If you are like many people in long-term relationships, I bet the question of opening your relationship to new adventures has crossed your mind. It’s a hot debate. I get asked about it a lot, and it seems people are thinking about it more often than they would be willing to admit. As for myself, I have considered it, researched into it to some degree, and experimented with it in previous relationships to learn that it’s not for me. More about my personal experience shortly.
First, Let Me explain a few things about monogamy and polyamory.
Monogamy – as we practice it today – is being physically intimate with only one person, while you are in a relationship with them. The rules are quite obvious, although each couple might have a slightly different line that shouldn’t be crossed.
In polyamory, or an open relationship, the couple decides on a framework that will suit them, that will allow them to be physically intimate with other people. The only rule here is, usually, to adhere to that scheme that was agreed upon with your partner. Or partners, to that matter.
It’s totally understandable why couples see polyamory as an attractive option.
After some time together, the desire in a long-term relationship tends to fade a bit, if not vanish altogether, and we’re left longing for that spark, that excitement, that was so prominent in the beginning of the relationship. As we can’t find it anywhere within our relationship, we’re hoping that finding it elsewhere will ignite our flame, and it will shine into our main relationship, keeping it alive. It makes total sense.
The way Esther Perel explains this, it is the first time in the history of humankind that we want our partner to provide us with ongoing excitement. And we live twice as long, too… Up until recently, marriage was not related to love, and people (traditionally, men) would find their passion by having affairs. Or in some cultures, by marrying another wife. Or several of them.
Looking at some other cultures, like traditional Polynesian (as described by James N. Powell in his book Slow Love), or rural Nepalese (or Indian, as depicted in the movie Samsara), many times there was no expectation to maintain fidelity when the husband (or the wife) was away for a while, which provided excitement for the duration of time they were away. In some other societies, like in some Australian Aboriginal tribes, a marriage was not expected to last an entire lifetime, and as issues of wealth or child rearing were handled by the whole tribe, the divorce was recognized once the couple simply stopped living together.
In light of these traditions, there’s no wonder we can’t figure out how to maintain the thrill in a long-term relationship: we actually never done it before.
Is polyamory the solution?
It definitely could be:
- If you (and your partner) can easily overcome the social conditioning that programmed you to believe that monogamous relationships are the best thing for you;
- If the idea of your partner giving his intimate attention to someone else doesn’t freak the hell out of you;
- If the notion of living a big part of your life in secret (because many people feel uncomfortable coming out of the closet and let all their social relations know that they are practicing polyamory);
- If you are willing to ongoingly maintain all of the relationships that you are involved in –
Then an open relationship might be your solution for easing the pains of desireless couplehood.
For me personally, all of the abovementioned points keep me clear from trying an open relationship. I was happy to give it a go in a couple of situations in my previous relationships, and I quickly realized that:
- My upbringing led me to believe that monogamous relationships are the most suitable for me, and I can’t easily let it go;
- I very rarely experienced jealousy or trust issues with a partner, until we started discussing the option of polyamory. All of a sudden I started losing my confidence that my partner would still be there for me when I needed him;
- I hate keeping secrets from friends and family – it’s enough that we don’t talk about taboo subjects (sex, death, money…) – and I also don’t have the guts to tell the world that I decided to be in an open relationship;
- The hard work it entails: relationships are something that most of us don’t know how to do well. I’m far from being an expert, and I would like to invest into the subject in one frontier only, instead of having to manage a few different relationships.
And there’s another thing. Once you decide to go for an open relationship, there is no guarantee that it will solve your initial problem. Your attraction to your partner might keep on declining anyway, and you might end up having one primary relationship which provides you with a strong sense of partnership, and another relationship (or a few of those) which provides you with excitement and thrill. That’s not for me, either.
Try Slow Sex Instead:
When you practice slow sex ongoingly with your partner, you will find that the demise of desire as experienced at the beginning of your relationship is not all that important. As explained in my previous blog post, the attraction patterns between partners can shift and change throughout the course of the relationship. Through the practice of slow sex, couples relate to each other through sex, in a way that does not require excitement and thrill, rather quite the opposite: it requires calmness. I would even say tranquility. So the need to seek excitement is not so strong anymore.
As the slow sex practice “grows on you”, you start to cherish the subtle sensations in your body that can only be detected when you are calm and still. And although hot steamy sex can always be enjoyed – it’s not a prerequisite for pleasure, and it’s not something that you really must have in order to have an amazingly satisfying sex life.
Try Looking At your Desire with Curiosity:
It is very natural to feel attracted to someone that is not your partner while you’re in a long-term relationship. It happens to everyone. It happened to me, too. Multiple times, actually.
The question is, what do we do about it, consciously?
Desire can arise within you when you see someone other than your partner, regardless of how you have sex or if you’re in a monogamous or a polyamorous relationship. It’s just a question of how you deal with it: do you let it control you? Usually, when we are secretive and hide something back, it has a strong potential to get a hold of us. If instead, we reflect upon it openly as soon as it comes up (not necessarily with our partner! A close, trustworthy friend to confide in can be a great option), the feelings will usually lose their hold on us. Like any good Buddhist will tell you – everything is impermanent. Eventually, all emotions and feelings fade. So we don’t necessarily have to do anything with our desire apart from observing it, noticing it, and allowing it to run its course.
Investing in learning how to let go of emotions might be a great option instead of letting desire control your love life. Every aspect of your life will benefit from it, actually. There are gazillions of different methods (my personal favorite is The Sedona Method but there are countless more).
You can decide to enjoy a polyamorous relationship.
You can decide to enjoy a monogamous relationship.
Whatever you choose, make sure that the decision supports your innate understanding of sexuality and love, instead of someone else’s expectations of you.
Now on a completely different note – if you haven’t watched the film Samasara yet, do yourself a favor and find a copy of it to watch. It is slow. It has some beautiful, delicate, slow sex scenes – and the entire film is an interesting contemplation on the way desire runs our lives.