Relationships

What It’s Like to Have an Open Marriage

What It's Like to Have an Open Marriage

Have you ever wanted to try an open relationship? “Non-monogamy is way more common than most people think,” says Ava from Texas, “But it’s rarely discussed in public.” So, I recently spoke to three women about their open marriages — the pros, the cons, and how they make it work. Here’s what they said…


Catherine, 30, lives with her husband in Pennsylvania. They’ve been together for six years, and their relationship has been open since the birth of their son four years ago.

How it began: When we met, I was 23. I knew an open relationship was his preference, but we kept ours closed, and I never felt pressured. We ended up getting pregnant a few years later. While breastfeeding an infant, I didn’t want to be responsible for my partner’s sexual needs. I was more than happy to open our relationship, and I was able to separate the emotion from his physical need.

Her first experience: When our son was around two, I became curious to see what was out there for myself. I went on a Tinder date and had so much fun — that new feeling, a rush, I hadn’t experienced it for so long. My husband sometimes gets a little jealous. It’s funny because he introduced me to this lifestyle, but I’m probably better suited to it. I think you can choose to work through your jealousy and grow tremendously as a person.

Meeting new people: At first I used Tinder, but recently I’ve been wanting to meet people more naturally. I teach yoga and there are male students who I think would be into it. I also put it out there to one of my guy friends, and we’re going to hang out soon. For my husband, it’s more of a sexual thing, but I need a connection with someone — we go for drinks and dinner first. I’m also open to having a longer term boyfriend.

The impact on marital sex: It has been nothing but great for our own sex life. I read someone saying that monogamy was bad for their libido and I agree. The more sex I’m having, the more I want to have. My husband brings stuff back to our bedroom — he’s a little kinkier. He wanted to learn how to do ropes, but I wasn’t willing to be his guinea pig. He can practice with someone else, refine his skill set and come home to do it with me!

Why she likes an open relationship: The independence is a turn-on for me — dressing up, going out by myself, switching away from my role as a wife and mom. I started dating my husband when I was young, so it’s nice to be able to have more partners in my lifetime. I can’t see us going back to completely closed; I kind of forget other people don’t live like this.

Telling friends: It’s funny to see friends’ reactions — I’ve gotten a lot of, “Oh that’s so great but I could never do that.” I’m sharing this about myself. Our relatives don’t know — our parents would probably freak out a little. But it’s a wonderful part of my life, and I want to talk about it.

Breaking up: For a few months, I had a relationship with a neighborhood dad. (He and his wife had an open relationship, too.) We all knew each other, and our kids did karate together. It was a little too close to home, so we ended it before it got serious. I was really bummed. I had the urge to turn to my husband for comfort but it felt like too much to ask. He’s my husband, not my girlfriend. That was a learning experience.


What she wants people to know: I’m married, I’m a mother, I’m non-monogamous. Of course an open marriage is still a marriage. Nobody should be made to feel less-than because their marital needs don’t fit the mold. Nobody should be made to feel like they need to keep their love a secret.


Hadley is 31 and lives in Scotland. She has two primary partners — Gregory and Clark. She also sometimes casually sees other people. She identifies as bisexual.

On having two partners: I’ve been with Gregory for nine years (we are married and live together) and Clark for a year (long-distance); but they’re equally important to me. I would never want one of them to feel secondary.

A fluid marriage: Gregory and I met when I was 21 and he was 23. The idea of marriage always felt a little strange to me, but we got married because he was British and I wasn’t, and that’s how immigration works. Like most people, we were monogamous at the beginning – that’s what you do!

Voicing needs: I would broach the topic of non-monogamy with Gregory every two or three years — maybe now? But, nope. He’s very shy and wasn’t into it. Every relationship is going to involve compromises, so that was okay with me. Then, in 2015, we went into business together and bought our home. We agreed we were solid — if something were going to break us up, it wasn’t going to be someone else. And I pushed him to identify: What’s the fear here? What are you actually afraid of? I’d had these really fun friendships when I was younger — they were friends but we’d also sleep together, and I enjoyed the variety.

A husband’s transformation: Although Gregory wasn’t into casual dating, he met someone more like him, who also valued fewer, more intense relationships. I encouraged him — it’s okay that you have feelings as long as you can maintain your commitments to me. They fell pretty hard for each other. Eventually he said she was his girlfriend. They’re still together, they’re coming up on two years.

