Open Relationships – Expert Advice

Open Relationships: Partners, Threesome, Swinging, Polyamory and/or Including Any Additional Partner In Your Sexual Marital Relationship

No, the answer is NO – DO NOT, I repeat in capital letters: DO NOT have any additional partner/person in your marriage.

Threesomes, swinging, polyamory, any inclusion of any one in addition to your spouse as a sexual partner in your marriage–the answer is no, do not do it! Through my 18 years of providing couples counseling, with consistency couples who report they decided to have some form of open relationship rather than a monogamous relationship have ended up in an awful mental place and have destroyed their marriage.

The most common reasons couples report for having an open relationship include: a) to spice up the sexual relationship in their marriage, b) to improve or enhance the marriage, c) to save the marriage.

The choice of having an open relationship never saves the marriage. Rather, it makes a joke of the marriage and is destructive to the marriage. It is relationship suicide to include another intimate partner or partners into your world, in addition to your spouse.

Ask me how many times a couple has come to counseling reporting that their marriage was pretty okay or even that it was good, and then either one or both thought that having a threesome, swinging, etc., would give their marriage just what it needed to get even better? Ask me how many times couples have reported they had a good marriage overall and just wanted to spice up their sex life? Ask me how many times one person in the marriage had an affair or fell in love with another person and suggested that they remain married and keep other lovers in the picture?

I have seen these scenarios and more too many times to deny the pattern. The pattern is that, time and time again, having a threesome, swinging, polyamory, or any kind of sexual interaction with someone in addition to your spouse eventually always negatively impacts the marital relationship in a horribly ugly traumatic way.

For some couples, it is from that moment during the sexual three-way, swing interaction, or polyamorous experience that the couple is never the same, nor are the individuals within the couple unit. For other couples, it is that same day or a day later they are impacted and are never the same again, in a negative way. For other couples, it is days later, and for some it is weeks later. Then there are other couples who don’t fully recognize the damage this choice caused the relationship until a few months later as the negative effect builds over the days and weeks to come. For others, the inclusion of additional people in their marital sexual relationship becomes a lifestyle choice. Perhaps it takes several different experiences with partners outside of their marriage to lead to the painful and permanent injury to the marriage, but it does occur eventually. Of this I am certain.

There are couples who so desperately want to succeed in their new venture of having an open relationship that they try to sell their choice like a product and offer to others that this lifestyle is a healthy way to remain married. It is obvious to a relationship expert such as myself that they are trying to force themselves to believe the choice they made is healthy by advertising it to others in a desperate attempt to be validated. In the underbelly of their souls, these couples know what they are doing is wrong. When you speak with these couples you typically learn that one of them was no longer fulfilled in the marriage and the marriage was headed for divorce if an agreement of extra- marital inclusion was not made. I view this as selling one’s soul to save your family and really what you are doing is destroying the family, your children, the beauty and gift of what marriage is, and your own mental health.

Couples that choose to have an open marriage simply do not know how to have a successful monogamous relationship. Rather than improving and growing within the marriage, they utilize the external to focus their energy on. Some of these types of couples become argumentative about the theory that monogamy is a phenomenal journey of beauty, passion, and growth. The reason they become argumentative and defend their decision is that they could not succeed and do not want to even consider that monogamy can be successful as that would infer they have failed themselves, and if they have children, their children. For these couples, the marriage becomes secondary and the external relationships are their relationships. Is that really a marriage? No.

Often, couples that consider opening up their marriage to include another person or persons create “rules” that they both agree upon to try to ensure that neither spouse gets emotionally hurt and that they are both on the same page. No matter what rules you and your spouse create to ensure a successful and agreed-upon additional partner experience, know this: these rules will never work. Don’t make rules. I urge you to take my advice: don’t include any other person into your sexual relationship. The fantasy is always better than the reality.

Dr. Karen’s Advice

Find the joy and passion within your couple relationship and build on that. Make the time and take the time to pay attention to the couple relationship. Choose not to be with anyone other than your spouse. Make this commitment to yourself and your spouse. Urges you may feel, fantasies you may have, love you may want to spread, love you may want to receive. Work on having all of these things within the unit between husband and wife. Explore, experiment, expand, enhance all with only your spouse and no additional people.

In conclusion, it is my opinion that having an open relationship is a detrimental non-solution for marriages. It is relationship suicide and a problem just waiting to negatively impact the emotional welfare of self, other, the couple, and if you have children, your children as well.

If you enjoyed reading this blog, it was taken directly from my newest release: Dr. Karen’s Marriage Manual, Section 2 entitled: 29 Great Ways To Destroy Your Marriage. You can read more about this topic and read about real case examples of open relationships and its destruction in my cutting edge book. Learn more about my marital philosophy that has helped, saved, and enhanced couples since 1993 when I first started counseling couples, and receive concrete techniques and strategies that can be implemented immediately. A signed copy of Dr. Karen’s Marriage Manual is now available by purchasing directly through this website.


62 thoughts on “Open Relationships – Expert Advice”

  1. Dr. Karen, I have a few questions:
    1. I believe you when you say you’ve never had clients who’ve saved their relationship simply by opening it up. How many would you say you’ve had?
    2. How many have you convinced not to open their relationship, and how many of those have been successful in the long run? And would you have any way of knowing if they failed anyway?
    3. Have you ever had couples come in to see you who were NOT having problems with their relationship yet were polyamorous or otherwise non-monogamous?
    4. How long would partners have to be together yet still be involved in non-monogamy for you to consider their relationship successful?
    5. Would you care to be introduced to some who have?
    6. What does the data show from a credible scientific study in reference to the questions above?

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to explore the position of others. Although questions are asked, because the sentences have a question mark following the end of each sentence, it is clear they are rather comments intended to offer and suggest that non-monogamy rocks over the belief that one can have a happy, healthy, successful, committed monogamous relationship. Therefore, rather than going through each of your questions as though this is a debate with I, Dr. Karen, as the defender of a position, I will state that I believe my blog speaks for itself. Therefore, I will respond and share that I value your taking the time to share your position. We all make choices and I am neither judge nor jury of what people do. Rather, I am here to help people help themselves get to a better place, achieve their therapeutic goals, and live a life of mental health and wellness individually and relationally. I state what I have seen for 18 years as a caring, experienced professional who specializes in the relationship dynamics between people.

      1. I’m pleased that you try to help people get to a higher place. Unfortunately, that does not include those who wish to do so while practicing polyamory or some other form of non-monogamy. I’d hope that you’d refer such individuals to the poly-friendly professionals as those listed here as opposed to discouraging them from exploring paths that might bring them greater fulfillment than they’ve found in more conventional relationships.

        Note from Dr. Karen: This comment has been edited – I removed content not suitable for public viewing on this website. While I refrain from doing so, I reserve the right to control the content that appears on my website.

        1. Greater fulfillment, hmmm, so many are looking for greater fulfillment, aren’t we? We have become a world of what else can I have, what else can I find outside of what I have as an individual, outside of my current relationship, just so I can feel greater fulfillment. There is such joy, passion, and beauty, genuine fulfillment right in front of one’s eyes – one’s spouse, children, home, personal goals, work, breathing, walking, and oh so much more. For those who work with me clinically and know who I am as a professional do know that I work with people of all types of lifestyle choices, and I am invested in helping them to help themselves get to a better place. It is an honor to work with all types of people.

        2. To Jim Catano –

          I am not a religious person, mostly because I do not believe much that comes out of people’s mouths unless they’ve proven themselves to be truly caring of others and not about some self-serving agenda, but I do pay attention to historical documents as an indicator of the continuity of human behavior, including the Bible. Favoritism, jealousy, rejection, abandonment…lots of hurt comes out of having multiple wives and children. Those feelings are natural when boundaries are breached.

          Throughout history humans through their behavior have shown themselves to need their own close connections, not to be shared with others at the intimate level because 1) they wish to feel special to someone, 2) they wish to have a non-competitive relationship with someone, 3) life is hard and full of betrayals which lead to emotional, mental, and physical set backs, 4) there is only so much time in a day and a lifetime to give to an intimate relationship to maintain reciprocal needs, and 5) the social contract of intimate relationships, when it is working correctly, is set up to provide material, emotional, spiritual, mental, and physical needs at a level no one else in society is likely to give. When I walk out the door everyday, I want someone at home who is on my side, who watches my back, who contributes to our lives in ways that no one else will. One relationship at that level is enough to manage. I want quality, not quantity. Quantity dilutes it.

          Polyamory has hurt marriages and families tremendously. It is selfish and unrealistic. A man who wants to go that route doesn’t care about women, doesn’t understand women, is not caring enough about the quality of relationships, and is, perhaps, looking to legitimize an affair. It sets women back hundreds of years. Once again, as a man, you are engaging in an act of oppression. Instead of lifting the woman up, and she you too, you are degrading her, lowering her place in your life, giving her seconds or thirds, and brainwashing her to think it is “sophisticated and enlightened” and that she better “get with the program.”

          This attitude of yours is so very sad. It is just sex, afterall. That is never worth the destruction of love. No one is that good at it except sex workers who spend 8-10 hours per day having sex as a trade. I know you are not very good at it by your selfish attitude. You would not spend much time caring about what the woman wants.

