wife and I had built together as an infidelity might have been.

Open marriages are just an invitation for sexy, exciting, thrilling and potentially lethal distractions. It's inviting disaster, just like working crazy hours at the expense of yourself or your loved ones; playing golf more than you know you should to get away from your family; hanging out with friends more than hanging in, or out, with your spouse; and the list goes on.

Before some of us step onto our collective soap box and exercise judgment on Will & Jada, or Ashton and Demi, please remember that we all have our pet distractions. And if we are to become better spouses we must deal with the underlying reasons why we are seeking distractions that are detrimental to ourselves and our families.

A conversation with your spouse about what you will allow your marriage to be open to and what your marriage will be closed to will be helpful. This may help mitigate life's distractions before they blow up.

I wish Will & Jada the best in their marriage as much as I hope Ashton and Demi work things out. And I wish the same for us all.

I heard a brilliant quote a few years ago: "Aging is mandatory, maturation is optional."

I believe that maturation mitigates distractions. And maturation is indeed a personal choice.

Your thoughts? Speak on it!

Darryl Cobbin is a husband, father, marketing expert, and author of "Before You Wed... Read This!" His next challenge is to help others succeed at marriage

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