Exploring Alternative Lifestyles in Your Relationship

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.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 33 comments
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  • Ronald

    Ronald

    July 25th, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    Yes,alternative lifestyles are not for everybody,that’s so true. Also,even if one of the partners may be interested in experimenting,he or she may not be able to convince the other about the same. This can lead to a lot of problems as the former could then go ahead with the plans without the consent of the latter and will eventually put a major strain on the relationship.

  • Jacqui

    Jacqui

    July 25th, 2011 at 4:11 PM

    Advocating for “alternative lifestyles” is not the answer.
    How about some support for the traditional married couple every now and then?
    What is so wrong with being traditional?

  • susan

    susan

    July 25th, 2011 at 11:49 PM

    alternative lifestyle-possible

    alternative lifestyle in a stable and committed relationship-really farfetched!

    its more of an experimentation that may seem attractive on paper an maybe even in practice,but not in a long-term or committed relationship.it seems like an extension of one’s fantasy.fantasies are okay but not everything can be implemented in real life.there are bound to be so much emotional baggage related to such a lifestyle!

  • Sheila Farmer

    Sheila Farmer

    July 26th, 2011 at 4:33 AM

    hey, a little open minded thinking never hurt anyone. . .

  • robert

    robert

    May 5th, 2015 at 11:48 AM

    I am with u if it feels good its not wrong

  • tiara

    tiara

    July 26th, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    Jacqui:nobody said anything’s wrong with being traditional or conventional.its being non-conventional and different that is considered ‘wrong’ by most people and hence the need for this kind of a post.

  • Reagan James

    Reagan James

    July 26th, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    Alternating lifestyles may sound exhilirating and exciting. My perosnal experience with friends who have tried this style of living is that it ends generally in seperation and further therapy. The women and the men wind up jealous and wondering whats going on with the other partner. After they get past this point my two pairs of friends actually just switched partners. In typing this I wonder if in reality the therapy and result wasn’t actually a success when all these years I thought the idea was a failure?

  • Moushumi Ghose

    Moushumi Ghose

    October 18th, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    It’s definitely a choice and decision that a couple should make together.

    Jaqui, traditional relationships and couples are the norm and there is a lot of support for them, if not a blind acceptance or following by many, and there is still a lot of infidelity, dishonesty, cheating, etc. Alternative relationships are an honest attempt at answering this conundrum for whom the traditional relationship didn’t suit.

    Ronald and Reagan, sure these type of relationships can be hard work, and frankly who has the time or energy?!?!

  • princess

    princess

    December 15th, 2012 at 12:58 PM

    I have just started a blog about our Domestic Discipline relationship

  • Susan

    Susan

    August 27th, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    I would appreciate any other articles on the subject as it comes up in therapy. I know ground rules are important, but what happens when they(the couple) go beyond the rules and the insecurities show up in forms of anger and passive aggresive acts?

  • Moushumi Ghose

    Moushumi Ghose

    September 11th, 2013 at 7:51 PM

    Susan, Thanks for your comment. I agree that sometimes rules within an open relationship, non monogamous scenario can go haywire. We may be conditioned to follow the monogamous mindframe which makes new lifestyles somewhat harder to manuever, thus more communication and honesty is required in these scenarios. I have some more articles on if you are interested. yourtango.com/experts/moushumi-ghose/what-society-can-learn-kink-and-poly-communities
    and yourtango.com/experts/moushumi-ghose/why-non-monogamy-may-be-hard
    Hope this helps.Thanks!

  • Ricki

    Ricki

    September 22nd, 2013 at 3:32 PM

    This sort of lifestyle is considered taboo by most of the common population. To say that it could not work in a stable and committed relationship is not necessarily true. My partner and I have been sharing sexual experiences with others for about six years now and are still very stable and committed to one another and our relationship only grows stronger every year that we are together.

  • Moushumi Ghose

    Moushumi Ghose

    September 23rd, 2013 at 8:18 AM

    Ricki,
    That sounds wonderful. Thank you for sharing. I agree. I think having a strong stable relationship can sometimes be the key in making open relationships work.

  • John

    John

    December 25th, 2013 at 1:55 PM

    We have been involved in the “swinging lifestyle” for several years, our relationship is incredibly secure, we don’t waste our time or energy on useless emotions like jealousy/insecurity and we don’t allow someone else’s twisted sense of morality to cloud our view of life.

    We are VERY deeply in love, incredibly happy together and have an awesome sex life!!! This aspect of our relationship has only contributed to our already deep love, absolute respect and total trust of each other. However the “lifestyle” in no way defines us as a couple, we don’t NEED it for sexual happiness nor is it more than a pleasurable form of play to us.