          1. Thank you Lisa for taking the time to write 2 comments in opposition to polyamory. Sharing your voice, your opinion is appreciated. I am sure there are many people who identify with what you are saying, and I am glad that you felt confident and comfortable to express your perspective in a thought felt manner on this blog post.

    2. Um. hello.. the reason that you think it doesnt EVER WORK for ANYONE is skewed because all you see is the ones who it didnt work for. You dont know the ones who it DOES work for- because they dont want you to know. Before offering NEVER NO NEVER EVER FOR ANYONE advice, you might try visiting with swingers. You will be surprised to find that many have been together for years, are committed to one another deeper than your clients ever were, and who have a vibrant, alive, and fun relationship together as well as having sex with others.

      1. I totally agree with Dave. My wife & I have a great relationship with swinging I loved her deeply. She Passed bout 11 yrs ago. I’m in relationship now finally.

        My question is to the Dr is now that I’m finally in a great relationship now & being that I’m older now & my new love of over 2 yrs is that we’ve been honest bout sexual past. She was very very promiscuous for bout 7 or 8 yrs. while single. She probably been with nearly 50 men & I;m good.
        She doesn’t want to do that anymore & I want to know why myself & other men love watching another man having sex with their loved one? Secondly I’m very turned on her telling me about when the circumstances of her sexual exploits. Why do think that is?

  2. Dr. Karen, I would like to introduce myself: I am 32 years old, have been happily married for 6 years and we’ve been happily polyamorous for over a year now. As a relationship therapist, the couples you work with are couples who are having difficulties with their relationship; it’s probably true that for those couples, trying to fix what’s broken by adding more people doesn’t work. What you don’t see, in your professional work, are all the people like us: contented, emotionally healthy adults in open, honest and loving multiple partnerships. You don’t see us because we don’t require therapy, but you’ve assumed that it’s because no such people exist.

    You have set up a Catch-22 by stating that all people who see benefits and joy in open relationships are “desperate” to defend their decisions so that they can delude themselves into accepting their own choices. If people like me speak up and say that for some people, non-monogamous lifestyles can work beautifully, we’re labeled as argumentative and self-deluding… but if we don’t speak up, we have no chance at all of sharing our perspective.

    Not too long ago, people who were homosexual or gender-nonconformist were viewed as morally or psychologically unhealthy. Now, these differences are no longer regarded as abnormalities, but part of the normal spectrum of expression of human sexuality. I believe that views on non-monogamous choices are beginning to undergo a similar transformation from stigmatization to acceptance. To quote from another post on your blog:

    “As change happens, some react with openness and exploration, others try to shut the door to differences, still others become defensive and critical, some react with curiosity and interest, while some with empathy and compassion, and then there are those that use force to get others onto their side.”

    Why not celebrate the beauty of happy, healthy, successful, committed relationships of ALL kinds, monogamous and open?

    I welcome questions, and can provide references to books and websites that offer some different perspectives on non-monogamous relationships.

    1. Those who live in polyamorous relationships report this is a choice. Those who are homosexuals typically report this is not a choice. Clinically, emotionally, physiologically there is a difference. I am happy to know that you are reading my other blogs too, thank you for taking the time to do so, I hope you found them of value and helpful. To be married and choose to be with one and/or multiple additional partners is in opposition to creating a world of stability within relationships, teaching our children about loyalty and monogamy, and wanting to help people to find joy and full – fulfillment, and celebrate in the beauty of monogamy. I do help people to help themselves to find that.

      A person that is completely happily married does not seek out polyamory. There was something that person felt was missing and/or something that person longed for and wanted that is unfulfilled. Looking to someone or something external (outside of the marriage) for fulfillment, is not the goal or direction of therapeutic treatment and rather the therapist helps the client to look internally (inside of one’s self and inside of the couple hood) for fulfillment. If we look internally we will find! If external options (e.g., an additional relationship) is there as something we believe is an option then that is what we will find. That changes the course of the world, as do the choices people make.

      Your statement: “you don’t see us because we don’t require therapy, but you’ve assumed that it’s because no such people exist” is inaccurate. Actually, whether a person is in a monogamous or a non-monogamous relationship there are those that do require and seek out therapy. There are sites developed for those who choose polyamory as a lifestyle choice to find therapists that list themselves as treatment providers.

      I am glad that you as well as others who have chosen a polyamorous lifestyle feel comfortable to share their thoughts in response to the blog that I wrote. This is a safe place to have a dialogue between people for the benefit of those reading it. Thank you for taking the time to respond. Best of wishes on your life journey.

      1. I appreciate your taking the time to reply to each commenter. I share your hope that your readers benefit from seeing different perspectives shared and discussed.

        I think it’s true that people seek multiple relationships because they want “more,” but it’s not always the case that they’re suffering from scarcity in their existing relationship or within themselves. On the contrary, it’s been my experience those who are most successful managing multiple relationships are those with strong communication skills, empathy, and abundant love to share. No one thinks it’s strange that a parent with one wonderful child wants a second child, maybe even a third and fourth; no one thinks that the first child should feel inadequate that they weren’t “enough”. No one believes that a parent with multiple children has failed their first child by giving them siblings, in fact many people think it’s detrimental to be an only child. Too little sharing, too few playmates, too intense a parental focus, too many expectations on one little person’s shoulders.

        Mainstream culture says that romantic relationships aren’t like that; they’re special because they’re exclusive. But why should it be? Why do we think that one person *should* be able to fulfill all of the complex needs and desires of another person, and why does it seem morally wrong to want other connections? Rather than taking the negative view that romantic relationships cannot withstand sharing, I’d like to propose that most people have the capacity to bond in a loving way with more than one person, and that this is not a flaw of human nature but instead one of human nature’s most beautiful characteristics.

        I’d like to clarify my statement “you don’t see us because we don’t require therapy, but you’ve assumed that no such people exist.” I didn’t mean that polyamorists never require or seek therapy; of course they do! What I meant is that in your therapy practice, people come to you because their relationships are troubled. So as you’ve said, you’ve had a lot of interaction with people who are having problems with non-monogamous relationships. People in smooth, trouble-free open relationships don’t come to your office seeking relationship help, so you probably don’t get the opportunity to interact with them and hear their stories.

        I’m grateful that by being willing to engage in dialogue here on your blog, you’ve provided an opportunity for us “invisible” polyamorists to share our experiences.

        1. A lot was shared in your note. I am glad you took the time to express yourself. I always appreciate hearing others’ thoughts. I will make a few points in response to a few of the key themes you offered.

          1. Wanting more just by its very nature means you do not feel you have enough … more, more, more. In certain areas of one’s life this is a great quality, in others, detrimental. 2. If it is the belief, and I recognize this is the common belief among the polyamorous community that they manage multiple relationships because of their communication skills, empathy, and abundant love, my position remains that those skills when used in a monogamous relationship as the focus of attention — that relationship would indeed soar and be so fulfilling. Having a successful and fulfilling complete feeling within one’s self in a monogamous relationship and not wanting another relationship runs deep within one’s self, it is more than those 3 qualities. 3. Apples and oranges is the comparison of non-monogamy and having several children. Not the same category. 4. As a marriage and family therapist, having worked with parents and children for 18 years, providing parenting education workshops working directly with parents and children, I disagree that it is detrimental to be an only child. Whether parents have many children or one child, it is all about the parenting not the quantity of children. 5. The expectations placed on one’s self and one’s spouse in a monogamous relationship, perhaps that is a challenge for some, perhaps even many. To view these expectations as an exciting life journey rather than “too many expectations” in an “overwhelming I cannot handle it so let me be in multiple relationships” sort of a way would be a mental shift. For some to be in multiple relationships allows that person to decrease their expectations of self, other, and the expectations placed on self by one’s spouse is no longer the same – if I were to take the mention you suggested of “too many expectations on one little person’s shoulders” this is an interesting discussion to be had. Perhaps this can be a piece of the monogamy vs. the non-monogamy position, but we can debate all day. Rather, we agree to disagree. 6. Although humans may have the capacity to bond with more than one person, that capacity in and of itself is not a flaw, agreed. Choosing to be with another in addition to one’s spouse is trouble for the marriage, for the spouse, and for the children. Again, we agree to disagree.

          Bottom line: I can make point after point in counter point to your points, just as you can as well. We agree to disagree and I am glad to provide a place for people to learn about the opinions of others and have a safe place to voice theirs. I am thankful you are grateful, my pleasure.

          1. Happy and Healthy

            Dr. Karen-

            In this response, you say:

            “Whether parents have many children or one child, it is all about the parenting not the quantity of children”

            Thank you. As a happy practicing polyamorous person, I say… “Whether people have many relationships or one relationship, it is all about the relationship not the quantity of connections”

            When people realize this… they might respect (but not necessarily desire) polyamorous relationships!

          2. Yes, I do stand by my quote, and as I explained that statement is in applicability to parenting children not for being with multiple partners. We agree to disagree. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    2. Hi there! I would like to testify of a personal experience and that of some close friends of mine.
      I was raised in a cult that taught us that sex out side of marriage was the norm. We were taught from a young age that jealousy was the worst trait you could have. We were encouraged to have sex outside of our marriage to strengthen our relationship. And we were encouraged to. “Share”.

