It’s a pretty well known fact that ‘happily ever after’ is a concept that is often easier said than done. People still cling to and admire the ideals of a long-term commitment and marriage and with a little effort and cooperation many find that it is actually doable when they have both feet in the relationship, whilst others are finding that finding a new partner is sometimes just easier, and divorcing themselves from their partner and situation makes more sense. But with so much exposure to new and alternative ways of embracing marriage, more and more couples are ‘coming out’ so to speak, to embrace their sexuality by exploring alternative lifestyles within the marriage. Alternative lifestyles, also known as open relationships, are giving couples a third option, so to speak, when relationships need a little extra push to get up that hill.
So, what exactly are these alternative lifestyles and how do you know they are for you?
When I speak about alternative lifestyles I am talking about anything that deviates from the expected and usual monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Some lifestyles include the swinger lifestyle which is when a couple may choose to swap partners with another couple, threesomes/foursomes which may be in the form of polygamy or polyandry (marriage with more than one wife or husband, respectively) or just introducing a new member/s occasionally or on short term basis. LGBTQ lifestyles are another style where although married, one partner, or perhaps both parties have another partner of the same sex, or may be involved in a lifestyle as another gender, with another gender, etc..outside the marriage. The variations, labels and titles are endless.
These lifestyles differ from the norm because in general they introduce more people into an intimate space, either physical or emotional, and beyond what is generally viewed as the space of the dyad or couple, and hence referred to as ‘alternative.’ Sometimes these happen naturally. Sometimes the couple makes a decision to do this together based on other circumstances. They are not always the easiest of lifestyles and couples need to communicate openly and honestly to both get their needs met. Communication and cooperation are key here. Note: To me, cheating and infidelity do not qualify as an alternative lifestyle, although technically other people are involved. A healthy alternative lifestyle with your partner includes consent, honesty, and communication.
I’d like to refresh your memory a little on a little old study Dr. Helen Fisher, PhD did. She found that there were 3 stages of love. Basically they were Lust, Romance and Commitment. In the lust and romance phase things are exciting, passionate and the sex is great. In the commitment phase all the excitement and unrest leads to stability, security, things which are perfect for family raising, and often times also lack luster sex, especially when couples are comparing it to before. I call it the 2-year lull. Couples often start freaking out at this point and wonder what is wrong with them. Couples in the know recognize this is normal and find a way to flow through this time with continued efforts and this is also a time when many couples decide they may want to do something different or alternative to spice up the relationship.
How do you know if this lifestyle is for you? You have to be honest with yourself and your partner. If something doesn’t feel right or comfortable discuss it openly. If there is something that does interest you, discuss it with your partner and try to set as many ground rules as you can before proceeding as it can get a little complex out there. Getting more people involved means more emotions, personalities, time spent, so on and so on. Jealousy and insecurity happen too. So be realistic and don’t be afraid to speak up to your partner.
Setting ground rules is key. Things will come up while you are out there ‘mixing it up’ so having as many key words, and advance communication to help ease the situation will make it all the better.
One last thing to remember is that this lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and it’s okay if you’re not feeling it. A must read on the subject matter is “Ethical Slut,” by Dossie Easton, Catherine A. Liszt, if you are truly thinking about embarking on something new and adventurous with your partner.
© Copyright 2011 by Mou Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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