The media has been burning up on the topic of “open marriage” ever since Marianne Gingrich, the second wife of GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich,revealed that he had once asked her for one…all the while promoting family values to the rest of the world. For those who may be unclear about the term, an open marriage is an agreement between married partners in which they can have sex with other people without it having a negative affect on their relationship. And as wild a concept as this may be to some of you, morally questionable Republicans who condemn the dating and mating habits of others aren’t hardly the only folks going there.
Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis revealed in their joint biography With Ruby and Ossie: In this Life Together that they had practiced this lifestyle at one point in their fifty-six year marriage. It’s true. This legendary couple whose marriage is revered as an ideal template for Black love were getting their freak on with other people with each other’s permission. Will and Jada have long been rumored to be in one and Mo’Nique admitted in an interview that she and her husband have an open marriage as well.
You may be thinking this is a Hollywood thing…that only self-indulgent celebrities engage in this sort of non-traditional behavior. Honestly, I think the average Black woman is more likely to dive into a pool with a fresh blowout than to ever consider something as seemingly crazy as an open marriage. But let’s be real. There are millions of us who are already in some form of one. In a study done during the early 1990's by Professor Edward Laumann at the University of Chicago, it was concluded that Black men were the least likely of all racial groups to be monogamous. And come on-we all know/have known married couples in which both partners are having sex with other people. They just don’t talk about it. Though they won’t admit it, they are in an “open marriage” of sorts-they’re just lying to each other about it.
The only time I’ve been in an “official” open relationship was about a decade ago. At the time I was dating a man who was upfront about the fact he was seeing other people. I gave it a try for eleven months, but in the end it didn’t matter that I was with him on major holidays. Try as I might to ‘think like a man’, I couldn’t accept him sleeping with other women and sleeping with me. And while to this day I respect that he was honest about not wanting a monogamous relationship, it was a style of relating that didn’t (and still doesn’t) work for me.
I’ve seen many people (including myself) marry for the wrong reasons: you’re afraid of dying alone. You need a fill-in for the M.I.A. parent of your children. You’re sick of your married friends’ subliminal digs about your non-married status. You’re tired of being the old person in the club.
As much as our society tries to sell it, marriage is not the great panacea. Marriage at its best is a spiritual union between two well-functioning and independent people who choose to come together to form an interdependent relationship. Marriage is at its core a service position. And contrary to what many believe, its primary basis isn’t to meet our needs for sex, finances or companionship. A healthy marriage is built upon a joint commitment to each other’s spiritual, physical and emotional well being. Too many of us approach it from the perspective of what they can get rather than what they can give, which is the antithesis of love.
The main premise of an open marriage is that both partners are being honest with each other about their desire to have sex with other people. This candor is intended to eliminate a big area of conflict, which is sexual fidelity (or the lack thereof). In theory, in an open marriage there is enough trust to allow their partner the freedom to explore their sexuality with other people without it having a negative impact on the relationship. But it also places the need for sexual variety ahead of the spiritual and emotional well-being of your mate.
For most of us, an open marriage would require you to be completely shut down emotionally or to accept that your financial needs supersede your emotional ones. It’s hard to imagine the average person having what it takes to say “I’m not enough for you” and being okay with that. Perhaps life would be easier if we could…but I’m inclined to say that devoting ourselves to finding true partnership, commitment and connection with one partner is a more viable choice for our emotional AND physical well-being.
Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. You can connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. Got relationship questions? Email her at SilLai@ebony.com