On meeting a second primary partner: I use OkCupid, Tinder and Bumble. Last summer, I swiped on an American guy who was traveling through town. He was only in town for a day, but we developed an extraordinary connection. Now I fly out to New England every other month, and he flies here every other month, and it’s wonderful. So, now I have Gregory and Clark, plus the occasional sexual friendship or casual date. I value the patchwork of different relationships in my life.

Confronting jealousy: People always ask, “Are you a magical creature who doesn’t get jealous?” But you could just as easily turn it around and say, “You’re monogamous, do you get bored?” You have to reflect on your values and emotions, and think, “Do I want the benefits and drawbacks of monogamy or do I want the benefits and drawbacks of non-monogamy?” And, if it’s non-monogamy, do I want to share a home with someone, do I want to just date, do I want to have a giant house that I share with 12 people? It’s the same as deciding whether to live in the city or country or suburbs — there’s nothing wrong with any of them, but one will probably feel like the more natural direction for you.

On telling others: If anyone asks if there’s someone special in my life, I say, “Yes! I have two wonderful people.” I just let them be shocked and hold their hand through it if I need to. Honestly, most people don’t care — they’re shocked for two minutes, they want the really good gossip, and then they’re like, what’s for dinner?

Explaining an open marriage to parents: My parents have always known Gregory, and when Clark and I got more serious, I told my parents about him, too. It was important to me that nobody felt like a dirty little secret. Even if my parents thought it was unusual, I knew I wouldn’t be disowned. I also wanted to tell them so that if their friends were saying, Oh, there’s this weird new culture, they could say, Oh, no, that’s my kid! it’s normal.


Ava, 30, met her husband eight years ago. They’ve had an open relationship (on and off) over the past five years. She identifies as bisexual and lives in Texas.

On marriage: My husband is my life partner. We adore each other. We tell each other everything. We’re looking forward to starting a family. We have sex. We go on dates together. We also date and have sex with other people. And it has added so much more than I ever thought it could.

Starting an open relationship: After we had been dating for five years, he suggested opening our relationship. My initial reaction was curiosity. I had always been inclined to be monogamous; it had been my model growing up. But a good friend had been in an open relationship and had had a great experience. So, we came up with lots of agreements, and then we went for it.

Setting boundaries: We were very cautious at first — we tried to space out our dates and keep things casual. Now we’ve realized that if you’re going to date someone and see movies and have dinners, you’re going to get emotionally close. But we still say “no sleepovers” — that’s a little too intimate — and we don’t bring anyone to our home.

On jealousy: We both struggled with jealousy at first, but you learn to work through it together, just like with anger or any other difficult emotion. It has added a big element of support and trust to our relationship. We feel like we can do anything now. If we’re able to work this out, what else can we accomplish together?

A fuller sex life: The novelty of an open marriage keeps our marital sex life exciting — you were with someone else, and you’re my husband. We have this analogy: My husband loves to go two-stepping; the more you dance with other partners, the better you get. Also, I’d always thought about dating women, and to be able to do that within our relationship is really special. I get to live part of my life I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to.

On meeting new people: My husband is more extroverted and hits on people when he goes dancing. But I use dating apps. I like to go on a few dates before things get sexual. I also think that there’s sometimes a perception about open relationships that everyone is super sexually active all the time. That hasn’t been our experience. You’re busy, and you’re still going through the dating process.

Heartbreak: That feeling of falling in love with someone else — it’s the best and also the worst. The thing I’d never thought I’d be dealing with in a marriage is heartbreak. You’re sad about someone, but you want support from your partner. There’s no model for that, so we’ve navigated it on our own. I’ve actually been surprised by my capacity to listen to my husband when he’s upset, and say, “Let’s talk about it.” That blew my mind.

On the capacity for love: You can love multiple children, and you probably have more than one friend. You feel love for all of them, even if you’re closer to one. No one says, “Oh, you have too many friends, you should stop.” Just because I’m starting to feel affection for someone else, it doesn’t take away the love I have for my partner. A big thing to realize is that you can’t be everything for someone; it’s good to have other people — it’s just whether they’re friends or lovers.