  • Moushumi Ghose

    Moushumi Ghose

    December 28th, 2013 at 9:13 AM

    John, Thank you so much for your comment. I think it’s so important for people such as yourself to be visible and vocal role models about the lifestyle. I love the comment that the “lifestyle” in no way defines you as a couple. The lifestyle is an addition to a successful and happy relationship, not a replacement of any sort.

  • paul

    paul

    January 4th, 2014 at 8:17 PM

    My wife wants to do this with her ex husband…to the extent of letting him move into our home. I dont like the idea at all but that does not seem to make any difference to either one of them. They both all for it (of coarse) I on the other hand think what reagan james said will apply here..my jealousy and insecurity will end up with them getting back together and me being divorced. Advice please…help!!!

  • Moushumi Ghose

    Moushumi Ghose

    January 7th, 2014 at 8:58 AM

    Paul,
    If you don’t like the idea, it doesn’t seem very respectful of your wife to follow through. Have you voiced your concern? A major part of embracing alternatives is also about respect, and communication. Boundaries need to be respected.

  • Rochella

    Rochella

    January 22nd, 2014 at 6:14 PM

    Ive been thinking about exploring the alternative lifestyles wit my husband lately. Unfortunately a couple of months ago i found out that he has been in the lifestyle b4 he even met me. I felt betrayed, cheated on & hhurt. But one of my guilty pleasure has been abt him cheating on me then he comes home to me n ill punish him sexually or just him having sex with another woman. But cheating is agaisnt my moral. I would never want him or me to cheat on each other. I fully forgive him for his lifestyle coz his intention was not 2 hurt me thts why he kept it a secret. But now im confuse abt my sexuality. He said im bisexual. I thought he meant im a lesbian but he explained it to me. He is ok wit it n want to explore it. I dont want to be “bi” but I thnk I am. I need help coz now im having urges to b wit a woman again sexually or longterm.

  • Carla

    Carla

    August 3rd, 2014 at 4:18 PM

    I have to TOTALLY agree with John. My husband and I of 11 years have been in the “swingers Lifestyle” now for about a year. We are also VERY in love and our sex life is fabulous. There is never any issues with trust or insecurities as we are very open with communication. If something does not feel right we walk away. The swingers club nearby has opened a world that many just daydream of. Like anything else, people shouldn’t knock it till they try it. Fifty shades is a fairytale. This is reality.

  • Kelly

    Kelly

    September 26th, 2014 at 10:15 AM

    So my husband and I are just new to the lifestyle…my idea and he was on board. We’ve already been with one couple twice and it’s been fun. But we’re having issues becuz where it turns him on me being with another man and I’m OK with him being with another woman…what I’m having issues with is the texting her. We finally have found an awesome couple that both text us but I’m feeling like I’m out of the loop somehow when him and her have a conversation. We both can look at each others phones but I keep myself from looking.

  • Moushumi Ghose

    Moushumi Ghose

    September 27th, 2014 at 6:47 AM

    Kelly, It sounds like it is a good time to talk about some rules and boundaries in the arrangement. Even if you don’t change the rules, it is important to talk about your feelings on an ongoing and regular basis. Like relationships, open relationships require ongoing and constant maintenance, sometimes even more so due to the delicate emotions involved. Bring it up now, so it doesn’t become an even bigger issue later, make some rules or boundaries around it which you are both comfortable with, and revisit and revise the guidelines as needed.

  • Chris

    Chris

    April 22nd, 2015 at 12:08 PM

    So some advice would be really helpful. My husband has been consistent in telling me over the past few years that he does not believe in monogamy lasting forever, and that physical attraction to other people or sex with other people would never harm our relationship. So after thinking this through and realizing I may enjoy a little extra spice once in a while, we decided to try having an open relationship. We set some ground rules of nothing that could threaten our relationship and always be safe, etc.

    Well, in Feb he was gone for work travel for 5 weeks. And during that time he met a woman who he started sleeping with. He didn’t tell me about this at all until he returned home and I noticed something was very different. I kept jokingly inquiring if he’d been laid or something, and he finally admitted it. But did not say anything else about it, so I passed it off as a fling and forgot about it. The next few days I noticed he was disappearing on his phone a whole lot, and he has never done that before. When I questioned him, he told me he was still talking to the woman he’d been with. I told him that made me uncomfortable because the rules were no threats to our relationship, and if he was going to have an on-going relationship with this woman that infringes on our relationship, I didn’t think I could handle it.

