A friend of mine has said that there are long-term relationships and monogamous relationships, but few long-term monogamous relationships. I think he’s wrong – statistical information suggests that many, perhaps most, male-male couples are monogamous – but certainly many male couples live in relationships that are sexually open – that is, where each partner is free to have sex outside of the relationship.
A major component in making a decision to have a relationship be open or closed is the meaning each partner gives to sex and sexuality. If sex is largely a form of recreation, then opening a relationship will have less impact than if one or both partners view sex as inherently connected with love and intimacy. Most individuals who hold the latter belief will be more comfortable in closed, monogamous couplings.
A couple may choose to open a relationship to spice things up sexually and provide a greater variety of experience. For some couples, that means inviting a third party to join them on occasion. Couples who choose this would do well to talk their feelings through before hand and to pay close attention to what each other is experiencing during the encounter. It is very easy for one person or the other to feel displaced if too much focus is placed on the new person involved.
Occasional sex with an outside party may have little impact on the level of intimacy within a relationship, but if cruising for sex becomes a frequent activity, even the most tolerant partner may find himself feeling jealous, unhappy, displaced. Couples with frequent outside sex would do well to reflect on whether or not this works for them. Are they avoiding the difficult work of intimacy by getting some of their needs met elsewhere? Are they avoiding conflict over their erotic lives, or over some other issue?
Too much avoidance will kill a relationship. If sex outside the partnership is a reflection that one party or the other is withdrawing emotionally from the relationship, the couple is in trouble.
Some couples find it useful to make a distinction between emotional fidelity and sexual monogamy. “I don’t care who Bob has sex with,” one friend said recently, “as long as I’m the only one he’s in love with.” The rub is that some of us find it difficult to build a wall between sharing erotic intimacy and experiencing romantic feelings. Jealousy often gets a bad rap in talk about relationships, but the truth is that few couplings survive with much vitality and energy if jealousy is completely absent.
Whether a relationship is open or monogamous, it is important for each partner to feel that his lover puts him first and above all others. Few men want to live in a relationship where they feel as if they are only part of their lover’s “harem.” Healthy open relationships may take even more care and nurturing than other couplings.
Whether you create a relationship that is monogamous or nonmonogamous will depend on a host of factors: what you believe about sexual ethics and morality, your personal preferences, your tolerance for ambiguity, the nature and compatibility of your sexual desires with those of your partner. Whatever you choose, it is important to look honestly at your motivations and needs and keep in mind that deepening intimacy with your partner is the primary goal of the relationship.
I have been licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years. My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression. My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships.
I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems. My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate. If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.
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