Updated: Jun 28, 2021
A friend of mine is contemplating an open marriage. Do those typically work out, in your experience?
I’ve definitely seen them work out. That said, they’re difficult, so when people open their relationship to “fix” an ailing marriage, they rarely work that way. Why? Because if I am thinking of opening my relationship to manage a relationship that is struggling, it does not really change what I am struggling with in my relationship. In fact, there is more to deal with (see also: having a baby to fix your marriage). If you are thinking of opening your marriage, or if you’re curious about polyamory, reading the third edition of The Ethical Slut, which is a really thorough, thoughtful overview of managing relationships and what to consider if one is considering ethical nonmonogomy. In terms of thinking through logistics, I really like the contracts in Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships. If folks can’t read through these with their partner and talk through the plan, they’re definitely not ready for an open relationship.
I’m not sure that polyamory is by its nature more difficult. However, we’re in a dominant culture set up for monogomy, so making a different plan is more stressful than it might otherwise be. What if you’re in a culture that is more accepting of non-monogomy though? A monogamish gay culture for instance? In that case, non-monogomy is probably less stressful and more accessible overall.
So in short: open relationships can work. Queer folx have know that for a long time. Whether they are a good option for your friend depends on a lot of factors particular to them. If you’re in a very solid relationship with open communication, as well as set up with a moral orientation that is compatible with that type of sexual freedom, maybe an open relationship would be great—learn more about pitfalls and make a plan that would be likely to work for you. If not, your friend would do better to start with couple counseling and stabilizing their monogamous relationship, if that is the goal.