What might surprise others: Some people assume that open relationships are free-wheeling, do what you want — but we have rules and boundaries and conversations all the time, and it’s not always fun. People also sometimes think that you’re trying to fix something in your marriage, but we started this because we felt very stable — we thought we could throw this new thing in the mix. A couple could always try it, and if it doesn’t go well, they could close it again. It’s your relationship, it’s up to you. A few years ago, I never would have thought I’d be in this position, but it has been overwhelmingly positive.


Thank you so much for reading! Any other questions you have? Have you ever been in an open relationship? Of course, all relationships look different — couples who date couples; people of different sexual orientations; relationships that are open for one partner but closed for another; the list goes on and on. Please share your experiences, if you’d like! xoxo

(Illustration by Nina Cosford. Names have been changed for the privacy of the people interviewed.)

  1. Connie says...

    We are an older couple and have a decade between us, and he is older. We love each other very much and have been married now for almost 14 years (of course, we dated for a few as well prior) but he feels he is asexual now. He has zero interest in having sex with me or anyone, period. I am completely the opposite and I am a very, very sexual woman. Is it right for my husband who now chooses to NOT want to have sex with me or anyone else any longer to ask the same of myself? Absolutely not!
    I ask all of the naysayers here about open marriage in these comments to just TRY living without sex in your marriage the rest of your lives when this was never your decision, but the other partners choice, just HOW do you see yourself who is very sexual living the rest of your life out? Masturbation only? NOT very intimate! Try no intimacy!
    Believe me, after a while, you CRAVE sexual closeness again! I went 10 years until I couldn’t live without sex, without touch, without intimacy any longer! “THAT” is when I asked him for an open marriage, explaining to him I do not want to be cheating on him, nor do I want him to think I am having a mad, passionate love affair on him, but I cannot live without sex in my life any longer, but I do not want a divorce, either! No sex is your decision, not mine! Yes, we love each other, but I need more in my life. I am becoming resentful of you and starting to lose that my feeling of love for you because of the resentment I feel. I don’t feel this is normal!
    Yes. We DO have an open marriage now so I can have the sex life I so desire. I prefer to have one or two special people in my life I care about, given their circumstances, as well, and we all think nothing is wrong with ‘our’ arrangements.
    I love my husband dearly again, especially now that I no longer feel resentment towards him for denying me, but I feel a lot of love for and from him for granting me my desires again, even if he is not the one who is physically fulfilling them, he knows ALL about them and is encouraging of them! He sees I am VERY happy, and HE actually states how happy he sees me himself. He says the old saying, jokingly, but seriously, as well, that, “My happy wife is my happy life!” Now THAT means EVERYTHING!!!

  2. Elaine says...

    I find it really odd to see so many “people should know better” comments on this post. An open relationship isn’t for everyone. But just because you don’t think it would work for you doesn’t mean it won’t work for someone else. It turns out that monogamy isn’t for everyone, either. Somehow, when a monogamous relationship ends, no one says, “oh, if only they were polyamorous, it would’ve worked out!” However, when poly people have breakups, others are so quick to say, “hah, see, polyamoury doesn’t work!” Sometimes relationships just fail. Sad, but part of life.

  3. Liz says...

    “While breastfeeding an infant, I didn’t want to be responsible for my partner’s sexual needs.”

    As a feminist and someone who recently gave birth in the context of a monogamous marriage, this quote really bothers me. It implies that men’s sexual needs trump all else and that it would be her duty to satisfy him even during an incredibly busy, emotional, sometimes traumatic time period.

    It makes me really sad to think that instead of the husband doing everything in his power to help his wife navigate new motherhood and explore new fatherhood, he gets to (or would even want) go out and have sex with other people. I find that appalling. How can anyone think about this scenario and see it as anything other than just completely awful?

    I’m not making a judgement on anything else in this article or open marriages in general, but in the context of new parenthood I am just completely shocked that anyone would want to be with a partner who would want this.

  4. Renee says...

    Since few that have experienced open marriages are commenting, and those that are seem starry-eyed about their whole 6 months of success (!), I am going to add my own story.

    I was in an open marriage for 23 years and it destroyed us. Even though it was an early and mutual decision, and we were considered an exceptionally strong and devoted power couple. Here is why:

    Finding a soulmate, or someone who is 99% compatible for lack of a better description, isn’t a realistic goal in your twenties, or even thirties. Most people do not find or marry soulmate material. In the monogamous model, this is okay. You find someone who is, say, 70% compatible and good enough, and grow together over a lifetime to fill in the void.

    Down the road, you may meet someone who is 99% soulmate material. But…you wouldn’t really know unless you became intimate with this person, which as a committed spouse you don’t. So beyond a fleeting connection here and there, it doesn’t matter. You work on your marriage and its 70% compatibility glory. Any flash in the pans eventually disappear and life goes on.

    In an open marriage you are always dating. You actively encourage your heart to seek out connection in other people. You can’t help it. That’s what dating is. Seeking and finding connection. In this scenario, it is much more likely that someone in the core couple will stumble across a soulmate in a secondary partner. Not only meet, but become intimate with, and fall in love. Eventually, they realize they don’t need their 70% core partner because they now have a 99% secondary. That or they want the core and the secondary to switch places. Now the core spouse is left adrift in a supplemental role while their partner is in love with someone else. Destroy the core couple, and the open marriage goes into the trash heap as well.

    I can hear the chants now: you just weren’t strong enough. Don’t presume that you know us. I no longer believe that anyone is immune to this. Being intimate with multiple partners always has the possibility of meeting someone who is, overall, more fulfilling than your core partner. Even the strongest couples (who still feel compelled to participate in an open marriage to fulfill that missing 3% or 5%) may find someone who does all 100% or close to.

    And as you get older and tired you have the urge to simplify life, so one great partner is easier to handle than two.

    Don’t underestimate the power of youth in this phenomenon either. It is much more difficult to have relationships with other open married couples. Your secondaries tend to be single, much younger, exciting, more experimental. Eventually this takes a toll. Your body is permanently scarred from childbirth. That extra weight just hung on. Or you’re getting constant hot flashes and night sweats in early menopause. Everyone feels the creep of age eventually. Who needs the baggage of the old hag when you can start anew with a young fresh secondary…or two?

    There are many more things I can say…but this is already an essay.

    As for the children: I lack the energy to broach that topic. I don’t know how much of it is nature and how much nurture. But even though they grew up in an open marriage from day one, and we had a decent circle of open marriage friends, they have vocalized “that mom and dad would just be together without the extras.”

    My advice would be: if you aren’t ready to handle the personal sacrifice of committing to one person for the rest of your life, don’t get married and don’t have children. You can play around for as long as you want and no one will stop you. You don’t require marriage or children to have a polyamorous relationship.

    The comments about “how do you have the time?” with children are spot-on. You don’t. Once children come you must always sacrifice your core family relationship or your career to keep up with the secondary relationship.

    Looking back, I simply should have fulfilled my polyamorous desires while I was young and single and entered into a monogamous marriage and children at a later age. When I was ready to say “this person is enough for my heart.” They say hindsight is 20/20.

    • Kristin says...

      Thank you for sharing this perspective. Interesting to hear from someone a bit older.

    • Heather says...

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I am nearing 50 and have a couple of friends deeply struggling (one mid-divorce) who had an open marriage. Everyone has their own journey of course, but many of the opinions here seem biased by the optimism of youth. Doesn’t every generation feel they can reinvent the wheel? Right the perceived wrongs of their parents and grandparents? Its not exactly a news flash that people want to have sex or bond emotionally with someone other than their spouse. However, there is a reason this has been frowned upon. Jealousy is just as natural as desire. Why is one being rationalized and the other demonized? If you love someone, isn’t your ultimate desire not to cause them pain? And if polyamory doesn’t cause pain, why does it require seemingly endless amounts of communication and “boundaries”?

    • Elizabeth says...

      I had an open relationship in my early 20s. We were together 5 years (married 1) and open for most of that time, though not /as/ open as described in the post – we knew each other’s partners, we played together, etc. Ultimately, however, it was what Renee described: exploring other partners to fix/fill the gaps in the primary relationship, rather than committing to fixing or leaving the primary relationship (which is what I should’ve done). At the time, I appreciated my partner’s willingness to let me explore my emerging sexuality; in retrospect, I recognize that he was up for it for salacious rather than supportive reasons. People got hurt along the way. When we split up, I made a nearly clean break with everyone in my life at the time because I didn’t ever want to be that person or in that kind of relationship again.

