Dr. West


Open Relationships -

Ten Rules for

Open Marriages


First, it needs to be understood that some open marriages are successful and have continued for decades -- especially if they are considered supplements or enhancements to the marriage and are not a replacement for the role of a spouse.

This article discusses the qualities of successful open marriages.

However, the vast majority of couples -- at least in U.S. society --  can't handle an open marriage.

Following the Rules

       Without some "rules" being mutually discussed and agreed upon, jealousy, insecurity and anger can emerge within an open marriage.

However, it has been found that if these rules are carefully followed these negatives can drop to a low and manageable level.

  •  The following assumes that there is mutual agreement between the primary partners that the relationship can be "open."  If this is not the case (trust us on this!), problems will inevitably result.

The Ten Rules for Open Marriages

       Although we use the term marriage here, we'll include the hundreds-of-thousands of couples are now living together.

1. The primary relationship will always remain primary. With this level of freedom comes an equal level of responsibility. If one or both partners in the outside relationship start to become unduly involved with the other, that outside relationship must end.

2. The marriage partner has the option of disapproving a particular outside relationship.

3. One spouse will check with the other before meetings with an outside partner. If conflicts occur the decision will favor the needs or plans of marriage partner.

4. Meeting with any one outside person cannot take place on a daily basis. Regularly seeing just one outside person can easily result in undue personal and emotional involvement.

5. On person can't claim, "what's okay for me isn't okay for you."  If the marriage is "open" then it is open to both partners. A possible exception here is, by agreement, so-called hotwife arrangements.*

6. If one spouse is meeting another person, the other spouse must at all times know where he or she is and with whom.  This is especially important if a spouse plans an overnight stay or if children are involved.

7. Comparing the supposedly superior or more gratifying capabilities of "the other person" with those of a spouse is strictly "off limits."

8. Safe sex precautions and procedures will be rigorously adhered to.

9. There will be "full disclosure" at all times and meetings or conversations with the outside person will not be kept secret from a spouse.

10. And, finally, no outside relationship can in any way endanger another person's monogamous marriage or relationship.

       Based in our e-mail, we know that when problems arise in open marriages it's when one or more of the above rules are broken. 

Related to the above are the five rules found elsewhere on this site. 

       In most cases therapists advise against opening a marriage. There are exceptions, and in some cases opening a marriage has saved it. See "Better Than Cheating and Divorce."

* Some husbands, especially those who have lost sexual abilities and are married to much younger women, may not personally be interested in an outside sexual relationship.

 However, they may encourage their wives to meet their sexual needs with selected men. In this case it's more of a hotwife agreement than an open marriage. 


NOTE: Sexual disease, especially AIDS, is a major problem. It is estimated that almost of half of people with sexually-transmitted infections don't tell a new partner. Sex with anyone other than a trusted partner requires protection - generally in the form of a condom. Although if properly used, condoms provide a high degree of protection, that protection is not 100%.

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