I frequently write about family and culture for The New York Times Magazine. Today we're going to talk about open marriages (and relationships), which I wrote about in this past Sunday's cover story. For the better part of a year, I followed a few couples around, and spoke to many others, who were committed to nonmonogamy. I was surprised by how much my reporting forced me to think about my own marriage, and the nature of long-lasting love and commitment. I'm happy to answer any questions I can, and hear your thoughts on the subject of monogamy, polyamory and everything in between. UPDATE: Wrapping up here, but thank you all so much for your interest!

And you can read the story here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/11/magazine/is-an-open-marriage-a-happier-marriage.html

Proof: https://twitter.com/susandominus/status/863031850113130503

Comments: 114 • Responses: 15  • Date: 

akjkakjk25 karma

Were there life things, not even specifically about relationships, that talking to these couple made you question? I really enjoyed this piece -- it didn't make me think this is a thing I want to do but made me question how much I'm tied to social constructs even if I think I'm not. Also, what was the process like to source these couples and convince them to do it, and to not change their minds about working with you?

Susandominus7 karma

Thanks so much for these questions! You know, I initially wanted to write about how couples recover from an infidelity, and that turned out to be incredibly challenging. There's so much shame around that. But people in open relationships are all about authenticity, and trying to be transparent. I also think they feel a huge sense of pride in what they are doing that contrasts painfully with the judgment they feel from others. So I was fortunate that people were extremely cooperative and open with me. I also love your question about whether it made me question other constructs--because it definitely did. Something that Zaeli said really struck me, about how families are so atomized and boundaried. It just hit me that yes, there are so many other ways things could work...

akjkakjk6 karma

reminded me of feelings I would have watching the show Big Love and how it seemed really unfair to the women but sometimes nice that they had each other. not to compare these relationships to that show but made me Q my preconceived notions. thanks for responding!

Susandominus0 karma

My pleasure. I would say that Ixi and Zaeli (whom I wrote about in the piece, Ixi is dating Zaeli's husband) started out with a pretty awkward meeting, but the two of them have become even in the past few months quite close. They have in common a way of seeing the world (nonmonogamy) and an appreciation for the same man.

Susandominus3 karma

I want to know if there were life things, as you put it, that the piece made you question, beyond relationships!

akjkakjk5 karma

It really made me question how you approach romantic relationships -- you're aiming to find one person that you are willing to be monogamous with, and even if it's for love, it's definitely for emotional security. And talking about it with my partner on an intellectually level was still kind of awkward -- I'm guessing many people had the same awkward convos after reading your story! Also made me think the romcom industrial complex warps our minds.

Susandominus5 karma

I had friends tell me they hid the magazine from their partners, rather than risk getting involved in a conversation that might go somewhere uncomfortable.

elielieli55414 karma

Did these couples actually seem happier?

Susandominus14 karma

So sorry I missed this! Well, one of the marriages I wrote about, as I mention elsewhere on this thread, did end in divorce. I think they actually were closer in their marriage after that year of openness, but the structure of openness was simply not sustainable for the husband, who is an introvert, and someone who really craves the safety of monogamy. But the main couple I followed absolutely ended up happier than they maybe have been since they first fell in love years ago. I don't mean that as an endorsement, overall, for openness--I just watched them, over the course of the year, really dedicate themselves to reinventing their marriage and finding new ways to focus on loving each other. They surprised each other so much over the course of the year. It's as if they went on some exotic adventure and saw themselves tested in ways they never had been--and were mutually impressed with what they observed, and had not anticipated as possible in the other.

almondparfitt9 karma

Did you spend much time with the kids of the parents in these relationships? You touched on the older boy and the younger daughter of the main couple and thought their different reactions were interesting (and understandable).

Susandominus6 karma

I did not spend enough time with those kids to have strong theories, and I did not want to write much about them, since they were not the ones happy to cooperate--their parents were. In her book, The Rules Do Not Apply, the wonderful Ari Levy writes about her discomfort with her parents' open marriage back in the eighties. I would say that her parents were not as open and transparent as many of the couples I wrote about, which may have been a huge part of it, but certainly not the only part. The research on kids in open marriages is not vast--but then again, we do know that divorce is hard on children, and many of these families were trying very hard to avoid that, I would say.

positive_electron426 karma

  1. What were some of your most surprising findings?

  2. What advice would you give to a couple thinking about experimenting?

Thanks!