      That was 15 years ago. There have been times since then that I considered (or was encouraged to consider) a “monogamish” relationship, but that’s pretty clearly a red flag for me. I’ve observed friends’ open relationships from the sidelines; most have ended (very) badly, or had to take dramatic measures to stay together. If you can make it work, great, but in my experience, it just…doesn’t.

    • Sarah says...

      Thanks for a very wise and generous post. For the record, “you just weren’t strong enough” didn’t cross my mind for a second.

    • Leah says...

      Thank you so much for your perspective and sharing your experience. Your description of the 70% vs 99% parter exactly explains the hesitancy I have when thinking about an open relationship for myself but I hadn’t been able to articulate it.

  5. K says...

    This is a great article! Thank you for posting it. While my partner and I aren’t interested in opening up our relationship, we have talked about having a threesome. My biggest hesitancy is my jealousy, so this was a nice look into dealing with that.

    “Also, I’d always thought about dating women, and to be able to do that within our relationship is really special. I get to live part of my life I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to.”

    This sure hits home! I have gone from long term relationship to long term relationship to meeting my fiance, but I think had there been a period of true dating in my life, I would have dated women as well as men.

  6. rebecca says...

    I thought the article was really interesting and honest. I am a little blown away by the negative comments though. I had no idea people were such prudes! We only live once, and so long as it involves consenting adults, who cares?!?
    Plenty of monogamous marriages are toxic in plenty of ways. I don’t do really see the big deal, other than it’s not what we’re told to want.

    • Meghan says...

      Those that have indicated that they are uncomfortable with the idea of an open marriage have been called out in the comments as being prudish or conservative or even bigoted as if we must also find issue with same-sex marriages. But I think those are separate issues – I am totally fine with people being sexually free and exploring different types of relationships and finding what works for them. I am also a huge supporter of LBGTQ rights, including the right to marry, have or adopt kids, etc. And I would never want to get in the way of anyone else having a non-monogamous relationship. Love is love.
      But I do find the concept of an “open marriage” (as opposed to an open relationship) to be problematic. Here’s one example of why: The wedding band generally known in society as a symbol that the person wearing it has decided to commit to one person (exclusively) for the rest of his/her life. It doesn’t mean that this form of relationship is superior to another, it’s just what that person decided was right for him/her. That ring is also a signal to others out in the world not to bother flirting with or making advances on the wearer because s/he has chosen to commit to another exclusively. It’s about respect for (or at least an understanding of) that choice of commitment, both by those in the relationship and those outside of it. That respect comes from a common definition of what it means for ANY two people to be married.

  7. Jennifer says...

    This post makes me really sad. Marriage is difficult, no doubt. It takes a lot of work to grow and change as an individual within the relationship, but it’s worth it. It’s what marriage is all about. I lost respect for the blog today.

    • Jessica says...

      Me too! I completely lost respect for the blog today!

    • Christina says...

      I think that “what marriage is all about” can be defined by the individuals in the marriage.

    • J says...

      Agree. I find it very sad

  8. Alex says...

    I’m curious to hear if the women in this article who used Tinder or other online dating apps… did they say in their profile that they were married? Was that something they felt they needed to disclose upfront? Or was it something they only got brought up later, like after a few dates? (#askingforafriend)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Great question! They said that there’s a box to check if you’re in an open relationship – they told me they always want to be very clear and straightforward. Thank you!

  9. Anne says...

    While reading the article I was wondering about what would happen, if you wanted to be more with the other person you are not married to? Live with them, go home to them. Or are you never fully invested in the other relationship?

    • Rebecca says...

      Hey Anne,

      I’m in an open marriage and the answer is… it totally depends on what you and your partner are comfortable with. Some people never spend the night… or never come to the home… others aren’t allowed to fall in love… and yet others may marry more than one person, live with more than one partner, or change ‘nesting’ partners as their relationships evolve.

      For me, my husband is my primary partner and our commitment is to keep it that way.

  10. M says...

    It has been days since I last read this post and I still feel overwhelming sadness at the thought of what these couples share being called “marriage.” This arrangement goes completely against the quintessential essence of what marriage is*.

    Calling this arrangement “marriage” detracts from the very point of the thing. It cheapens what can be a beautiful thing.

