Dr. West

Open Marriages and Relationships -

Qualities of Successful

Open Relationships

     In analyzing open marriages — the ones that stay together and the ones that don't -- some underlying factors emerge.

There are two types of open relationships that seem to stay intact.

Neurotic-Dependence Relationships

      Often—possibly far too often—these relationships represent a dominant husband or wife who simply "dictates how things will be" with little regard for the feelings of the spouse.

 The spouse may stick with the relationship out of love, out of fear, or out of financial or emotional dependence.

This arrangement sometimes serves the need of one spouse for dominance and the other for subservience and possibly even humiliation.

Thus, the neurotic (read: unhealthy) needs of both partners may be met.

underlying factors are discussed at various places on this site.

Emotionally Stable

 Open Relationships

      Although many therapists argue that any relationship that is open signifies underlying personal or marital problems, there is evidence that this is not necessarily true.

Certain personality characteristics seem to be associated with successful open relationships. (We are obviously not including the previously discussed neurotic-dependence relationships.)

Some studies indicate that couples that can successfully manage an open relationship are happier and more self-sufficient (more "together") than people in average closed relationships.  

But, let me reiterate the caveat I've stated before: very few people can successfully handle open relationships, so we can't recommend them for most couples!

At the same time, we know that some people can, and the relationships have continued for decades.

     There are six characteristics that seem to be associated with successful open relationships.

1. The primary relationship is well established and stable. The individuals involved know, love, and trust each other. Typically, the relationship will have continued for a number of years—often, through some formidable tests and hardships, and neither spouse will want to risk "throwing it all away."

2. Neither partner is threatened by their spouse's sexual involvement with another person. For this, each spouse must possess a strong sense of personal stability and adequacy.

  It is often assumed that relationships are centered in meeting personal needs.

 However, whenever someone starts to rely on another person for their happiness or feelings of adequacy, an unhealthy dependence is created.

Thereafter, whenever that relationship is seen as being threatened or in jeopardy, not only do jealousy and possessiveness ensue, but the person finds they are at the mercy of factors they can't control.

In order for things to remain stable and secure, individuals must look primarily within themselves for their happiness and adequacy rather than to outside sources.

"I can't live without him," or "She is my whole world," signifies a dangerous state.

     At the same time, both partners in an open relationship must be totally committed to maintain the primary relationship. (In "Post-Nuptial" Legal Agreement this couple even made this something of a legal mandate.)

Personal stability and maturity also mean that if the marriage or relationship breaks up, the original love will not suddenly evaporate or turn into hate (which would throw the nature of the original love into question).

" If you truly love someone, you want the best for them—regardless."


If there was and is love in the true sense, and if one partner should decide to pursue another route in life, he or she should sincerely be wished the best in their new direction.  

3. Certain rules are agreed on and carefully followed.

4. The difference between love and sex is understood.  Although social convention pairs sex with love, a person can engage in responsible sex for its own enjoyment and benefits, without the sexual partners having to be in love with each other.

5. There is open, uninhibited, loving communication in the marriage. As issues arise, especially as they relate to the relationship and present or prospective sexual partners, these issues are immediately discussed and dealt with.

The spouse must know what's going on at all times. This means that there are no secret meetings, text messages, or conversations with outside partners.

6. The married partners desire new sexual experiences, both for themselves and for their spouse.

A spouse puts the other's happiness and desire to have sexual experiences above any personal feelings of jealousy and possessiveness.

Today, we are seeing many husbands who, because of age, health, medications, stress, or whatever, have sexual performance problems. 

At the same time, they know that sex is important to the mental and physical wellbeing of their marriage partner.

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