      Being that I was raised with that being the “normal thing”, I assumed that when I got married one day it would not matter if my wife ever wanted sex with someone else then it would be fine because after all I would marry a woman who loved me more than any other man ( was attracted to me, thought I was sexy, etc…). I thought surely sex on the side would be just that and nothing else.
      WHO IT “worked” for were couples who just loved each other as friends.
      Guess what?? I started dating(sex was part of it) with a beautiful girl who was a couple years older than me. I started feeling jealous that other men were interested in her sexually. I fought against the jealousy because of my upbringing. I started to find out from my friends who grew up in the same cult that they also felt hurt, inadequate, or like there was some thing wrong in the relationship. But we all still “soldiered on”, because our jealousy was the ” worst thing possible”. THE FACT IS THAT EVERYONE EVEN RAISED IN THE CULTURE FROM INFANCY CAME TO THE CONCLUSION IN TIME THAT ‘SEX OUT OF MARRIAGE EQUALso HURT’.

      1. Hi Beca,
        Thank you for taking the time to share your personal experience, as well as your understanding of some of the experiences of close friends of yours.
        Dr. Ruskin

  3. Dr Karen,

    I have been happily non-monogamous for the past 18 years. My last monogamous relationship was in high school. I am deeply in love with multiple partners and have partnerships ranging in duration from seven years to three months. I don’t believe that non-monogamy is for everyone or is superior to monogamy, except as a matter of personal preference.

    In the beginning, it was very difficult to navigate the emotional complexities of multiple simultaneous sexual and romantic relationships. Looking back, a lack of cultural support for the validity of my life choices, a dearth of healthy role-models, and an inability to find and connect with like-minded individuals were the primary difficulties. Once I discovered the word ‘polyamory’ and the polyamorous community, all that changed. Knowing that I wasn’t alone and didn’t have to pioneer every relationship hurdle on my own made all the difference. I haven’t had to introduce anyone to the concept of non-monogamy in many years. I only have relationships with people who have already decided that they are polyamorous.

    Perhaps you will find the following reframing worth consideration: You are a monogamy expert, not a relationship expert. I am here to report that successful non-monogamous relationships are out there and are becoming more available all the time.


    Note from Dr. Karen: This comment has been edited – I removed content not suitable for public viewing on this website. While I refrain from doing so, I reserve the right to control the content that appears on my website.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my blog and share a bit of your life story. Your journey of finding others who have decided that they are polyamorous must have been difficult indeed, not just for you but difficult for the many women who must have been hurt a long the way on your search. Those who love someone and want monogamy to be in a relationship with someone who monogamy is not enough for them, does not fulfill them, that is an, oh so painful experience – for both members within that unit. For the seeker, one is left unfilled, for the person who wants monogamy they feel hurt, betrayed, unloved, disrespected, and de-valued. To find others that feel as you do I am sure is fulfilling and validating.

      The statement in this blog response to me is funny, and I will respond. It is the part where you offered to me to reframe my expertise, ha ha, that is very funny! No, I am not only a monogamy expert I am a genuine relationship expert. I will explain as it is helpful for many who wish to understand what being a true relationship expert is, of which I cannot speak on the behalf of others who claim they are a relationship expert, I can only speak for my own self and state that clinically my expertise is in understanding and helping for all the many relationship dynamics. The relationship dynamic between people are far and wide including the relationship dynamics between: a) parent and child, b) between self and one’s professional goals, c) between siblings, d) between kids and their friendships, e) between self and one’s mental health, f) between self and one’s choices that one makes relationally whether to be in a monogamous relationship or choose non-monogamy, and more …. I will keep my title as a relationship expert as I am an expert in understanding the relationship dynamics between all of the many relationships one has with self and others and share that there are many relationship dynamics of which one requests the help from a relationship expert, not just when it comes to how to have a successful monogamous relationship.

      With that said, yes, I am an expert in how to have a healthy, happy, successful, fulfilled, and long lasting monogamous relationship, I am a monogamy expert, and that is just but one of the many topics within the title of relationship expert that I help with.

  4. Dr. Karen-
    If a polyamorous couple (who both want to be polyamorous) came to you for help with their relationship, for instance, if they are primary partners and they would like help with jealousy troubles, balancing partners, or whatever the reason; would you try to convince them monogamy is what you’ve seen is the best or try to help regardless of their lifestyle choice? Curious as to what you would do?

    1. This is a solid therapeutic question. With the exact question as you have asked it, assuming no added variables that are being missed due to lack of further details about this couple and their presenting problem, assuming there are no added concrete concerns in the mix of this hypothetical couple, and just taking the question at face value my answer is as follows. I would not try to convince them of ending their lifestyle choice. My therapeutic style, approach, and philosophy is genuine and non judgmental. The couples that I work with know this, feel this, and experience this. I do not judge another’s lifestyle choice. Rather my goal when I work with couples is to help them achieve solution resolution for their ‘presenting problem’ that they are coming in with. The opinion I have voiced in this blog about my perspective on monogamy is taken from my observations of, conversations with, and reports from couples for 18 years. With the information I have collected I have chosen to share what I have discovered for the benefit of others. I am not on a mission to force people to change their lifestyle. To the contrary those that meet with me know my interest in their happiness and success to be the person they want to be.

      It is an interesting and rewarding opportunity and life choice to be a psychotherapist. With that, I have many roles and hats that I wear. If I name just but two it is that I value the opportunity to share in my writing what I have discovered, and therefore based on those discoveries my recommendation. In naming the second hat I wear it is the gift to help clients to achieve their therapeutic goals. That opportunity occurs through the use of an in office setting. Certainly my hopes are that the insights I offer in my blogs, articles, and answer to your question is that the intent and message is received the way I intended it and does not get lost in translation. So, good question, thanks for asking, you don’t know unless you ask. Now your curiosity can be at rest.

    2. If polyamory is so natural and healthy, why would anyone in it have jealous feelings at all? Answer is, they wouldn’t. Those feelings are telling you there is a boundary issue at play.

  5. Are you Christian? Have you studied any minority cultures that actually have functioning polyamorous societies and functional child raising traditions? There are some out there that are much much older than American culture. Do you love Jesus and devote yourself to him as to your husband? Is Jesus from 2012 American White Middle Class Culture?

    I grew up as a pastor’s child listening to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh on a daily basis. I was raised with “traditional religious Christian values”. Not until I grew much older and educated myself through books that held a different view than those attune with white middle class religious influenced authors did I realize how small my world view and opinion base actually was. It still scares me to this day that people are educated and counseled by individuals who use their religious morality to bolster their authority. You are fallible, imperfect and a creation of God. God holds all authority. To make such a concrete statement concerning what is WRONG or RIGHT for someone is only for God. God is expert. God made everyone in this world; white black yellow brown, precious in his sight, right? God made cultures that have existed longer than American cultures, precious birth after precious birth. You did not; you do not know history the way God does. Even if you study many other cultures, you will not know all of them as God does. Open your mind to God, creator of the universe. Give God the authority to be expert and judge. Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will judged and with the measure you use, it will be measured you to.

    ” It is obvious to a relationship expert such as myself that they are trying to force themselves to believe the choice they made is healthy by advertising it to others in a desperate attempt to be validated. In the underbelly of their souls, these couples know what they are doing is wrong.”

    1. Charity, I am glad you took the time to share your opinion. Always interested in what the thoughts are of others. Perhaps it may be helpful for my readers to know that as always, my intent is not to judge what is right vs. wrong taking it from the god perspective as you have so placed this subject matter in. My perspective is rather coming from what I have seen as a couples’ therapist time and time again, which is; pain. I have seen so much pain for so many as the outcome when couples take an open relationship path. Therefore I have chosen to share that it is wrong not from me as the judge, I do not play the role of judge. I have chosen to share it is wrong for couples because of what the outcome ends up being. I am speaking the words of what couples have experienced, not from me as a personal judge.

  6. Dear All:

    Personally I have experienced many more problems with pain, failure, and disappointment in my monogamous than my polyamorous relationships.

    I don’t claim that polyamory is for everyone. But for me, it has been a better fit than monogamy. My partners are openly polyamorous as well.

    The feelings and impulses that guide polyamory are not the same as with monogamy. Individuals who have no experience with polyamory are not well-qualified to offer advice on it, and certainly have no right to be judgemental.

    I know of many polyamorous couples who are happy and functioning well. Are they happier than monogamous couples? Maybe and maybe not. Different set of issues, not better or worse, just different.

    Within polyamory, sharing a partner is often a way of building a bond and deepening a friendship or love relationship between three people. Jealousy is usually irrelevant–people who experience jealousy are typically not ready for polyamory, or are seen as controlling and unwilling to share.

    Polyamory has opened up my world enormously. Just as one can have many friends and care about them all, it is possible to have many lovers and to be in love with most or all of them. Each of my lovers is precious to me in his/her own unique way. I grieve deeply when I lose any of my relationships.

    You mention that it is painful for many to go from monogamy to polyamory. I can speak to the opposite perspective–having been recently involved with someone who turned out to want a monogamous relationship, I attempted monogamy for a while. In order to do this I had to sacrifice some loving relationships with people for whom I cared about a great deal. My emotional life narrowed and closed down. The depth of the relationship with my one partner was not sufficient to compensate for this.