    He got very upset and told me that I was the only one threatening our relationship by trying to make him stop talking to someone he loves. Which was when the bombshell came out that he feels he loves this other woman. He then told me that he can love her and me too, and that I shouldn’t be upset by that. But to me, that clearly defied the rules we set in the beginning.

    He was very secretive about who she was and when they were seeing each other, and even convinced me not to join him on a work trip during the week of our anniversary because he planned to take her with him (which I did not know) and then expected me to be fine with it and not upset. When I did get upset it melted down into more tirades about how I promised I would be okay with the situation and having an open relationship and how I can’t trap him into finding someone he cares about and then change my mind.

    But I CAN change my mind, right? If we try it and he obviously wants something other than what he portrayed he wanted in the beginning (which was just sex), I should have every right to change my mind.

    I am not in a position where I am forced to pretend I am okay with it, and where I am in the position of having to “rebuild our trust” all because I have been very upset, and have tried to be okay with the situation, but have found that I could not handle it and broken down again. So it’s either I deal with it quietly and hope this thing with her fizzles and we can revisit having an open relationship, or I just pretend I’m okay and try to get my life in order so I can leave without destroying everything (he keeps threatening that if we can’t find a way to all be happy together he’s going to just walk out of all our lives, leaving me to fend for myself with our mortgage, business, daughter, family fallout, etc., which I have said is emotional abuse, but somehow it keeps coming back to me being the one who caused this by trying to be okay and then changing my mind when I couldn’t handle it or found out more things that hurt too much).

    So there’s my long sordid tale. Any advice? Anyone been in a similar situation? Is there any point in trying to save my marriage or should I just give up?

  • Moushumi Ghose

    Moushumi Ghose

    April 24th, 2015 at 7:47 AM

    Chris, Thanks for your comment. It sounds like your husband might be gas lighting you a bit (i.e. turning the blame around on you) when he was being secretive and it sounds like breaking the agreement you had, as demonstrated by when he was taking calls from her in private. Was he honest about it? Infidelity can happen, even in open relationships, when one person breaks the agreed upon terms. This sounds like more than an open relationship issue,but one of broken agreements/trust/infidelity. Open relationships only work when all parties involved are honest and respectful. It doesn’t sound like you were respected in this scenario.

    Questions to ask yourself? What is your bottom line? Are you okay with him breaking the vow of trust (read: not fidelity) in your relationship? regardless of whether you like an open relationship scenario that has to be your first question. If you determine he did not break your trust and that you are okay with that part, can you accept him having a girlfriend? If the answer is: maybe, then try to determine what your clauses are, to stay in the relationship. Communicate those to him directly and see if he agrees. IE. He has to spend 3 nights a week with you, for example. Decide what you think will work, and then remember it is always up for negotiation so talk it over, as often as needed, and understand, YES, the rules can change to accommodate everyone’s needs. All parties need to be comfortable with the rules. Hope this helps.

  • Chris

    Chris

    May 6th, 2015 at 11:56 AM

    Unfortunately, no. I’m not okay with him having a girlfriend because that was the one thing I made very clear in the beginning. I was okay with sexual partners who did not invade our life in any other way, and who never came first before me (and vice versa of course).

    The real issue with the boundaries is the secrecy and the direct breach of what I could live with. I may have been able to come around to the idea of him having some feelings for this woman had it been clear I was still first. But instead, he has been carrying on conversations with her via text constantly. Including when he is with me, supposedly giving me time. As an example, when in bed together or cuddled on the couch watching a movie, he is texting her non-stop. She is the first person he talks to in the morning, before me, and the last person he talks to at night. And he sneaks off to see her as much as he can, meanwhile telling me I am overreacting and I don’t understand the connection they have or the needs she is fulfilling, but that she cannot be a life partner for him in the practical sense.

    But I do not want to be a life partner in the practical sense if everything else that I need is being given to someone else. I’m not up for the two wives scenario. And it seems like that’s what he wants, except he wants me to accept her as his emotional support and connected intimate relationship, and have me be okay with being the business partner and friend with some sexual thrown in for my benefit, but to not get that closeness.

    The whole thing has felt very disrespectful and frankly makes me feel unloved. Because each time we’ve reached an agreement, he goes to see her again, I get hurt again, and he gets angry at me for being hurt. When shouldn’t someone who loves you and claims they are putting you first want to stop doing things they see are hurting you? So how then can he say he loves me, if his actions show he will drop everything to comfort her (including sacrificing my feelings about it), but will not offer me any comfort whatsoever.

  • Phil

    Phil

    May 28th, 2015 at 8:30 PM

    Just like to say open relationships can work well for some people. My wife and I have been married for over thirty years and have had an open relationship for all of that time. We didn’t want to change the person we fell in love with so allow each other sexual freedom.
    We have enjoyed a variety of experiences together and separately and always talk about who/what we are doing. Some of our sex partners are long time friends others one short meeting only. My wife has many more sexual meetings with people because of my work commitments and we are very sexual together at home.
    The main difficulty is that we are careful to conceal our lifestyle from our parents, kids and grand kids.

  • ROXANNE

    ROXANNE

    November 23rd, 2015 at 1:04 PM

    I haven’t had a fulfilling sex life since 2008! To each it’s own and I commend those who love each other deeply and enjoy every aspect of an alternative lifestyle. My personal and sexual life became one big inconvenient joke after , ever since I’d stated to a partner I was attracted to women. Wow, that’s like most men’s harbored fantasy. I suppose that’s why I was committed to Life help services bcuz certainly something had to be wrong with my mind spirit and soul. Now I suppose my being alone is funny like me. Live and be estaticlly HAPPY with or without others prudish opinions, especially if they aren’t what bring you sexual and emotional satisfaction

  • Dyedehsan

    Dyedehsan

    October 13th, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    Great work. Sexual lifestyle and relationship is important is sexual life.

  • Michelle

    Michelle

    October 25th, 2016 at 6:45 PM

    Omg. The Serpent Beast strikes again. Btw weren’t you one of those poor unfortunate women begging for us to wake up OUR God?

    Instead, you brought yours to our soil. How sweet.

  • Phil

    Phil

    January 15th, 2017 at 6:13 PM

    I am shocked that I have not heard men who have turned to men for pleasure. I am aware of so many. Had one experience a few years ago and enjoyed it. Too close to the wife to further a new relationship. We are in our late sixties. Any comments?

  • Ken

    Ken

    February 1st, 2017 at 2:01 PM

    Well, there are three types of “male relationships” that I have heard of, two of which I have experience with. The first is male-on-male, a bisexual/homosexual experience. I had a friend who was completely bisexual, and he had both a girlfriend and a boyfriend…worked out well for the three of them.

    The second is having a threesome with another guy….two separate friends and I enjoyed that…a woman between us, but we had no contact. It has an appeal, but again, that isn’t the same as having a male partner.

    The final one, I had a male friend that I was really close to. We were not sexual, but we were everything but sexual. It was like a brother-sort of thing, but we both really were quite close. We were mistaken for a couple on more than one occasion. It was an emotional attachment, to be sure, and for a time, we thought about buying a place together and staying single (unmarried) and just dating everything in a skirt. We were both recently divorced and pretty damned bitter, so that may have been part of it. Still, it was an odd relationship…we had a falling out, and he later passed…and one I have never had since. But, it was interesting!

  • Rick

    Rick

    May 30th, 2018 at 6:57 PM

    Yes it must have been interesting, you however fail to mention the exploitative nature that these relationships tend to devolve into. Also you fail to mention that chastity lifestyle can help persons gain control of their lives.
    Also apparently many of you folks who Prat ice “Alternate life Styles” have never experienced an out of body life and death experience. I have had this I can tell you that when I reach that place again i want to be ready and I want to Know that the redeemer lives. Do not denigrate this because you cannot know unless you have personally been there. Most … nay all persons I have spoken with about this state that it changed their life perspective, on what moral behavior constitutes. Here’s to all persons Gay,Bi,Swingers, Transsexuals,and what ever other life-Style you encounter. That your find the Lord of Grace. I am yours most Humbly In Christ.
    Rick King II Corinthians 3:18.

  • Rhonda

    Rhonda

    April 4th, 2017 at 10:50 AM

    Thank you for your article. It is spot on. our traditional marriage is awesome and we also are occasional swingers. The lifestyle is much more than what people think it is. being around like minded people that arent insecure and jealous is what it about. we have been in it for 25 years and it has always brought spice into our marriage. its not about sex. we have only swapped about 4 times. its about the comfort level of your relationship. if you want to try it out its worth a look. Always make rules, and dont cross them. honesty and dont hide anything. Or it will not work.

  • Kevin O.

    Kevin O.

    October 24th, 2017 at 2:14 PM

    I’M 58 AND WOULD TO LIKE TO EXPLORE ALTERNATIVE TYPES OF LIFE STYLES, HOMOSEXUALITY,Swingers, B&D, S&m, and any other, I’m tired of the same old same old and hoping you may direct me, I live in the somerset area of P.A

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