What is an open marriage?

Couple contemplating an open marriage

This relationship arrangement is built around trust and communication. Open marriages have been a longstanding concept of society and in recent years have gained mainstream recognition thanks to public figures who are open about engaging in one. In an open marriage couples agree on mutually beneficial arrangements and can grow or adapt those arrangements via good communication and openness. Historically it’s been a taboo subject that was mostly discussed in private but now you can and will find people openly discussing the relationship dynamic. 

Is an open marriage possible? Tell me the truth

Short answer – Yes. One of the pillars of any relationship is communication and an open marriage is very much the same. Just like your “typical” relationship an open marriage requires the same effort and commitment by all parties involved. Having clear goals and guidelines, being open and honest and being good communicators all lend themselves to a successful open marriage.

Terminology Of An Open Marriage

As you dive into learning more about open marriages you will come across terminology that might be new to you. As an example: 

  • Polyamory
  • Full Swap
  • Cuckold
  • Monogamish

These are just a few of the terms you will definitely learn about and each has its unique meaning. Be sure to read more about the terminology of an open marriage in our Ultimate ENM Glossary.

What are the different forms an open marriage can take?

The different forms of an open marriage will and can be unique based on those that are creating them. Each relationship is beautifully different and the same goes for one that is open. How the relationship develops will be based on many factors such as each participant’s wants and desires, their willingness to explore and what boundaries they might have.

Part of the fun is forming what it can and might be and being in that NRE (New Relationship Energy) while you develop it!

Face jealousy (and crushes) head on

All relationships hit roadblocks. But each instance is an opportunity to get to a new level of understanding and openness if you are willing to really dive deep into the situation you are being presented with. Can jealousy happen – you bet! But so can compersion and when you do come up against jealousy as we all do it allows you the opportunity to learn more about yourself and your relationship.

Crushes can also happen in an open marriage and that is ok as long as they are within your ethical rules and as long as you are open about that crush with your partner. The biggest asset an open marriage has is the want and need for open communication. Simply telling your partner the truth in a loving and caring way opens up the possibilities for pretty much anything.

What if my partner and I don’t agree on opening our marriage?

This is an opportunity to reflect on your needs and to better understand how important an open marriage is to you. Keep in mind that people need to typically be enrolled in things so maybe that disagreement is based on not knowing enough or not knowing why clearly enough.

Keeping the idea and communication alive, as long as it is being openly accepted, can help your partner better understand where you are coming from and what’s the benefit of exploring an open relationship. If you come up against this in your initial dive into an open marriage be sure to read our article on how to convince your partner to swing, it might help!

Tell me the difference between open marriages, polyamory, polygamy, ethical non-monogamy and just plain cheating?

They are all similar and are all very different and anyone you ask to define or explain these relationship activities will give you a different perspective. Typically an open marriage, polyamory, ENM, and even polygamy to a certain extent are based on love, communication and trust whereas cheating is a violation of those same three relationship pillars.

There is a saying you might hear or read as you investigate open marriages:

It’s not cheating if my partner is there!

Mull that one over – it’s very poignant and hits to the heart of a successful marriage. Communication and inclusion.

Reasons For An Open Marriage

Everyone has their own reasons and you will need to understand what yours are before you jump into developing your own. Are you in it to add to your existing relationship, are you seeking something that you feel is lacking, is it just about the occasional exciting encounter or is it just something you want to try out once.

Regardless of what your personal reason is, be sure to understand it and be open to hearing what your partners’ reason is as well.

Set the rules

Rules or boundaries are an important part of any marriage and the same goes for an open one. Knowing clearly what does or doesn’t work for your partner is paramount for success and is something that must be respected at all times.

The great thing about rules and boundaries is that they do change and move as time and experience moves forward so be sure to revisit them often so that yours can grow at the same pace as your relationship needs them to.

Know that you’ll both make mistakes

Mistakes can and will happen but what will define your relationship is how you respond to them. Debriefing after a transgression will help clear the air about what did, or didn’t happen. Coming into that debrief with an open mind and an open heart will help you navigate the issue at hand and potentially grow from it.

Knowing in hindsight things can look much more clearly, listen to your partner as they walk you through the mistake that happened and look for the parts of it that you can understand or see in yourself. Above all else remain clear headed and calm, just like anything it will pass and you will likely look back at the “mistake” as a time where your relationship grew from.

What if I’m interested in open marriage but I don’t know where to start?

There are so many resources out there that you can get lost in the research easily. We advocate that you quickly involve your partner in the process so you can learn and grow together. Finding others to speak to that are already in an open relationship can significantly help as well and you will find many would love to mentor you on your journey!

Talk about your fears and theirs

Putting your fears into words will significantly help reduce them by having them known.

  • I am afraid you will meet someone and leave me for them…
  • I am worried about STI’s…
  • I am worried about my family finding out…

Now that those fears are known, let’s work on a plan to mitigate them. 

When asking for an open marriage, take your time

We all process at different speeds and we always suggest moving at the slowest partner’s speed. Give time and consideration to how it might land on your partner when the subject first gets brought up and be understanding it can be a big hit to the ego until it’s better understood.

It’s not a race, be patient and it it is meant to happen, it will.

An open marriage can be healthy but it won’t save a relationship that’s in trouble

There is nothing an open marriage can do to save a marriage that is already in breakdown. An open marriage can not fill gaps or replace things that are missing. It is also unfair to those that you involve if your relationship is having issues as they might get caught up in something that they did not sign up for.

Coming from a place of strength in your relationship will be the firm foundation you will need to have a successful open marriage.

Maintaining relationships

You might find as you open up your marriage that maintaining some relationships might not be a priority anymore. It happens and that’s ok as we grow in different directions from those currently around us. Just be honest and truthful about which relationships matter and where you want to put your energy so that your partner and you can be on the same page.


There is no right or wrong way to open up your marriage, it will be unique to your special relationship. Be open and honest, be truthful and be willing to truly listen to your partner and work through anything that will come up for your best chance at success.