    For anyone who is considering leaving polyamory, be warned: the transition to monogamy is difficult, and not made any easier by the self-righteousness and judgementalism of our mainstream culture. We who are polyamorous are slowly coming out of the closet. We are daring to kiss, hold hands in public, and show each other affection as a threesome or foursome.

    Furthermore, not all of us believe that polyamory is a choice, as Dr. Karen implies. For many, it is a natural impulse which we follow in order to be true to ourselves. Monogamy, on the other hand, IS a choice, and it involves deliberately shutting out other partners. However, the frequency of extra-marital affairs and divorces suggests to me that the experiment of monogamy is not a particularly successful one, in spite of it being the ‘sacred cow’ of relationship culture.

    As stated by Dr. K., we must agree to disagree. However, Dr. K. should not be referring to herself as a relationship expert for those of us who are polyamorous. There are many dynamics in that lifestyle which are very difficult to explain to those who are not part of it.

    No Name

    1. Hello “No Name”,
      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on my blog. I will address a few of your statements in specifics:

      No Name writes: “Personally I have experienced many more problems with pain, failure, and disappointment in my monogamous than my polyamorous relationships.”

      Dr. Karen explains: Relationships are not without effort and require a vested interest and passion in watering the plant of the relationship for it to thrive. It takes two to tango. A few of the significant components that plays a role in a pained and failed relationship versus success is; knowing and recognizing your needs as well as that of your partners, being cognizant of expectations, and choosing a person who is the right fit. These are pieces of the puzzle of which plays a role in whether a relationship ends in disappointment or is successful. The theme of expectations makes a marked shift when you are in more than one relationship, just by the very nature of being in more than one relationship, whether that is the reason to enter more than one relationship is not the suggestion, rather I offer the notion that there are opportunities to grow as an individual as well as a couple when one is cognizant of this. I am not here to tell someone how they must live, no. Choice is choice- rather, I am offering insight into what many in abundant numbers have shared through the years by sharing this information and thus the conclusion drawn from the pain of others.

      No Name writes: “Dr. K. should not be referring to herself as a relationship expert for those of us who are polyamorous. There are many dynamics in that lifestyle which are very difficult to explain to those who are not part of it.”

      Dr. Karen explains: I always find it intriguing when someone disagrees with another’s perspective that they don’t think that person should refer to themselves as an expert. Well, I am a relationship expert by credentials, training, and experience. I do not have to be polyamorous to be an expert in the field of relationship dynamics and human behavior. A therapist who is an expert in substance abuse and addiction does not have to have been nor been addicted to cocaine, heroin, marijuana, alcohol etc., to be a substance abuse/addiction expert. A therapist who is an OCD expert does not have to have OCD to be an expert. A therapist who specializes in those who have been raped does not have to have been raped to be an expert in that field. A person who is an expert in the criminal mind does not have to be a criminal. The list is endless. Bottom line; a person who specializes in relationship issues does not have to be polyamorous to call one’s self a relationship expert and thereby offer insights based on real life reports from real life people.

      No Name writes: “Not all of us believe that polyamory is a choice.” No Name writes that Dr. Karen “implies” polyamory is a choice. No name clearly documents that polyamory is not a choice and writes; “monogamy on the other hand is a choice”.

      Dr. Karen explains: Seriously? Oh dear I state. What are we animals without the skill to choose? Of course I imply polyamory is a choice. Guess what? So is monogamy. You know what else is a choice? Whether a person eats the entire bag of cookies or has only some is a choice, even though their “natural impulse” is to want the whole bag. Whether to react in anger to the person you are angry at by yelling is certainly a “natural impulse” for some, rather to verbalize one’s frustrations in a calm communicative style may or may not be a “natural impulse” to another. Whether to masturbate in public when turned on by your colleague sitting at the desk across from you when experiencing an impulse or to hold that sexual urge until in more private quarters, again a choice. To physically injure someone who has injured someone you love may be a natural impulse, but again, we have choice. The list of choices continues. The impulse one has may or may not be the same impulse another has when in the same situation. We all have a different set of biology as well as a different set of personal experiences and upbringing – which indeed affects our impulse. But that impulse does not infer a lack of choice in my opinion. Nature and nurture do play a role in the development of who we are. What we refer to as impulses we as humans have, we must view actually as choice. Otherwise there would be more chaos then there already is in our world if we believe our impulses is the reason why we do all that we do. What an excuse that would make, would it not?

      Certainly there are those among us whose impulse, whose urge is to want to be with many partners, as there are those among us whose impulse, whose urge is to want to be monogamous. We can then choose to fulfill our impulsive urge or not. Our society has become more and more of an impulsive society where many believe in fulfilling one’s impulses. The examples of this range from our need to immediately text another person back, to have that 3rd glass of wine. The “I want what I want when I want it” society of entitlement that if I want then I must have is dangerous thinking.
      In this particular blog I chose to discuss the group of people who are married with the notion to work on what is in front of them, themselves, and taking ownership of the role they can play in building the marriage rather than seeking out more relationships. Interesting that the responses are from those who live a lifestyle of polyamory defending their choice. There are so many couples who choose to seek out other relationships when that relationship is not working. If but only they had the tools they need – they could be extremely successful and fulfilled in their marriage. Is it possible that there are men and women who believe and discover that they are incapable of monogamy thus they choose not to choose that choice? Certainly. Does this mean my point is any less valid, certainly not.

      The moment we as humans think we do not have a choice about our actions, it is then that we as a culture are in tremendous trouble.

  7. Dear Dr. Karen:

    I think that the problem you’re running into is something that’s known in the poly community as “relationship broken, add more people.” It’s something that very rarely works, but unfortunately is a very common manifestation of a monogamous marriage suffering serious cracks and trying to patch them up by “spicing things up” with another person.

    I absolutely agree that people whose only experience with monogamy should NOT, if their marriage is on the rocks, add another person/people to the mix. They should work on getting their dyad into a position of strength, love, and mutual support.

    However, your assertion that *no* couple should ever decide to open their relationship, because it will inevitably destroy them, is flawed. You say “There are couples who so desperately want to succeed in their new venture of having an open relationship that they try to sell their choice like a product and offer to others that this lifestyle is a healthy way to remain married.” — so, in other words, anyone who is telling you that they’re non-monogamous and happy is fooling themselves. That makes it very difficult for you to accept any proof that people can be non-monogamous and happy, fulfilled, and secure in their relationships . . . because you’ve already built up a structure that says that anyone who says that is (a) “trying to sell their choice like a product” (i.e., proselytizing), and (b) is deluding themselves.

    I strongly disagree — I’ve had poly inclinations since high school, and beat myself up emotionally for being in love with, and desiring to be in a relationship with, two men. I tried being monogamous, and I was miserable. I am now in a very happy set of relationships with three partners (two of them married to each other — I’d been a part of their relationship since before they got married, and we’ve been together for 8 years with no major hiccups — and one relationship of going-on-four-years duration with a man who came into my life as an openly polyamorous person, and who has a girlfriend who has become a good friend of mine.)

    The thing is — there was never an issue of “being married and opening up a relationship,” which is where a lot of the trouble and strife can happen — we all came together as people who wanted to live in ethical, loving non-monogamy.

    There are two children between us (one 19, one 4), who benefit from the love and caretaking of multiple parents, and who are stable, emotionally healthy, bright, intelligent, and well-loved. My daughter even wrote an essay response regarding what it was like growing up in a poly household (she’s monogamous, btw — so much for “proselytizing”, because I respect her choice and am happy that she is happy and fulfilled), and talked about how beneficial it was growing up with supportive adults in her life — I’d be happy to link to it if you’d like to read it.

    I sincerely hope you re-evaluate your stance on polyamory, in particular — because you have only seen a self-selecting sample of people who are coming to you because they ARE having problems, particularly married couples who are struggling. Trust me — not all of us are like that, and I would love to see you amend your statement based on actual results.

    If you’re interested, I can link you to a scientific study done on children in multiple-adult relationships, and how they’re actually very healthy and happy, because they’re often not shuffled around to day-care because both their biological parents are working to support the family. In our case, I was a part of the birth of my partners’ daughter, I helped care for her while her mother/my girlfriend was recovering from a difficult Caesarean, and their daughter has known me as a member of their family since before she was born. I call her my heart-daughter, because I love her the way I love my own child.

    With respect, I believe that your sample is flawed, and that your opinion on the potential success of polyamorous relationships (I’m not addressing open marriages/threesomes/swinging, because they are not my personal experience) should hopefully evolve based on the experiences of the many people who are writing in to share their lives and their relationships with you.


    Andi S.

  8. Aurieona Astara

    I realize this is an old thread but still relevant. In my search to find a way to see if opening up our relationship was really a good idea I ran across your blog and am grateful for it. There are only arguments in the comments here for polyamory. I am here to express the other side.

