This week's question:
"In your professional opinion, is it even fathomable to think a marriage after 15 years could ever be an open one? "
Yes. Absolutely, any relationship could be an open one.
But it may not be easy to get started.
There are a couple big hurdles in the way for most people who've been practicing monogamy a long time. First, there's a HEAP of cultural conditioning you're going to face and second, there's a skillset required if you're going to stay together- skills most of us never received training for.
As far as the cultural conditioning part, that is something most my clients call a mindset shift. We often talk about it as of they've been able to see the Matrix (yes, I am seriously dating myself here) and once they can see it, they never think about relationships the same way again.
The thing is, there are a lot of default assumptions we base relationships on in our culture- but we rarely check those assumptions. A large part of putting ethical non-monogamy into practice is checking assumptions.
Here's one example: I'm presuming you and your spouse have been practicing monogamy for the last 15 years. If so, have you ever talked about what the boundaries of your monogamy are? Most folks don't. But in ten years of asking couples I rarely have clients who are 100% on the same page about their monogamy expectations. Here are some of the things I hear:
- We'd never have sex (oral, anal, or vaginal) with anyone else but we do kiss some friends hello
- I expect you'll never be alone with someone of the opposite gender in a private space
- I don't think we should dance with other people
- We don't get naked with members of the opposite sex (except massage tables)
- We don't hold hands or sit touching other people
- I would never share secrets with anyone else
- We don't make future plans with people we're attracted to
Usually, couples I see are clear on one of those items, but most of them are unclear about the rest. I often recommend couples try getting clear about their current/standing monogamy agreements before trying to discuss ethical non-monogamous agreements.
As far as the skills, they're easy to outline but more difficult to practice. Really practicing non-monogamy ethically means being much more careful and intentional about the promises and commitments you make, the expectations you hold, and the personal work you do to regulate difficult emotions.
It's usually really helpful to hire a support person to help you learn the skills and practice them with support.
So, like I said, yes, ABSOLTELY you can open any relationship- if you're willing to do the work of shifting perspective, learning and implementing new skills. Let me know if you'd like help along the way.
Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a retired couples therapist, sex educator and relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and keeping non-traditional relationships healthy and vibrant.
She can help you:
- rediscover passion in long-term relationships
- repair trust after infidelity or dishonesty
- move past jealousy, insecurity or codependecy
- open your relationship and practice polyamory with care
- resolve sexual dysfunction and disconnection
- break stale or unhealthy communication patterns
Contact her for a free consultation to see if working with her is right for you.