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The Truth About Open Marriage

Couples who practice ''polyamory'' say it's good for their relationships. Some therapists disagree.

Marriage and Relationship Experts Talk

Those who pursue an "open" or polyamorous relationship are obviously not conventional types, says William Doherty, PhD, director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul. "There are always some people who want to push the limits of their experiences -- their joy, their ecstasy in life," he says. They feel convention and tradition inhibit them.

Those who pursue multiple relationships simultaneously, Doherty says, say they are capable of many loves and passion and that "artificial cultural constraints" tell them they should restrict their love and passion to just one person.

Polyamorists, to their credit, are often open about it, Doherty says. "There is a kind of idealism around these folks," he says. "They want to be completely open and honest about it."

Louanne Cole Weston, PhD, MFT, a Fair Oaks, Calif., marriage and family therapist and WebMD's sex and relationships expert, agrees that the concept of open relationships has evolved to become more idealistic. "In the '70s, there was the playing loose around the edges idea," she says. "Poly is trying to come across as thoughtful and considerate."

An obvious benefit, Weston says, is that sexual monotony seldom sets in. Polys are not apt to be bored in other areas of life, either. "You always have Plan B," she says.

Some say they learn something about relationship skills from their other partner or partners, something that can be applied with the primary partner, she says.

The Drawbacks of Open Marriage

Scheduling can be a hassle, polyamorists say. "When I'm actively exploring multiple relationships, balancing my time and energy is usually the most difficult part,'' says Cherie." It can also be particularly draining if more than one of my partners has a crisis in their lives that they ask my assistance with, such as supporting them through a career change, family illness, problems in other relationships, or other challenging times." But if the other person has multiple partners, she says, they also have the benefit of getting multiple sources of help.

Handling the "fear response" in partners can be an issue, says Chris. He sometimes has had to assure partners that his interest in others does not mean his interest in them has changed or waned.

"I've also had my own feelings of envy and jealousy," he says, "particularly when I feel that a partner is giving more time and energy to another than they are to me."

"Where it becomes threatening is when [partners] think love implies exclusivity," says Veaux. "It's the starvation model of love. That is, if you love two, each gets half of the love. That's not true. Every single person is absolutely unique. Because of that, it means my partners can never be replaced."

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