Susandominus10 karma

Hi, thanks for chiming in. I was really surprised that people told me the very act of opening their marriage changed their sexuality--in her book about the year she opened her marriage, Robin Rinaldi talked about being interested, or capable, or talking dirty in bed for the first time in her life. One woman told me that after she opened up her relationship, she realized she actually could act on sexual fantasies that she had about seeing other women--now she thinks of herself as bisexual. I was not expecting that. The advice I would give is really straightforward:Both people have to really interrogate whether they are truly being honest with each other, and both really want it. One couple I wrote about it ventured into openness really to accommodate the desires of one person in the relationship. That was the husband. He had amazing experiences over the course of the year, but he really just never felt comfortable with nonmonogamy. The only time he was happy for his wife about a date she had lined up, he told me was after he told her he wanted a divorce. And couples' therapy probably wouldn't hurt for anyone wanting to try this at home; if communications skills are wanting, or discussions generally and quickly turn into accusations and arguments, it's unlikely that something this challenging will proceed without great pain on both sides.

janeetcetc6 karma

Do you expect legal issues to rise around open marriages? Especially with that situation with the boyfriend who lives with the couple and does most of the childcare/housework.

blake_wilson22 karma

Hi /u/janeetcetc, I am that boyfriend. The line that clearly stated I do more of the day to day childcare was a misunderstanding/ miscommunication between us and Susan. We've been trying to get a correction issued online but seems the Times can't really prioritize it at this point. Last summer I worked less because the toddler wasn't in daycare, but now the child care is equitable. I do do most of the cooking but that's just because I enjoy and am good at it. With more adults in a household you can afford to be more specific about the division of labor.

As for legal issues? I'd be naive to ignore that I'm not more legally vulnerable. I'm a renter in their house, I have no legal rights as a father, but it's a tradeoff I accept to be a part of something I believe in. And the trust and communication level this situation dictates means we've discussed all of these things. We've talked about what happens if we break up, or if circumstances dictate that I'd have to move out. Both bio parents agree her life is better with me in it, and none of us think a romantic relationship is necessary for co-parenting. There are no guarantees in life, even in marriage, even in the law, so it's a leap of faith we're all willing to make.

Susandominus5 karma

Blake, thank you so much for adding this comment, I wish I'd thought to bring up the point about your equitable childcare arrangement sooner. As you point out, there's an entire fathers' rights movement built around poor enforcement of child visitation rights even for biological fathers.

Susandominus5 karma

The third party involved with someone in an open marriage, helping to raise a child in their family, is, of course, legally vulnerable--what would his visitation rights be, and who would back them up, were the relationship to dissolve in the future?

Susandominus3 karma

Although--check out this article from 2002, about a fascinating ruling in the state of California: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/08/us/custody-case-in-california-paves-way-for-fathers.html

alcoholictrashpanda2 karma

Why non-monogamy rather than polygamy? Seems calculated and weighted.

Susandominus15 karma

Oh, because the people I wrote about are not actually married to more than one spouse, which is what polygamy generally implies.

yep52 karma

Did working on the piece cause you to have any personal insights about your own marriage or romantic relationships? To the extent that you're comfortable sharing, of course!

Thanks for a fascinating article.

Susandominus5 karma

Yes, it really did. I never got to the point of being interested in opening my own marriage; but the devotion and care that some of these couples showed in their own relationships inspired me to want to double down on honest conversation with my own husband about some of the most meaningful subjects there are; sex is just one of them.

WingedSandals2 karma

Hey Susan! This was such a long piece that you worked on for so long, what was the hardest thing to cut out of the article?

Susandominus4 karma

I really did love the conversations I had with the kids--but I feel good about not including them more, since it's hard to say whether they really wanted to be interviewed, or were doing so at their parents' request. They were terrific and smart kids.

TriumpOfTheWill1 karma

Do you personally find the concept of monogamous relationships to be outmoded or are you simply interested in discussing these alternative lifestyles?

Susandominus6 karma

I definitely do not think monogamy is outmoded. I am more interested in the idea that other forms of marriage might also be making small inroads into the mainstream, via dating apps, especially, which have given openness official and sort of neutral terminology (such as consensual or ethical nonmonogamy). Marriage rates have been dropping steadily, yet Americans love the institution of marriage; how will it inevitably evolve with the times to accommodate more individuality, more range in lifestyle? That's the question that interests me.

PrestigeMaster1 karma

So the obvious question seems to be how are the kids taking it?

In your experience did you meet any of the children from these families? Do they view everyone as just friends? Are these relationships less likely if there are children involved?

Susandominus5 karma

I can't say one way or the other whether childless couples open their marriages more than ones with children. Several of the couples I wrote about who had children were totally transparent about their relationships with other people--because they had ongoing, committed relationships with those people, and they wanted to treat them with some sort of respect and even formality. But one of the couples kept their outside relationships very private--the thrill of them was that that they were wholly separate from the routine and of every day life. When those children get a bit older, they will likely start to sense that all is not what it seems, and there may be a bit of a reckoning, I imagine.