    My beloved and I discussed living in a community where there is an abundance of love that could at times translate sexually. It made sense that we would want to express as much love to others in this life as possible. The trouble came when the sexual part entered. Either I was raised with the type of morals I couldn’t overcome or didn’t know how to deal with jealousy but it didn’t work. I had never ever before been a jealous person in my life. I kept trying to find ways to “grow” beyond jealousy thinking it was a weakness and that I should find how to be more secure within myself. I beat myself up over it because I thought in overcoming jealousy, I would be giving my partner a tremendous gift of more love in his life from other sources than just me. I bought into the premise that one person can’t fulfill every need. So we took our precious love (not a broken relationship at all) into the open arena in order to open to more love. It didn’t work out that way. My experiences with others were empty and no where near as rich as what I could experience with my beloved. And when we partook sexually, the 1st several times we could talk through it…. until the one time I had a primal horrible jealous reaction completely unexpected and excruciating to the point where I thought I was going to lose my mind. It still blows me away how I didn’t even know I had that within me. I had worked so hard to overcome it to “give him the best” and I thought that would include many loving and sexual experiences. That experience nearly tore the completely amazing relationship we had apart. Thank heavens we were slowly able to restore our relationship to a very happy and fulfilled monogamous relationship again because we both decided nothing was more important than our relationship with each other. I guess we are some of the lucky ones.
    Thank you so much again for sharing your life’s work and 18+ years of experience with couples who have tried this I trust that more than anything I’ve read on the topic because it’s real life observations. A lot of things I’ve read including the book “Sex at Dawn” (which speaks to the issue of monogamy being a new thing and not natural) only made me try harder and feel more frustrated that I couldn’t be in poly relationships.

    I so appreciate your putting your into this blog and helping me to realize that continuing to strengthen what we have and grow together in trust and love is the best way to go (because at times I wonder if I should try even harder to overcome jealousy). Thank you again

    1. Jake, Perhaps you can consider the stories of Ann and Aurieona. Perhaps you can ask yourself of what value would non monogamy serve. Perhaps you may wish to read and then re-read my blog article. Perhaps you can consider spending your time, effort and energy in the relationship before you. Ultimately the choice is your own, we all make choices each day. As you can see from my perspective as a relationship expert for 20+ years, it is not something I am in favor of, to put it mildly, as I see the pain it causes for far too many and I see the joy in monogamy. Best, Dr. Karen

  9. In response to the above comment by Aurieona Astara, your story is almost a replica of mine except we made the mistake of getting involved with a couple. My husband and I are soul mates. Like you, we are recovering from this horror together, instead of being bitter and throwing in the towel on our marriage. We knew we would not let our stupid, terrible mistake, that we made together, destroy our precious love and marriage. We cannot and will not be without each other. We both have cried and wished we could turn back the hands of time to undo the mistake. That cannot be done, so we have chosen to move forward, learn our very hard lesson and most importantly, NEVER have anyone but the two of us. Now, the thought of it will physically sicken us. I am slowly trying to recover from what happened. It’s traumatizing. I have also not talked with anyone, besides my husband, about what happened. I’m so ashamed. The emotional and mental turmoil has been so hard. Every day I struggle with the shame and disgust of what happened. I know it will get easier with time.My husband is my rock, he has been there for me every second to comfort me and remind me of how much he loves me, that it was a horrible mistake that will never be repeated, ever again. He makes sure that I know that he only needs and wants me and will never have another again. Just like you, the acts were empty, NOTHING like being with my love. Like you, we are one of the lucky ones. Thankfully, we were only in this twice, with one couple. Like you, the 2nd and final time, I had a reaction that made me not recognize my own self. It was the wake up call that I’m so glad we got. We are determined that after some time, this will be just a horrible memory that we rarely think about. This has made us realize the true, deep love we have for each other, and that we only need each other. Thank you for sharing your story, it has helped me to hear someone who’s story is so similar to mine and trying to heal from this.

    1. I am so glad Ann that you found the comment by another reader of my blog of value. To hear another’s story of similarity one can understand how therapeutic that can be. I am sorry for your and your spouse’s pain in your involvement with a couple outside of your marriage. I am happy for you that you and your husband came to realize from that pain from your experience during your journey of recovery the “deep love” you have for one another in monogamy. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story! Warmly, Dr. Karen

  10. Dr. Karen,
    I’m glad to have found your blog and I am buying your book this week. I was thrilled to know about your book and am so looking forward to reading it. My marriage is so important to me and I want to keep things not just good, but GREAT! I know your book is going to be very helpful to me. Thank you so much for caring about people and sharing your knowledge!

  11. Dr. Karen,

    Thank you for writing this article. I also read “Sex At Dawn” and my husband and I had a threesome with another woman. Like the other reader of your blog, specifically because of that book, I felt that monogamy was unnatural and something that I needed to overcome. This has been an ongoing struggle for us for the last 2 years. Thankfully my husband is also very supportive and we have both been terribly confused. I will also say that whenever we reconsider the subject after letting it die for a while, I start to become very upset, even hating him (he is a wonderful man and I pushed for the threesome) AND frustrated with myself for not being able to get over my bad feelings. I’m not sure I can fully embrace your blog post after reading Sex At Dawn (I would love to see you write a response to that book in your blog), but I definitely plan to share this post with my husband, at a minimum. We are scheduled to meet another woman tonight (after 2 years of not repeating our last mistake). Now I am not so sure. Also, I definitely agree that the fantasy is much better than the reality sexually.

    Here is my question. Your blog post says that couples basically never recover from even one instance of an open relationship experience. Is that true? Or have you seen couples walk away from the idea, return to monogamy, and be successful? My husband and I are both very committed to staying together through thick and thin. After 14 years and a deep knowledge of his commitment and my own, I don’t think we will ever divorce. However, I wonder if we will destroy what is good and then stay together only because we are staying together. Things are much better in our relationship overall when we stop this idea and return to monogamy. There is some routine / boredom to our sexual life (although overall I think we have better sex than just about anyone I know, married or not, still there becomes a routine aspect to it). This is what we were trying to overcome. Otherwise, we have no desire to have another love relationship (so we are trying threesome / swinging not polyamory).

    So again my question is whether you have seen couples overcome a single or even multiple experiences and return to having a strong monogamous relationship. Also how do you deal with the inevitable issue of boredom / routine for even the best sex with the same person again and again for a lifetime?

    Thanks very much for your insightful post!

    1. To answer your question, my experience has been that if both the husband and the wife wish to go “all in”, full force attention, commitment, desire, time and energy – put that into the couple, and to understand what the boredom is all about and how to spice it up (without another human being), to access sides of one’s self with their partner that typically they do not access, then, YES, the couple can find their sexual relationship enhanced post going outside of the marriage- IF they put a stop to going outside of the marriage. So, in summary, a couple can return to monogamy indeed. The problem is that too often 1 person within the couple wants to continue including having another within their marriage when the spouse does not (once there has been a taste). So, by having that one time try, and then another and another – the one time far too often opens the door to more than one being an option. Without it as an option, if polyamory as a lifestyle is off the table, and if couples choose to be honest with themselves and one another about their needs, the focus, energy and creativity can go into the monogamous relationship. All it takes is 1x to include an additional person within the couple unit to change the relationship dynamic between the couple forever. With that though, I have indeed seen some couples who have found their couple-hood again indeed. With desire for one another and a commitment, through their therapeutic work they heal and connect. The key is that after the event (s), they choose as a team, they both decide that they no longer wish to ever include another in their precious marriage. A re-commitment in essence.

      You ask about boredom and routine- how to overcome that. That is: by not being lazy. Not that I am suggesting you are lazy. LOL. I am simply or not so simply saying that when someone new comes into the picture that is new, right? Hence the person doesn’t feel “bored” with them. But… if rather you and your spouse create newness, take turns with creating newness (new location, new moves, new positions, new smells, new environment and interaction leading up to the sexual encounter, new times, etc…) then you can get out of that feeling of boredom. Do note: it is not just about the bedroom interaction. It is also about creating newness and fun within the couple outside of the bedroom for that also affects the overall relationship thus the bedroom play. Ask yourself; what is mature love? Can I have a sexy sexual fun mature love by taking action on mixing it up with the person I am with for a lifetime? The answer is; yes you can, if you both put in the effort. I am hopeful my response was helpful. Warmly, Dr. Karen

      1. Hello Dr. Karen! First and for most I love the thread that I`ve read on your blog but furthermore the way you responded in such a polite intellectual manner. I am probably the youngest of the bunch(21) and no I`m not married but I am in a loyal relationship to my boyfriend . Lately it seems like everyone on t.v including celebs are into this trend. Not to be boastful at all but I am a very attractive female, however dudes approach me all the time. I love my boyfriend and he expresses his love back! In my opinion there will always be so much temptation in the world but you have to stand tall. Yes we all strive to be perfect couples, but we all know its only a fairy tale. Pursuing another sexual fantasy besides my lover is not right to me, also, just the thought of another woman desiring my boyfriend is upsetting to me. So, Dr. Karen it’s great to know that you stick to the conventional aspect and promoting monogamous relationships. In my opinion I rather be single than to say I`m in something. I highly doubt I will ever engage in open relationships because its not worth it. So many things to do to spice up your love life. Although I`m considered still young and need to live a little more, I will always remember your post! Thanks 🙂

        1. Hello College Chic,
          Thank you for taking the time to share with me your thoughts. You are SOOOO right!!! It does appear to be that the topic of polyamory is gaining stage. The more we accept this as an option through promotion, and the less mongamy is promoted as a desirable plan, the more polyamory becomes an option…

          You are so right, yes, you may be young but that does not mean your opinion lacks in value. Indeed, you said it; there are “so many things to do to spice up your love life”. I am so glad that you shall remember my post. Remember it indeed, for monogamy is a philosophical belief system, as is polyamory. Each person gets to have their own opinion. Make the choice to hold onto your values and not buy into another’s belief if it does not fit for you.

