A Bouquet of Lovers: Strategies for Responsible Open Relationships

You want to know how it will be,
Me and her, or you and me.
You both sit there, your long hair flowing,
Eyes alive, your mind still growing,
Saying to me: What can we do,
Now that we both love you?
I love you too. I don't really see,
Why can't we go on as three?
"Triad" by David Crosby

photo courtesy of afroboof via C.C. License at FlickrLet us begin with the a priori assumption that the reader is either currently practicing or firmly committed to the concept of Open Relationships as a conscious and loving lifestyle. If you are not in that category then this article will probably not be of interest to you. If you are full of curiosity about the potentials of Open Relationships, there are resources that deal with such soul-searching issues as jealousy management and theories about why the whole lifestyle is healthy and positive. Some of these resources will be given at the end and herein there will also be found considerable points of interest.

The goal of a responsible Open Relationship is to cultivate ongoing, long-term, complex relationships that are rooted in deep mutual friendships.

What elements enable an Open Relationship to be successful? Having been involved all my adult life in one or the other Open Marriages (the current Primary being [at the time this article was written] sixteen years long), I have seen a lot of ideas come and go and experimented with plans and rules to make these relationships work for everyone involved. There is as much variety in what different people require in a relationship as there are people involved in them. However, there are some sure-fire elements that must be present for the system to function at all and there are other elements that are strongly recommended on the basis that they have a very good track record. Let us refer to them collectively as the "Rules of the Road."

Rules of the Road

The first two are essential. I have never met anyone who has had a serious and healthy Open Marriage that omitted these first two principles. The first is honesty and openness about the polyamorous lifestyle. Having multiple sexual relations while lying to your partners or trying to pretend that each one is the "one true love" is a very superficial and selfishly destructive way to live.

There are marriages in which one of the partners will state: "If you ever have an affair, I never want to find out about it." I suppose some folks take that as tacit permission the same way a child will connive when the parent tells them, "Don't ever let me catch you doing such-and-so!" Without complete honesty, especially about sexual issues, the relationship is doomed. Some Open Relations have an agreement not to discuss the details of their satellite relations with their Primary partner or vice-versa, but there still must be the fundamental honesty and agreement that other relations do exist and are important to maintain.

The next principle is equally fundamental:  All partners involved in the Multiple Relations must fully and willingly embrace the basic commitment to a polyamorous lifestyle. A situation where one partner seeks polygamy and the other one insists upon monogamy or strongly politics for it will not work, for this is too much of a fundamental disagreement to allow the relationship to prosper. Sooner or later someone has got to give in and have it one way or the other. The truth is that people usually do have a strong preference.

Hogamus, Higamus, Men Are Polygamous;
Higamus, Hogamus, Women Monogamous

The only reason such mixed marriages have actually worked has been because there was an all powerful church/state taboo enforced on options other than monogamy. In a patriarchy, men's deviation from that norm is ignored and women's is punished, often by death. The first recorded gender-specific law, in the ancient code of Urukagina from 2400 B.C.E., was directed against women who practiced polyandry, specifying that their teeth be bashed in with bricks. Now that the social codes are being challenged, even though the state maintains laws against legal plural marriage, both men and women are freer to explore alternative preferences, and relationships are conspicuously in a period of flux.

When I first met and fell in love with my present Primary partner, I roused myself sufficiently from my bedazzled emotional state to say: "I love you, but I hope that we can somehow have an Open Relationship because I am not really suited to monogamy and would be very unhappy in a monogamous relationship." Fortunately, Otter was delighted to hear this as he had been too afraid of losing the newfound bliss to broach the subject first.