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Close Relationships

Bride price
Ground rules
Open marriage
Platonic love

Open marriage typically refers to a marriage in which the partners agree that each is free to engage in extramarital sexual relationships, without regarding this as sexual infidelity.

The origins of the term open marriage remain obscure. Researchers in the 1960s used the term open marriage to describe individual freedom in choosing marriage partners. [1] [2] Closed marriage meant individuals had to marry someone based on social prohibitions and social prescriptions. Open marriage meant individuals could choose to marry someone based on personal preferences. Nena O'Neill and George O'Neill changed the meaning of the term with the 1972 publication of their book Open Marriage, which sold over 1.5 million copies. The O'Neills conceived open marriage as one that gives each partner room for personal growth and allows each partner to develop outside friendships. Most chapters in the book dealt with non-controversial approaches to revitalizing marriage in areas of trust, role flexibility, communication, identity, and equality. Chapter 16, entitled "Love Without Jealousy," devoted 20 pages to the proposition that an open marriage could include some forms of sexuality with other partners. The concepts of this chapter took root in the cultural consciousness. Popular culture began using the term open marriage as a synonym for sexually non-monogamous marriage, much to the regret of the O'Neills. In the 1977 publication of The Marriage Premise, Nena O'Neill advocated sexual fidelity in the chapter of that name. By then however, the concept of open marriage as sexually non-monogamous marriage had gained a life of its own.

Today, with many committed couples not seeking formal marriage, the term is frequently generalized to open relationship or responsible non-monogamy. The concept of being sexually open versus closed is also sometimes applied to triads or other groups larger than two.

Incidence of open marriage

Main article: Open marriage incidence

The incidence of open marriage refers to the frequency with which open marriage occurs. Several definitional issues complicate attempts to determine the incidence of open marriage. People sometimes claim to have open marriages when their spouses would not agree. Couples may agree to allow extramarital sex but never actually engage in extramarital sex. Some researchers define open marriages in overly narrow terms. Despite these difficulties, researchers have estimated that between 1.7 percent and 6 percent of married people are involved in open marriages. The incidence of open marriage has remained relatively stable over the last two generations.

Open marriage styles

Main article: Open marriage styles

Couples in open marriages may prefer different kinds of extramarital relationships. Couples who prefer extramarital relationships emphasizing love and emotional involvement have a polyamorous style of open marriage. Couples who prefer extramarital relationships emphasizing sexual gratification and recreational friendships have a swinging style of open marriage. These distinctions may depend on psychological factors such as sociosexuality and may contribute to the formation of separate Polyamory and Swinging communities. Despite their distinctions, however, all open marriages share common issues: the lack of social acceptance, the need to maintain the relationship as a couple, and the need to manage jealous rivalry.

Open marriage acceptance

Main article: Open marriage acceptance

Surveys show large majorities of people disapprove of extramarital sexual activity. A few studies show people specifically disapprove of open marriages. Critics have put forward moral, medical, and psychological objections to open marriages. The lack of social acceptance places pressure on couples to hide their open marriages from family, friends, and colleagues. This may limit their social support network, resulting in a loss of psychological and physical health benefits.

Relationship maintenance

Main article: Open marriage relationship

The impact of open marriage on relationships varies across couples. Some couples report high levels of marital satisfaction and have long-lasting open marriages. Other couples drop out of the open marriage lifestyle and return to sexual monogamy. These couples may continue to believe open marriage is a valid lifestyle, just not for them. Still other couples experience serious problems and claim open marriage contributed to their divorces. Scientists do not yet understand why some couples respond positively to open marriage while other couples respond negatively. All couples in open marriages may therefore want to pay attention to their relationship maintenance behaviors.

Jealousy management

Main article: Open marriage jealousy

Couples in open marriage expose themselves to situations that can potentially provoke jealousy. Most couples in open marriages report experiencing jealousy at some point during their marriage. Couples in open marriages also experience jealousy more frequently than couples in sexually monogamous marriages. Ground rules are one way to help manage jealousy in open relationships. However, ground rules may not be sufficient. Couples in open marriages may benefit from a general understanding of jealousy and how to cope with it.

Ground rules

Couples involved in open marriages or relationships typically adopt a set of ground rules to guide their activities. Ground rules in relationships allow partners to coordinate their behaviors so they achieve shared goals with fewer conflicts. Some ground rules are universal in the sense they apply to virtually all relationships in a particular culture. Other ground rules apply to specific kinds of relationships, such as friendships or marriages. Still other ground rules are designed to manage romantic rivalry and jealousy. The ground rules adopted by sexually monogamous couples tend to prohibit behaviors that are viewed as acts of infidelity. The ground rules adopted by sexually open couples tend to prohibit behaviors that provoke jealousy. Partners may change the ground rules of their relationships over time.

Legal issues

The practice of extra-marital sex is often illegal in jurisdictions where adultery is illegal, regardless of whether the partner(s) have given their consent. Open marriage is not the same thing as polygamy, where sexual relationships are kept entirely within the parties to a formally recognised marital arrangement.

Notable people in open marriages

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  • David Lloyd George
  • Dmitri Shostakovich, composer
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay, American poet[3]
  • Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee
  • Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood[1]
  • Havelock Ellis, sexologist[2][3]
  • Nina Hartley, adult film star, director & producer
  • E. Nesbit, British children's author and political activist
  • Vita Sackville-West , Harold Nicolson, and others of the Bloomsbury Group
  • R. Crumb, cartoonist[4]
  • Dick and Naomi Mitchison[5][6]
  • Amelia Earhart, famed aviator
  • David Bowie, rock musician
  • Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester [7]
  • Cindy Margolis, model


  1. Johnson, H.M. (1960). Sociology: A Systematic Introduction. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc.
  2. Jacobsohn, P., & Matheny, A.P. (1963). Mate selection in open marriage systems. In K. Ishwaran and J.M. Mogey (Eds.), Family and Marriage (pp. 98-123). Leiden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, Publisher.
  3. Epstein, Daniel Mark (2001). What Lips my Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay, New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0-8050-6727-2.

See also

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he:נישואים פתוחים]]
pt:Casamento aberto]]
ru:Открытый брак]]
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