          Dr. Karen

          1. Yes, Ms. Karen I definitely definitely will. Practicing monagamy to be honest is my only choice lol. In my opinion sharing my man or vice versus simply makes me want to regurgitate. You are definitely amazing, and since this is my senior year as a Psych major, I would like to follow in your foot steps on such topics and take this approach post grad school.
            Kindest Regards,
            College chic

          2. Thank you College Chic for your kind words. I wish you all the best in your Senior Year! Time flies, as I do remember those days like it was yesterday. I met my now husband while I was in college. May you enjoy your educational journey in school, and your relational journey of the joys of monogamy.

  12. Dear Dr. Karen,

    First of all i would like to say thank you for this unfold explanation of Open relationship, i just did some research on swing and the google led me to this valuable page of yours. i strongly agree upon all your professional statement. Monogamy and other types of relationship is an OPTION, im a gay so knew exactly that living my being is not an Option at all. I truly love your statement: “The moment we as humans think we do not have a choice about our actions, it is then that we as a culture are in tremendous trouble.”

    In my society (Indonesia) we have a saying : NO matter how many stars in the sky there is only one morning star that will never be replaced, meaning that people may have such an option to be in open relationship but there is always and will always be only one person they truly love and care about despite others.

    I have read through all the comments and so many criticism on your explanation of the result after adding another person, simply you wrote the truth of human being. Like or Not, acknowledge or not, human being is composed with emotions, and the most debatable one is jealous. what struck me most is those who live in Non-Monogamy life style, such as swing, Still have a guideline or basic rules to be in that life style, the most absurd one, for me, is they have to stay together(come together to the party and leave the party as one couple too) for me it is absurd in the first place because that rule itself explaining the existence of Jealous within our being as a human (please correct me Dr. Karen)

    Also any other types of Non-Monogamy relationship, still we can find what so-called : things to be done and Not to be Done or Rules, and any names on it, is simply to maintain those people battle their insecurities, simply because all the emotions and results you have witnessed during your years of experience.

    Thank you for writing this and made it available online so people like me could have better and dept understanding on such issues. 🙂 I have no doubt on your expertise

    1. Hi Saba,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment in response to my article. I appreciate your positive feedback, as well as you sharing your thoughts.

      It is my sincere pleasure for writing this. It is so wonderful to know when it positively touches another.
      Warm Regards,
      Dr. Karen

  13. I need your advice regarding treating the psychological effects caused by surviving such a situation.

    1. I mean the situation of surviving a situation of threesome .. I know somebody who was in a relation with somebody and he and her best friend surprised her with an attempt to threesome. She did not involve with them but her psychology was badly affected. It has been a year now and she is not better.

      1. Hi Sara, Thank you for writing in. The fact that the person you know is still feeling affected a year after, even though she did not participate in the threesome, but the experience of being “surprised” with an attempt, my suggestion is that your friend go for individual counseling. Talk therapy is a very effective method to help people uncover what their emotional hurt is, why they were hurt and why they are still holding onto the pain, and provide concrete ways in which to move forward in an emotionally healthy and productive way from the psychological hurt.

        I am sure you can understand that I cannot provide psychological treatment via a public blog, nor through you – for the person you are speaking of. Though you asked for advice, and I am happy to provide that advice, and that is for this person to definitely attend individual counseling. Counseling is not something to fear, it offers the opportunity to confront one’s feelings in a safe therapeutic environment and receive the help this person deserves. I hope you will pass my advice along.
        Dr. Karen

  14. Dr. Ruskin,

    I completely agree with your writeup and the thoughts expressed by Ann J and Aureiona. I have always practiced and will only practice monogamy. And no, I am not talking about that book “The New Monogamy” by Tammy Nelson either as it seems to argue in favor of open relationships at times. I have known 9 couples who did the ‘swinging’ thing. It was all like a close group of people. 8 couples are divorced, 37 kids now in broken families. 4 of these couples now say it was a miserable mistake, 3 are still trying to compete with the exes. The one marriage that made it have stopped the practice and preach against it. I am for building up my relationship with my wife. I don’t think that finding other women to have casual sex with or swinging would be effective at doing that. It would probably get me kicked out of my house. Her doing it to me would lead to a divorce. Noone is the best at everything but as long as we have each other, our stability and our moral values in place, we are unbeatable. Thank you for standing up for traditional values. Coming from experts like you and Linda MacDonald, it is good to see experienced voices tell us what we should already know, though many still don’t.

    1. Hi Conor,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to provide positive feedback to me regarding my “standing up for traditional values”. And for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.
      Dr. Ruskin

  15. Eight years ago, my husband and I started a polyamorous relationship with a couple who were our best friends for over a decade (the woman was my college roommate). We had been through thick and thin together, and when her husband suggested we become polyamorous, particularly to help support her during his deployment in Afghanistan, we spent many months all four of us discussing how we each felt about it (we read “Dawn of Sex” and many Laurell K Hamilton books) and decided we all agreed that it could be wonderful.

    And, in the beginning, it was wonderful. I’m a very emotional and loving extrovert, and so were our friends. My husband is introverted, sarcastic, not emotionally expressive–so being in a relationship where I was showered with affection was like a drug I didn’t know I needed. It felt amazing. I know now that this is called “new relationship energy.”

    Our friends had two children, we had none, and as our polyamorous relationship continued, my husband became more and more engaged in the relationship and I became less engaged and started fulfilling a babysitter role. Soon, they were meeting to have sex frequently, and I was turning it down even after the kids were in bed. I wasn’t in the “mood”… I didn’t understand what was happening to me or why. When I was in the mood, I would try hard to get together with them and have sex before the urge went away (they had been complaining about my distance—then they started saying they felt sexually used). I knew something wasn’t working for me, I just didn’t know what it was yet, and I felt guilty about it. I think I understand now that I was naturally monogamous.

    A few years into the relationship I suffered a major personal loss (sudden and unexpected death of my father) and needed a lot of time alone and with my birth family to grieve. This did not help matters–our poly partners felt abandoned and sad that I didn’t want to share my grief with them. At that time, as a response to losing my father and realizing my own mortality, I decided to go back to school and get the college degree I had always wanted–one of the most difficult and demanding things I have ever done–and became even more distant from the poly relationship during the next few years while I worked hard on my degree and worked a full time job. During this time, our friends met a young woman who became obsessed/fell in love with my friend’s husband, who is also into BDSM. Soon he was her dominant and she was his submissive in many sexual-related games, but not having sex—all of this without consulting me or my husband, though I assume he consulted his wife about it. I was so jealous—and none of them understood why! Even though I was working very hard on my degree, I still made sure to arrange times in my schedule we could be together—but soon my requests to come over to their house for togetherness time were met with “(Girl) is not in the mood for company” (she had moved in with them). I felt replaced, rejected, abandoned, angry and soooooooo jealous. I didn’t know what was happening me, I felt like I was turning into a monster or going insane. My husband was very supportive during this time, coaching understanding and forgiveness and listening to me.

    Two years ago, when the young woman started having sex outside their relationship, my friend’s husband decided to cross that final line and have sex with her–perhaps to prove his strong emotions for her? To “keep” her? I’m not sure. Once he started having sex with her, he decided to be open about his love/relationship with her, and he told me about the situation (he had told my husband some time earlier, who had not shared it with me). I felt a sense of inevitability, shock, hurt, abandonment, guilt, and relief. My female friend then shared that I had hurt her feelings by not being as interested in her sexually as the men, and that she wasn’t interested in a sexual relationship with me anymore, and just wanted to be friends. Just a few days later, the girl left them both. They went through a hard time and almost got divorced, but they came out of it stronger and more connected to each other than ever. At this time, my husband and I each got individual therapists and a marriage therapist. After spending a lot of time with my hurt and rejection, and because my female friend was trying hard to be nice to me, I am ready to rebuild our friendship in a non-sexual way with good boundaries and have started to do so.

    However, my husband does not want the same thing. In contrast to the marriages that have survived poly in the comments from readers above, my husband wants to continue a relationship with them and still stay married to me. I don’t.

    He has a valid point and valid hurts. No one had consulted him about ending our poly relationship, which was fulfilling something for him too he didn’t know he needed. He says he has spoken with them about this and they want to continue a poly relationship with us. I don’t. I want a strong boundary between me and them. My husband thinks I am being selfish and unforgiving. He has given me three options, permission for him to engage in a poly relationship with them, celibate monogamy (he says it is easier for him to delete all sexuality from his life because he can’t just stop loving them, he says they are “part of his family now”), or divorce.

    I actually think seeing a marriage therapist, who pushed me to discover my feelings about being monogamous, and share them with my husband, made things so much worse in our relationship. Every week, with my tears and the sharing of hurts, seemed to erode my husband’s love for me a little more—and cause him to feel more and more unaccepted and rejected, like a failure as a man and a husband. When push came to shove (after a solid year of therapy) I said that I didn’t want to be in a poly relationship with them, my husband moved out of our bedroom and has arranged a cozy little apartment for himself in our basement. My therapist says I am co-dependent, and she is proud of me for standing up for myself—but I feel terrible. I feel like, if I’d just repressed my feelings and continued on, we wouldn’t be at this impasse. I know that’s not a healthy way to feel.

