Open-Minded About Open Marriage

Several years ago, a rabbi rather prophetically told my husband and me that with the exception of religious couples, the institution of marriage will soon be extinct.
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Several years ago, a rabbi rather prophetically told my husband and me that with the exception of religious couples, the institution of marriage will soon be extinct. Coming from a member of the clergy whose job it is to safeguard the institution, this was heavy news.

He may be right.

Marriage today is quite different than it was in previous generations. We have women in the workplace and many men staying at home. We can now have same-sex marriages. And there are social networks and smartphones that have enabled each and every one of us to contact our high school sweethearts.

Also, most people getting married today are not virgins. With people having sex at a younger age and choosing to get married later in life, most have already had many sexual partners and lots of experience before getting married.

No surprise then that for a vast majority of us, monogamy does not come easily after years of sexual freedom and seems to be an almost unrealistic requirement of wedlock.

And yet we trot to the altar with blinders on, as if we're living in the Victorian era when chastity and monogamy were paramount, and adhere to the same defining principles of wedlock today.

Yes, I realize there are millions out there who still practice a more traditional -- dare I say biblically inspired -- marriage. If it works for you--awesome! But what about the rest of us?

Eric Anderson's recent post in the divorce section of HuffPost, "Is Cheating a Rational Choice?," has been the source of some controversy because he proposes that the only real and logical alternative to cheating is to have an open relationship. Swinging from the chandeliers is not what Anderson meant, but he certainly got readers in a tizzy.

Though Anderson makes some excellent points, a truly open relationship is nearly impossible for many couples to even contemplate, much less pull off successfully.

Yet why is it that the very mention of an open marriage can turn a die-hard liberal into a Rush Limbaugh conservative?

Let's face it -- most people at some point in their marriage have desires for someone other than their partner. Research shows that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women will be unfaithful in their marriages.

So why do we still have these crazy expectations that our spouses will be faithful?

When it comes to nonmonogamous marriages, many Europeans are far more open-minded than we puritanical Americans are. And though many in France are opting out of the institution of marriage and are instead choosing PACs (civil unions), divorce rates in France are well below those in the U.S.

We Americans are pretty hypocritical. Almost all of us believe that adultery is wrong, and yet some studies show that more than half of all women and men admit to committing infidelity in any relationship that they've had (not just in marriage).

Why is it that so many people are more comfortable reflexively sneaking around and lying to their spouse than having an open, honest conversation with them about monogamy?

In Pamela Haag's highly acclaimed book "Marriage Confidential" she interviewed countless couples who were able to have their cake and eat it too. She observed that, "Marital non-monogamy -- in all its forms, from illicit cheating to open -- lacks political chic in our largely conservative zeitgeist. But it is quietly gathering momentum ... In the 70's some of us didn't believe in monogamy but it believed in us; today we believe in monogamy, but it doesn't seem to believe in us."

Ironically, despite the growing momentum Haag observes, there is still a stigma in our culture attached to open marriage. Those participating in "free love" wind up living a double life: They are open and honest with their spouses about their lovers, but they must cover up and lie to society about their marriage.

No one understands these "understandings" and couples like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who have come out about their lifestyle, are harshly judged for it.

One can only imagine that having an open relationship can be complex and potentially dangerous. And as a parent raising a family, you may not want to expose your children to it.

Yet even if it's not for everyone, we should at least be able to talk about open relationships given the disastrous state of traditional marriage.

If we value saving the institution of marriage, we need to remain flexible and willing to move ahead with the times. The American public and our president have shown and an openness to same-sex marriage. Does this mean that we'll soon start embracing other types of relationships and marriages? Or are nonmonogamous marriages destined to remain the subject of harsh ridicule or fodder for TV shows like HBO's "Big Love"?

I guess most people would rather lead lives of quiet desperation and infidelity than to honestly talk about monogamy or lack thereof.

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