In an insomniac Twitter scrolling session I came across an article published in Psychology Today about the strength of open relationships. The study outlined in the article described some research relating to communication, mutual consent and comfort in different types of relationships ranging from monogamous to open with a couple of categories in between.
The article went on to explain that monogamous and open relationships were high functioning if communication between partners was good. It defined a relationship as partially open or one-sided monogamy if one partner is engaging or wants to engage in extra curricular sex but the other doesn’t. Not surprisingly these relationships did not rate as high functioning. I can’t imagine why. The kicker that made myself and Mr Jones laugh out loud was the concluding paragraphs;
appears to be that mutual consent, comfort, and communication are crucial ingredients—regardless of the type of open relationship. Lacking those, sex outside the relationship can be felt like a betrayal and can put an enormous strain on the couple. As lead author Rogge pointed out, “Secrecy surrounding sexual activity with others can all too easily become toxic and lead to feelings of neglect, insecurity, rejection, jealousy, and betrayal, even in nonmonogamous relationships.”
The research emphasizes that these are important considerations, not only for people engaging in open relationships but in any relationship that the couple hopes to be sustainable and rewarding, long-term.
Really? Someone needed a study to come to that conclusion? Really? Are people that bad at relationships that they need a psychologist to explain how toxic secrecy is to a relationship?
To be fair the regular Joe has a very limited understanding of how open relationships work. In fact anyone not in MY relationship doesn’t understand how MY open relationship works because they are not part of if. Every relationship is different with different norms, rules, boundaries etc. Being open doesn’t change that. There is an assumption amongst monogamists who make up the overwhelming, self-righteous majority of our culture, that open relationships = open slather. Meaning that if I give consent to non-monogamy then my partner and myself are out there fucking every thing that moves without any consideration for the other person’s safety or feelings.
The writer of this article seemed to plan their study from this perspective. The way the final paragraph is written seems to assume that they were thinking that consenting to sex outside the primary relationship means that these activities are not discussed and that there are no boundaries. Certainly there are non-monogamous relationships that do work this way but as the study pointed out they are not robust and lack of communication is going to ultimately bring everything undone.
Mr Jones and myself can’t understand why these findings are such a revelation to the researchers. If communication is the cornerstone of a conventional relationship why wouldn’t it be the cornerstone of an unconventional one? In my experience communication in non-monogamy is even more critical. There are more feelings being juggled, more than two sets of expectations, more than two sets of emotional needs. It is just more complicated so of course there needs to be more communication.
The mystery and urban myths that surround swinging and non-monogamy are sometimes so laughable. Indeed I think sometimes the members of the vanilla world deserves the somewhat derogatory label of “muggle” that I have heard used to refer to them. I hope that studies like this, however obvious the outcomes seem to be to Mr Jones and myself help to debunk some of these myths.
In this world of accepting the alphabet of sexual orientation we still have a long way to go before we start to accept the idea that monogamy is the vanilla of the relationship spectrum and there are so many other valid flavours to try.