    I feel confused and hurt. I know my husband feels confused and hurt. Our friends are confused and hurt. This experiment has damaged us all—and unless my husband decides he would like to try monogamy with me, I don’t think our marriage of 15 years can continue. I am heartbroken. I have many friends who are poly, who say it works for them, but it didn’t work for me. My poly friends say what my friend’s husband did was wrong, to bring the girl into the relationship without talking to the rest of us, but I feel like there’s more there then that that’s in the way of my “forgiving” him—I think I have learned, through this hard lesson, that I am naturally monogamous. My friend’s husband says he wants to be openly poly and to have mistresses the rest of his life. My friend says she does not feel threatened by him having mistresses. I feel threatened and jealous by the thought of my husband flirting with them. And then I feel like a terrible person for feeling jealous.

    I hope my story helps someone who is considering starting a poly relationship with some stable, life-long friends they have had for years—WATCH OUT. You could lose them, you could lose your husband, you could lose everything you hold dear. Don’t make my mistake by the “good” trait of having an open mind about trying it, but not examining yourself closely enough to understand your sexual orientation or that you are naturally monogamous. Resist your lust. Resist your desire to find emotional fulfillment by adding more people. Resist, resist, resist. I am here to tell you, even though we spent months (perhaps it was as much as a year?) slowly talking about being in a relationship and slowly developing it before we started, it did not help us weather the hard, hard times of life when they came.

    My best possible option is to try to be friends with all three of them, after I heal from divorce, but our friendship will never be as deep as it was, especially since I know my husband is leaving me because he wants to be with them (I know he still loves me, but he is leaving me because I am monogamous and he is not—the pain, the jealousy! I am shattered and heartbroken). I am very grateful for my local therapist—I think she is the only reason I will live through this, and, hopefully, though I am middle aged, find love again.

    1. Dear Anonymous,
      Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story. I am fully confident that it will help others who read it. I have people who contact me from all around the globe upon reading this blog article and the comments there in, for there are many like yourself who have been extremely hurt after experiencing polyamory. Your story is indeed a helpful reminder to others who recognize their need and desire for monogamy are not alone and that monogamy is something to treasure, not something to feel guilty about.

      I am so glad that you have a therapist of whom you are grateful for. Indeed you shall get through this and endure.
      Dr. Ruskin

  16. 20 years in a monogamous relationship, my husband “sabotages” the relationship by being emotionally withdrawn. I have given up being initiator of all aspects of affection and intimacy. I turned to spirituality to sublimate my sexual needs. It worked on the whole, although at times I get really frustrated, dream of other partners, and start to feel hate for my partner for not being more emotionally forthcoming. His father had an affair(s), and my husband had an affair(s)? that I knew about ten years ago, which I forgave him for, but just feel so used, cheated and lonely. I became critical because of my frustration with him for several years, but stopped when it looked like that was his reason for being withdrawn, but no change in him. Now, I have also become emotionally withdrawn, but my life is not happy.

    1. Hi Jessica,
      It sounds like in your marital relationship there are several themes that are going on that if left unattended (i.e., the marital disharmony, your feelings of “frustration”, “hate” for your partner, feeling used and lonely…), your response of being emotionally withdrawn and not being happy is not going to simply go away. His behavior of being emotionally withdrawn and your behaviors have created a stale mate of sorts, and this negative pattern in terms of the relationship dynamics between the two of you requires help. With that said, provided are 2 links I think you may find interesting to get you started in taking a positive action:

      This first link is to another blog I had written entitled: ‘sexual deprivation’. I am providing you with this particular article for you to read because there are varied comments from a wide range of readers who shared their thoughts, feelings and explained their situation in their marriage asking for advice. Likely you will relate to many of the writers, and many of those of whom wrote in you will see as you read through, I responded to offering concrete advice on actions they can take. I hope you will read the comments from readers and my advice, as some of the advice I gave you may find quite applicable and potentially helpful for your situation.

      This second link is to my book: ‘Dr. Karen’s Marriage Manual’. The feedback I receive from those who have read it report that my practical tips truly help people to help themselves take action in their marriage and makes a difference. I provide in my book concrete steps, tools, do-able advice to help couples to make real life changes. Whether you read the book yourself and take action on what you read, or if you ask your husband to read it with you and each night you each read a few pages together, I am hopeful that my pointers can help you and your husband get out of this painful cycle you are both in. Certainly if anything, by you having the book out and reading it each night as you are in bed and he sees you are reading it, hopefully that will help the two of you to open the lines of communication in ways in which you have not to date, as the two of you discuss the sections of what I wrote in the book. Let him know the marriage matters to you and you want to do what it takes to help it to improve. In essence, the two of you can have your own mini book club.

      Clearly, marriage counseling would be something I would recommend to the two of you. As no reading is a substitute for counseling. With that said, any positive action I would advise, and I hope that both of these links you will review and consider. I care and I hope this helps.
      Dr. Ruskin

  17. Dear Dr. Ruskin,

    I’m afraid you have made the mistake of assuming your clients represent the full spectrum of people in non-monogamous lifestyles. The only ones upon whom you have based your conclusions, are those who have experienced problems incorporating non-monogamy into their relationship in a healthy way. You aren’t seeing the sizable number of couples who HAVE been successful, because they don’t land on your doorstep, needing help. Using words like ‘never’ and ‘always’ in your conclusions is unwise if you haven’t taken the time to explore the possibility of their being untrue.

    I am quite certain you’ve seen your share of people in your over 18 years of practice who have made the mistake of opening Pandora’s Box without having first made sure their relationship’s foundation was rock solid. In addition to having unhealthy relationships, most people are culturally, mentally and emotionally geared toward monogamy. For those people, even if their relationship is A+, it is indeed dangerous to explore beyond their fences. Like yourself, we, too, have advised many couples to quit playing with matches or they would eventually pay the price.

    There are, however, many individuals and couples out there who actually are much happier in non-monogamous relationships. Genuinely happier. More balanced, feeling truer to themselves, and enjoying a loving, deeply fulfilling (both physically and emotionally), fully honest relationship with their spouse. The dynamics of these relationships are very complex and would, I’m sure, be of interest to you as a relationship expert.

    This is not a matter of the relationship, personality or character being flawed; it’s simply the way some people are wired. My point is not to “sell” you anything, nor proselytize, as you suggested anyone who professes to be happy with non-monogamy was “desperately seeking validation”. We do not require anyone’s validation; we just don’t appreciate being labeled as delusional. I don’t profess to be an expert at anything except my relationship, which we take very seriously, and my feathers get just as ruffled as yours do when someone tells me that I’m not. While I appreciate your concern, the underbelly of my soul harbours no guilt. My conscience – and my husband’s – is clear, and we both sleep just fine at night.


    E. (the Mrs.)

    1. Hello E,
      Yes, you are correct, I am basing my conclusions from the clientele I have worked with. That’s how blog articles that are perspective pieces often work. This is not something that is problematic, I state that clearly when this article was originally published several years ago: “Through my 18 years of providing couples counseling, with consistency couples who report they decided to have some form of open relationship rather than a monogamous relationship have ended up in an awful mental place and have destroyed their marriage”. Since then, it is now over 20 years that I am a marriage therapist, and my observations in this regard has remained the same. Albeit a large number of people I have spoken to within a 20+ year time span lending itself to the potential for quantitative research, I do view my impressions and insights as qualitative of sorts as such, in that I am providing insight based upon individual and couple interviews to help to develop and provide ideas and hypothesis.

      As far as your statement regarding couples making “sure their relationship’s foundation was rock solid” prior to entering into polyamory, that is not the rationale that I have heard from couples as they look back on their relationship. Typically there was something that was missing within one’s own self thus affecting the couple and/or the couple dynamic and thus not so “rock solid”. When a relationship is truly and fully “rock solid” couples do not venture into polyamory.

      There is the minority of those of whom enter into a relationship already knowing they are polyamorous and the other person knowing they too share that lifestyle choice, and then they together live a lifestyle of polyamory.

      I am sure you are not the first nor will you be the last to mention that my conclusions are based on my observations, thus I shall address this with clarity and state: yes, yes, yes, yes, I specify, from my observation of the hundreds of couples I have spoken with. With that said, I have had a few couples (very small numbers by comparison), who thought their relationship was solid and entered into polyamory which opened up their eyes to the problems in their relationship that led them to open their relationship up to more than one love. And as such decided to live a polyamorous lifestyle, ultimately bringing them into my office to discuss the matter of why they are still not fulfilled nor happy. It is those couples that explained they were able to recognize what some of their relationship problems were that they did not allow themselves to confront while married, and it was the polyamorous lifestyle that led them to self actualization (which is a good thing) and ultimately to marital destruction. There are the secrets we keep to ourselves and there are the secrets we keep from ourselves.

      Thanks for taking the time to write in and share your perspective.
      Dr. Ruskin

  18. Hi Dr. Ruskin,

    I have been in a long distance relationship with a man who lives in another state for over six years. I just found out via of his father’s obituary that he is married and has kids. I was never informed about the marriage or kids as this all happened while we were together. We have a Dom and sub long distance relationship and have only seen each other four times during our relationship.

    The bottom line is that he never informed me about the marriage and the kids. When I found out he was married with kids and didn’t tell me when he had numerous times to do this, I felt betrayed and hurt. I googled his wife’s name and found her on Facebook and saw both of them together and with the kids. I decided to text the pictures to him to let him know that I found out on my own. He immediately responded to tell me that the marriage is an open marriage and she knows. He said he never tells people he is in an open marriage to protect his family from crazy people. He tells me not to worry about it because she knows and it is not that serious. I feel the need to investigate further and contact the wife to see if the marriage is an open marriage just for myself. I do love him but since he didn’t tell me about the marriage and kids, I feel betrayed. I have forgiven him but I don’t trust him now. By the way, I am single and I divorced while we were together so he know everything about me and I haven’t kept anything from him.

    Thank you so much for your time and great information. I have learned a lot from all of this.

    May I ask what do you think about all of this?

    1. Hi Ms. Fitness,
      You ask what I “think about all of this”. I think that he may have an open marriage. I think that he may not have an open marriage. It is one or the other. Either way, he decided to lead you to believe that you were his long distance girlfriend. If you believed that he was committed to just you even though you have only seen each other 4 times while he lives in another state for over six years, then I suggest you take a moment to consider that you believed what you wanted to believe.

      With that said, you did not know that you were his mistress (if he is cheating and this is not an open marriage). You did not know that you were involved with a married man as part of an open marriage (if truly this is an open marriage). Which is painful for you I am sure, as you believed that just as you were honest he was too. Unfortunately one of the biggest mistakes people make in life is to believe that the way they operate in life is the same way others do. You have discovered the hard way that is not always the case.

      Certainly I would think you would have thought he has a separate life from you and if not married with kids, quite possibly in a serious relationship. With that said, the depth of which his double life is, certainly one can understand that you did not know. So, now that you have discovered the reality, now is when your character is going to be discovered. You must confront thyself in a serious way, you now have a decision to make, about your life going forward. And it’s a big decision. Here’s what I think. Ask yourself this question: “Do I want to be in a relationship with a man who is interested in the development of a long term committed relationship that is monogamous, or do I want to be in a relationship with a man of whom is married?” Ask yourself; “Do I want to be in a relationship where a man will never be all mine and me all his, for I will never come first?” Regardless of whether he cheated or his wife knows, the fact still is how he explained it to you. He wants to “protect his family from crazy people”. So, YOU my dear are under the category of “crazy people” from his perspective that he needs to protect his family from. I am not saying you are crazy, please don’t let my inference get lost in the written word and in it’s translation. Rather I am simply reminding you of what he said to you as to why he never told you he was married. He never gave you the option to determine if you wanted to be with someone who is married. THAT says something about him, does it not?

      Ok, you love him you said. Well, you still have a decision to make. For if you love yourself, and want all the goodies that you deserve in a relationship, I would urge you to sit down with yourself, and ask yourself the above questions. This is about you and your life, not him. He’s married, he has kids. You are just an extra. Do you want to live as someone’s extra or do you want to live as someone’s special? This is your decision to make of course, though it seems like a clear cut case of: it’s time for you to move on. Grieve, and then have closure and move forward. Find someone special that is for you and you for him rather than yearning for someone who is taken.
      Dr. Ruskin

        1. My sincere pleasure Ms Fitness. Your name that you are using for this blog interaction “Ms Fitness”- infers a physical gal who takes care of her body, yes? Now it is time to take care of your heart and your mind. The same passion and excellence you commit to your body you shall now take care of your heart and mind too, in a loving, nurturing way. Take this experience as something to learn from and know that your next relationship is one that is to be a mutually vested relationship.
          Take care,
          Dr. Ruskin

  19. Good morning, I am going to find a therapist to talk to about all of this. May I ask what do you think about the information below? You can send it to my private email address if you cannot address this online. Any help is appreciated.
    Thank you.

    Dr. Karen Ruskin, he did inform me that he was seeing other people not married with kids.
    I accepted that. I told him that I wanted to get married. He even sent me a picture of a wedding ring asking me if I wanted him to buy it. lol He could have told me that he was married so many times but he didn’t. Is it wise for me to contact the wife to inform her of this information to see if the marriage is open? He was deceitful to me and maybe he is being that way with her.

    1. Yes Ms Fitness, speaking with a therapist is a great plan. As you so wisely recognized, the blog interaction is not a forum in which there’s a client-therapist relationship. The depth of your question opens up the type of specifics that is only appropriate for me to answer in the context of a therapist-client relationship. Of which the blog forum is not. You are welcome to contact me directly via my ‘client contact’ page if you wish to schedule a telephone consultation, I would be happy to explore further with you and I can break down my fee structure then. Or, if you wish to find a therapist in the town you live in and ask the therapist this question, certainly that is a good idea as well. To be blunt, your question is actually questions. And your thoughts and feelings deserve to be explored in a therapeutic context, for you to truly get your needs met.

      I am so glad that you reached out and I hope you get the help you desire. I am confident that there are others who will read our blog exchange and identify with your struggle. Hopefully our exchange will be empowering to you and to others who struggle to remind them to get the help they need.

      Dr. Ruskin

  20. Dr.Karen,I read your article and I agree that noone should enter the swing lifestyle to “save their marriage”. Swinging is something that people who have happy relationships already do for fantasy fulfillment and because they are both wired a certain way. Both myself and my husband were involved in swinging before we got together. Not committing to just any relationship within that community and making an emotional committment to one another were logical choices for us.We aren’t people who disdain monogomy,but we do enjoy having sexual adventures with each other. Loving your partner in a way where sexually sharing other people is fulfilling as an activity isn’t for everyone, but I disagree with your ascessment of “the outside relationships being the primary relationships”,that’s not at all how our relationship works. We share an emotional monogomy and a joint love of sexual adventures and sport sex.We aren’t into “wife-swapping” or the things perceived as “traditional swinger activities”,we prefer 3 somes 4 somes and moresomes. We also don’t play alone when in the same geographical location,but this is what works for us. I’m in no way slamming any other type of life style.We both identify as emotionally monogomous,sexual sluts. Polyamory isn’t really for us and we are certain to state this.We also aren’t interested in meeting another couple to share sexual activity with.A group maybe,preferably a fairly large one. I think that noone can define what works for everyone like you do in your article. While both monogomy and polyamory seem unappealing to us,I do know some very successful triad and quad relationships.Not so many monogamous ones,but that may have something to do with our social groups.Statistically swingers have a much lower divorce rate than traditionally married couples do. In simplified terms swingers identify as emotionally monogamous and sexually adventurous whereas poly people love more than one person at a time. I don’t think that anyone else’s lifestyle is my business as long as they respect mine,I respect there’s.Maybe you should consider doing the same.That said,the only thing that fixes any relationship in any lifestyle is communication, building of trust and commitment to honesty with ones partner. No lifestyle is a magic potion,they are a preference.Any of them will work better if the people participating in the relationship are committed to living by the same parameters.Everyone deserves happiness and love, repression,judgement and shaming are the underlying cause to the breakdown of any relationship,not the type of relationship that the people in the relationship choose for themselves.

  21. Dr Karen,
    I’m in a dilemma and I’m not sure how to handle it and I would really appreciate your advice. My husband has fantasies involving a threesome or foursomes. It seems like we rarely really intimate where his fantasies are not in play. In truth this cuts me to the core but I play along . I believe it more because I’ve heard him state in several different ways that sex gets boring. I’ve tried to spice it up with different scenarios, outfits, etc… I don’t believe I’m prudish and I really want an exciting sex life with him. I’ve shared my feelings with him and he will go for awhile and keep it to himself but it always creeps right back in.. I believe that if a real life scenario was introduced he would be “all in” . I however would not. I’ve stated to him several times I would never really engage in real life during one of our discussions and he seemed very irritated and said well if it isn’t a possibility then basically what’s the point. I remember in that moment feeling like I would never be enough to please him and in that same conversation he stated I’m plenty enough for him. This is leaving me confused. I don’t know how to define my feelings in this to him in any clearer language. He says ok he’ll never bring it up again and yet here we are right back in the same scenario. We will be in the act an he will say ‘ you know where my mind’s going ‘ and I feel trapped not to ruin the mood, even though I’m sure he’s really not caring about mind at the time… . Please help me to communicate once and for all in a loving and non judgmental way this isn’t working for me and it’s breaking my heart.

  22. Paula Marchese

    Dear Dr. Karen, thank you so much for your thoughtful words and guidance on polyamory. Recently, a polyamorous relationship surfaced in my church community. I am appalled that I am being asked to be accepting of it. I don’t care if people want polyamory, if all are in. But when others are asked to sanction, approve, then I’m out. In this case there are 3 adorable children ranging from 3 to 7. I have watched them go from open, affectionate, laughing girls, to subdued and unknowing participants, retreating into a corner while their mother and new partner flirted in the next room during coffee hour. As a child of divorced parents who never explained their union or separation, I feel a kinship with these children. I know their trust, their world have been set off course. They will never be the same children. Can you address the consequences when children are present in one or more of the participants in a PA relationship? Thank you.

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