Variety is the spice of life, but can sharing your partner with another really save your committed relationship? In my last Hump Days post about honesty, I stated the follow: Open relationships seem to be a growing trend these days due to the high incidence of divorce, and the fact that we live longer. Committing to one individual for the rest of one’s life, particularly when you are only 20-something years old, is a difficult choice to make. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t think monogamy is natural for any species, but that it is a choice we make.Sadly, our society and religion has conditioned us to believe that it is the only respectable way to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh with another being. That same belief has bred into us a need to possess another human being.

That said, monogamous relationships are still what the majority of people at least aspire to. No matter how many times we humans try this model, and fail, we will try and try again. But if you are open-minded and wish to try something different, what are the options? Well, there’s swinging, and then there’s polyamory. I believe that whether or not we can accept, or adopt these alternative lifestyles, there is something to be learned from those who have. In support of my point above regarding possessiveness in relationships, I found this quote from Dr. Wayne Dyer, at the beginning of Dr. Deborah Anapol’s book “Polyamory  -The New Love Without Limits”:

Most of you are jealous and possessive in your love. When your love turns to possessiveness it makes demands. The demands then alienate the loved one and you incorporate anger and fear into the relationship. With these come bitterness and aggression, and whether we speak of individual love relationships or global interactions, what you call love, but is, in fact ownership and manipulation, takes over and the problems then flow.

Let’s take a look at swinging, and I will cover polyamory in my next article.

If you don’t personally know any swingers, the term might initially conjure up some interesting images. Like: flashbacks of cheesy B-rated movies from the 70’s of couples making out in hot tubs or throwing their keys into the center of the room to see whose wife or husband they are going home with. But the swinging couples I’ve met and interviewed don’t fit that image at all. In fact, they are quite normal, happy, intelligent, healthy, and often times attractive couples who come from all walks of life.  Recent studies show that 20% of American married couples admit to having adopted a swinging lifestyle. These couples are middle to upper class, work in professional or management careers, and are well educated.  In our simultaneously sexually obsessed and sexually repressed American society however, the swinging lifestyle is certainly not something you’re going to discuss at a PTA meeting or a church social (even though studies show that a high percent of swingers do have a religious affiliation). As a result, I suspect the percentage of swinging couples in this country could be even higher than 20%.

Similar to the behavior of the animal kingdom when it comes to monogamy, swinging couples are socially and emotionally committed to one another.  They are not, however, sexually monogamous. They just simply leave the nest together or with one anothers’ blessing when they decide to branch out sexually.

A 2009 compilation of data from well-known swingers’ organization Kasidie combined with a survey taken in 2000 by Dr. Curtis Bergstrand and Jennifer Blevins Williams, was, unfortunately, the most recent information I could find. According to the survey, the number of swingers has increased exponentially in the last decade evidenced by the membership to swinging websites such as Adult Friend Finder and Kasidie. The October 2000 study showed that the happiness quotient of couples who opted into the ‘lifestyle’ as it is called, increased significantly. And based on my own unscientific research, it seems clear to me that these couples are on to something that could solve the problems that tend to crop up in long-term traditional marriages and committed relationships.  Problems like boredom caused by routine sex, loss of passion and excitement, and dealing with the issue of physical attraction to others – even same sex partners.  After all, it is really not the act of sexual infidelity that breaks up a marriage. Infidelity is typically a symptom of other problems that already exist in a marriage. It is really the lying and betrayal that causes the pain when infidelity occurs, as I have previously pointed out in my post on ‘Why Women Cheat’.

The research study referenced above indicates that swingers are generally much happier and describe life as more exciting than sexually monogamous couples. While this study also shows that happiness rates increased dramatically for couples who switched from a ‘vanilla’ relationship to a swinging relationship, it would be interesting to know what percentage of today’s swinging couples entered into their relationship with this understanding, versus those who decided to change their marital agreement in order to improve satisfaction in the marriage.

Since the success of the lifestyle depends on the strength of the foundation of the committed relationship, it is impossible to say that swinging is the cure-all for any marriage in jeopardy. I have had a number of couples ask me for advice because they were thinking about having a threesome. Whether you are considering full-on swinging, or bringing just one other person into your bedroom, my opinion is the same. Relationships are challenging and complex, so adding additional parties could complicate things further. Put in the time and effort to make sure that you have built a foundation that is strong enough to withstand the extra weight of including other sex partners. If you need help, get it from a relationship/sexuality coach like myself. An open relationship, whether it be swinging or polyamorous could be a viable alternative to divorce court. It may have its own set of challenges, but could also be much less disruptive, less expensive, and a whole lot more fun than a divorce.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this series which will cover polyamory.