    * I know, I know…who am I to define what marriage is/should be? Everyone should “live their truth” and do what makes them happy. Believing something is taboo is now taboo, etc. After reading this article about the effects of pornography – http://fightthenewdrug.org/sex-before-kissing-15-year-old-girls-dealing-with-boys/ – I no longer care. Doing what we want, regardless of the effect on others (either the other spouse, children, or third-parties who get tangled up in these affairs) is not helping anyone. All it does is defend selfish, destructive behaviour that has a ripple effect on others. Porn is okay! Everyone should do what they want! Sleep with whomever! I’ve had it. I have a daughter and the thought of sexually obsessed men/teens/boys/women and now children (children!) preying on my child makes me sick. Our world is sex-obsessed and it is so upsetting.

    There is more to life than seeking gratification. Sex isn’t everything. I think if these couples dug a little deeper, they’d find there’s a whole world of intimacy out there that does not involve selfish sexual gratification.

    • Kimberly says...

      Thank you for saying his! I couldn’t agree more.

    • Amy says...

      So well put in every way. Thank you!

    • Cynthia says...

      I whole-heartedly agree. As a public high school teacher, I have had to deal with students who have come from awful situations because the parents/guardians in their lives were only thinking of themselves.

    • Maggie says...

      You’re right. Thank you for speaking up!

    • Rebecca says...

      Thank you for sharing this M. I can feel your pain. And I completely agree about the negative impact of pornography on our society!

      But I also believe that, just as a person can love more than one child, I can love more than one person without taking away from my husband. Yes, it requires some extra conversation and scheduling, but its NOT about sexual gratification for me. Its about increasing the amount of intimacy in my life.

      And my husband and I are far more intimate because of it.

  11. emmanuella says...

    I laughed when I read ” no ever says you have too many friends. You should stop now”. I literally have thought that to myself before. I can only handle having about 5 friends. I guess polygamy wouldn’t work for me personally, which is a bummer because these people make it sound like there’s a lot you’re missing out on if you’re monogamous.

  12. Meghan says...

    I’m reading all the comments here and am left with my own personal desire to have non-sexual intimate relationships with people. I love my husband and we have great sex so I’m fulfilled on that end. However, I really love getting to know men and women intimately and it seems challenging as an almost 40 year old woman. It was so easy as a child and now I find it hard to have meaningful conversations with most new people I meet. Maybe we should develop an app for that!

    • Jessica says...

      What do you mean by wanting to know women and men intimately? It sounds like you want sex with other ppl other than your husband. Be careful
      Once it’s done you can’t go baby in time and you will end up regretting it!!

  13. Kate says...

    My partner and I have been together for about three years. Recently, I’ve started asking him to think about opening up our relationship but I know he’s not interested. And I’m not completely sure I am. I’m repulsed by the idea of having casual sex, but he has a very low sex drive which unfortunately does not match mine. However, as another comment has said, a relationship is more than sex. So while I may want to be able to start dating again and enjoy the experience of meeting interesting new people who are interested in me, I think what we really need is just to make some new friends so I can stop relying on him to be everything for me all at once.

    • emma says...

      This is such a good point. I feel the same (though our sex drives match). There are so many things in life I want to do which are not sex, there are so many people I love to have intense friendships with, which I also want to prioritise in life. Maybe it’s not about being monogamous, but that your partner has to be everything all the time.

    • Jessica says...

      Come on! Be committed! Or when your kids misbehave do you tell me I need someone else to be my kid tonight.
      Think ppl! Don’t even consider an open marriage it will ruin your marriage forever. Don’t be naive!!!

    • Carmen says...

      Kate, your situation sounds exactly like mine a few years ago. I love my husband and am not interested in ending our marriage but like you, I need to have special friendships to which he understood. Three years ago he granted me my wish and at first it was a little strange but since has become a very balancing effect on our marriage and has been a huge plus for us. I average going out with a friend about every three weeks and soon we have a one week holiday planned. My husband has become completely accepting of our arrangement and my life is so perfect now! I have four different men in my life at this time and being with them is so fulfilling!!

  14. Jenn says...

    Joanna… so many wise, informative and interesting comments. I’m pretty sure I read almost all, but missed your thoughts. Could you share since you asked us… your readers the question. Thanks.