Can An Open Marriage Save A Marriage?


    6 Min Read


    Marriage is traditionally defined as a union between two people. Within this union there are many promises made, but foremost among them is the promise to be faithful, and intimate only with the person that you’ve married.

    But what if the married couple wants to rewrite the rules and create an open marriage thinking it will make things better?


    Is it possible that an open marriage could save a troubled marriage?

    The concept of an open marriage isn’t a new one. Open marriages have existed for years.

    There are a number of reasons people cite for creating an open marriage and a number of ways they justify it.

    • Creating a stronger relationship

    • Lack of intimacy in the marriage

    • A means to avoid cheating

    • Keeping things fun and fresh

    are a few.

    But does it really work?

    Can creating an open marriage actually make things stronger?


    What Is An Open Marriage?

    It seems rather straightforward, right? You might think an open marriage is simply one where each partner is allowed to spend time with other people in an intimate way.

    It’s not quite that simple.

    Open marriages are defined as those where a married couple agree to having a non-monogamous relationship.

    This can mean that partners are allowed to engage with other people in either emotional or sexual ways. Not always both doing so at the same time.

    Often couples who call their marriage “open” will attempt to place rules and parameters on how things actually work. The goal being to enhance or save the relationship and fulfill needs, rather than to threaten it.

    This doesn’t always work in the way it is intended, however.

    These “rules” can involve the,

    • Amount of time you’re allowed to spend with any one person

    • Level of connection you’re allowed to develop

    • Kind of sex you’re allowed to have

    or any number of other particulars.

    Creating the parameters for an open relationship can be quite complicated and isn’t often done very well.


    In fact, one of the most common problems when people attempt an open marriage is that these rules are not well thought out, realistic, or followed.

    Why Do People Want An Open Marriage?

    The overwhelming reason people will give for engaging in an open marriage is that they feel it will somehow make their relationship stronger.

    The claim is that it’s impossible for one person to fulfill all of someone else’s needs and that by removing the pressure to be everything to each other you’ll be able to focus on the things that make you stronger as a couple.

    Some also claim that by creating an open relationship you automatically avoid the hurt of cheating should it occur, and the difficulty of fixing the relationship afterward.

    The thought is that by allowing intimacy with other people under certain circumstances you create a stronger and more honest relationship. No need to sneak, lie, and hide.

    And then there are some couples who have differing sexual desires and, rather than split up, they agree – with rules – to let one another seek sexual fulfillment with other people.

    Sexual incompatibility in a relationship is not uncommon, especially as a relationship ages. Frequency of sex (or no sex in the marriage at all), type, and specific sexual desires can all change over time.

    If partners aren’t willing to work together to meet each other’s needs they may see an “open” relationship as a way to save the marriage or solve the problems.


    Dr. Kurt has worked with couples who’ve turned to the open marriage concept as a way to save their marriage. When asked about it he said,

    I've counseled a number of couples trying to make an open relationship work. In fact, one couple right now is trying to decide whether or not to do it to save their marriage. One of the common reasons these couples seek my help is that it's not working out as they had expected. It's also common that it's more the man pushing for opening up the marriage than it is the woman. While nearly all of them deny that it's about wanting to have sex with other people, that's always a big factor. Some other commonalities are a lack of clear, well-thought-out rules and boundaries - a misguided belief or hope that this will make the relationship better when it just complicates and devalues it; and an underestimation of the emotional and self-esteem issues that will arise."

    Can An Open Marriage Really Help A Relationship?

    The short answer is no, it really doesn’t.

    There are a number of reasons for that. Let’s look at just a few.

    The Rules

    It sounds very mature and rather evolved, right?

    Two people love and trust each other so much that they’re willing to allow others into their lives and take the time to define the rules for doing so.

    This way no one gets hurt.

    Nice idea, but it doesn’t work that easily.

    Rules are good on paper, but emotions don’t generally adhere well to rules. If you’re attracted enough to someone to get involved with them on any intimate level, following guidelines for that involvement will be challenging.

    And all it takes is one slip-up that breaks the rules to cause a major problem in the relationship you’re trying to protect. Or, put you in a position where you lie or hide things, which is precisely what you were trying to avoid.



    One of the goals of an open relationship is to avoid jealousy.

    If you’re so bonded to one another that you can allow other people in there’s no reason to get jealous, right?

    Humans by nature aren’t really programmed that way.

    No matter how evolved you think you are, knowing that the person you love is sharing the most intimate parts of themselves with someone else, or finding emotional fulfillment and happiness that you’re not able to provide, is not easy to accept.

    If you’re truly so detached that it doesn’t matter to you at all, you should consider whether there are other things about your relationship that need evaluation and addressing.

    Devaluation and self-esteem issues

    It would be hard not have the question floating around in your head, Am I not enough?” when your partner actively wants to be with other people.

    It is impossible to be everything to someone, so friendships and outside interests are important. But when your partner tells you that they want to emotionally or physically connect with someone else on an intimate level - even if you both agreed to it - it will start to eat at your self-esteem.

    This can cause a vicious cycle.

    You may now start to work for attention from others just to feel like you’re enough to someone. This can push your partner to do even more of the same and then emotions can develop the others that cause rules to be broken.

    It's a cop out

    Having your cake and eating it too – sounds perfect!

    But when you commit to one person through marriage it’s just that, a commitment. No one said it would be easy or without sacrifice, and it isn’t.

    It sounds daunting - one person for the rest of your life. But, if you’ve met and want to marry the right person, it’s also something that you willingly agree to.

    Marriage is not one person until you get bored.

    When a relationship gets to the point of boredom or dissatisfaction there are a number of more thoughtful and serious ways to work on things while honoring your commitment to each other.

    And if you start your relationship as an open one, and at no point want it to be exclusive, perhaps you need to think about whether it’s the right relationship.

    If you think that an open marriage might save your marriage it would be wise to take a closer look at the reasons that are propelling you that way. It may seem like the perfect solution to the problems you’re having, but it’s more likely a band aid and only masking the real issues. Not only that, but it’s likely that you will, along the way, only add more problems to the ones you already have.

    Before considering an open relationship it might be a better idea to try reconnecting with your spouse and developing a plan that creates satisfaction with each other rather than involving others.

    You may find you need help in doing this and that's okay. In the end your marriage is likely to be stronger for it.


    What To Take Away

    Marriage can be hard at times. No one tells you a lot about the hard parts when you get started, but they’re definitely there.

    It’s not surprising that couples would want to find a way to liven things up and keep that “new relationship” feeling alive. And for many an open relationship seems like a reasonable idea to save their marriage.

    But, if you’re thinking about an open marriage remember the following:

    • Sharing someone you love with someone else in the most intimate emotional and physical ways can be even harder than your marriage.

    • Setting new “rules” can make things even harder because they’re bound to be broken.

    • Using an open marriage as a way to permissibly have affairs will undermine your relationships with everyone.

    • To make your marriage stronger you need to work on your marriage, not create new romantic relationships with others.

    My best advice is before you consider an open marriage as a way to save your marriage, do your research. And consider speaking with an experienced and knowledgeable counselor. Chances are you’ll rethink your decision and find more productive ways to make your marriage better.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published on June 6, 2018, and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.


    Looking for More? Check Out These Articles

    Read Comments from Others with Similar Experiences - Click 'View full post' below or scroll down

    Like what you read?

    Guy Stuff's Counseling Men Blog shares real stories from our counseling sessions, giving practical solutions and answers to the challenges men and women face.

    Use your email to subscribe below.

    Subscribe to get in-depth articles, right in your inbox: