“Few people would deny that there has been a shift in the way marriage and intimate relationships have evolved over the past few decades. Most observers agree that the traditional marriage is floundering. While some couples still manage to thrive, they are in the minority. Rising divorce rates, declining marriage rates, and the skyrocketing incidence of infidelity on the one hand, and sexless marriages on the other have many people concerned about their prospects for marital bliss and newly curious about alternatives.” (Deborah Anapol)
Changes in Traditional and Monogamous Relationships
In recent times, there has been a paradigm shift in the thinking and approach to intimate relationships and love. More and more people are seeking alternatives to monogamy. This paradigm shift is being fuelled by the belief that human beings are not naturally monogamous, which makes it far more easy to cheat than to remain faithful. Others think that humans are capable of monogamy throughout their lifetime.
I wrote an article, Open Relationships How Far Will You Go to Save Your Marriage, where I talked about some couples using open relationships as a way of extending the life of their marriage. I first learned about open/polyamorous relationships after a colleague from university suggested it to me. That was years ago. Ever since then, I researched the topic and made some interesting discoveries.
Of course, open relationships are not confined to marriages or even heterosexual relationships. But when I speak of open relationship in this context, I mean between a man and a woman.
This topic is not only taboo but controversial and boy don’t I love a controversy! In fact, I stepped on some toes after publishing the article.
So, the question is, when someone or a couple wants to get involved in an open relationship, is this really their way of legitimizing the infidelity? Many people try to justify why they may cheat or have extra-marital affairs. Others wish to find a way to legitimize the affair(s). So it is important to get a better understanding of open relationships.
Traditionally, a marriage is to be a monogamous union between man and woman. Polygamy and polyamory is still taboo, except in Islamic and other patriarchal cultures where religion allows the man to have more than one wife. There, polygamy (also known as “cheating” in my day-to-day lexicon) is allowed.
What is Polyamory?
Polyamory, in Greek means “many,” amory, in Latin, means “love.” Simply put, polyamory, an alternative to monogamy, is where the couple allows each other to date or get intimate with a third party. There is generally a mutual agreement, but in some cases, one partner may unwillingly agree to polyamory, hoping to win back the affection of the other partner.
And believe it or not, open relationships have structure. In fact, these relationships are guided by rules or supposed ‘code of ethics.’ For example, the couple needs to be totally honest with each other. Imagine tying infidelity to ethics and honesty.
Polyamory is perhaps best known in relation to the couple Morning Glory and Oberon Zell, a married couple who enjoyed both a “live-in triad” (an ongoing ménage a trios) and a six-person group marriage that lasted for many years.
In its purest form, polyamory means no sexual intercourse or other kind of sexual intimacy is allowed. But in its secondary meaning, it connotes a practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships, but with the consent of all parties involved.
What Makes People Decide to Have an Open Relationship?
The idea of being able to love someone else is exciting and appealing to those who subscribe to these forms of relationships. Many people, even married couple, argue that there is nothing wrong polyamory, or cheating as we know, it because human beings are infallible, like variety, and are capable of loving multiple partners at the same time. Others are irked by this practice, because personal morals and religious principles and teachings consider such practices as infidelity.
Deborah Anapol on Relationships with Multiple Partners
Deborah Anapol, Author of, Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners, wrote: “One of the reasons polyamory is at once appealing and threatening is that it brings to the forefront our cultural confusion about the interface between sex and love. In my first book, Love Without Limits, which was published in 1992, I used the term sexuallove to describe the integration of love and sex. However we all know that sex can take place independently of love (even when we are talking about romantic or erotic love) and vice versa. Furthermore, most people who ponder these things, discover that they’re not entirely sure what the distinguishing features are for either sex or love.”
Anapol sees the idea of polyamory as a state of affairs (no pun intended) which is freely and consciously chosen and is a totally different from cheating as we know it.
Sex is Allowed
Permission to have sex with multiple outside partners in open relationship can confuse those espoused to the principles of the traditional one-man-one-woman relationship. For them, consent to have sexual encounters with others can in no way negate the fact that this practice is really cheating, albeit cheating with permission.
However, “more and more people find themselves facing the discovery that lifelong monogamy is more of a mirage than a reality. At the same time, most experts on marriage, family, and sexuality, continue to write and speak as if all extramarital sex falls into the category of infidelity.” (Anapol)
Love But No Sex
Some couples may not agree to allow each other to have sexual intimacy with third parties but would allow loving friendships to form. Whether this form of open relationship fails to meet the definition for cheating is debatable because, for some, emotional affairs are considered a form of infidelity.
Others may argue that since in almost every relationship, one or both parties is likely to cheat at some point, then it may be better to simply permit each other to be involved with and love others, but to do so in an honest and open manner. Honesty and open communication are key factors that sustain multiple partner relationships.
Those who subscribe to an open relationship see honesty and openness as creating and adding integrity to the process. They believe it engenders trust and confidence, which are compromised when someone cheats in a traditional relationship. They won’t have to carry the burden of the betrayal and loss of trust linked to cheating.
Are Open Relationships Immoral?
As society changes, values and value systems change or at least are expected to.
“Any valid discussion of morality in the realm of intimacy must address differing values over the centuries and also in different religious or spiritual groups.
In the Western world, many people believe that the Old Testament injunction against adultery automatically makes polyamory morally unacceptable because this assumption went unchallenged for centuries in the wake of the Inquisition and subsequent wave of witch burnings. Yet everyone knows that many of the Biblical patriarchs has multiple wives and/or concubines.”
For example, Father Abraham, and King Solomon, were they committing adultery? It has been argued, right or wrong, that “the original intention of the commandment was to protect the property rights of men to their women, not to prohibit men or even unmarried women from having multiple partners.” (Anapol)
The bottom line
Right or wrong, moral or immoral, what is cheating is determined by the couple involved in the open or polyamorous relationship. Nevertheless, based on the way things are going, in another couple of decades a large percentage of relationships are likely to evolve into open relationships and open marriages. In the meantime, open relationships equal infidelity for monogamists and conventional relationship absolutists.
What do you think?
- Is having an open relationship an immoral practice?
- Is having an open relationship another way of justifying cheating?
- Does the honesty and openness of polyamorous relationships operate to legitimize cheating?
Edited, updated, and republished November 21, 2020
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