“Dr. Karen” has books and does TV and radio in the New England area, talking about marriage and parenting. You know the type. Recently, she gave “expert advice” on “open relationships.” She not only touts monogamy as superior to anything else, but the only possible relationship type. To make her opinion clear up front, she wrote…
No, the answer is NO – DO NOT, I repeat in capital letters: DO NOT have any additional partner/person in your marriage.
But how does she really feel?
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!
And why not? According to her…
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.
(Emphasis mine. It is important.)
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.
That’s interesting. I know of multiple situations in which cheating, while problematic in the short run, ended up being the wake-up call the marriage needed and the marriage ended up better as a result. That’s cheating, not an agreed-to side event or relationship. Still, I don’t advocate cheating, but my point is, the relationship not only recovered, but got better… in some cases. And I know, very, very well, polyamorous relationships that are happy, healthy, and lasting.
But she is talking about people who based their relationship, in part, on an agreement to monogamy. They have always tried to be monogamous. Most of these people have monogamy ingrained into their personality. It’s like someone who has spent twenty years playing tennis one-on-one and then expecting to automatically, immediately do well at two-on-two tennis.
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.
…and sometimes not until someone like her insists that the problems they have are a result of their nonmonogamy. Their choice is either to agree with her or to stop talking with her.
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.
Couldn’t one say the same thing about someone who insists monogamy is the only way?
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.
So… wouldn’t that mean that the nonmonogamy wasn’t the problem after all?
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.
Hey, if someone doesn’t want to do it or agree to it, after careful consideration, then they shouldn’t, of course.
Couples that choose to have an open marriage simply do not know how to have a successful monogamous relationship.
And Elton John just hasn’t found the right woman, right?
The fantasy is always better than the reality.
Funny, I’ve heard some people say that about monogamous marriage, too. Should people give up on them?
There's much more, as people left critical comments and Ruskin tried to defend her closed-mindedness.
Jim Catano commented, taking issue…
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?
Dr. Karen “answered” by dodging the questions and accusing Catano of denying monogamy can be happy, healthy, and successful, which he did not do.
Catano returned, thought his comment was edited by Dr. Karen. I’m curious to know what was “not suitable for public viewing on this website.”
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 http://www.polychromatic.com/pfp//main.php?groupid=5 as opposed to discouraging them from exploring paths that might bring them greater fulfillment than they’ve found in more conventional relationships.
Dr. Karen replied…
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.
Since when is looking for fulfillment a bad thing?
Irene K wrote, and by this time Dr. Karen was no doubt rethinking the decision to allow comments…
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.
Exactly! Nobody goes to a therapist’s office or a police station and says, “Just wanted to tell you… everything is going GREAT with (my two husbands, my wife and my husband, my sister, my nephew… whatever)… the sex is fantastic and everyone is happy.”
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.”
How ‘bout them apples?
Dr. Karen still tried…
Those who live in polyamorous relationships report this is a choice.
Not all. Not by a longshot. But even if that were true, so what? Adults should have freedom of choice.
Those who are homosexuals typically report this is not a choice. Clinically, emotionally, physiologically there is a difference.
So what if there is a difference? There’s a difference between walking and bicycling, too, and walking is entirely natural and can be done without any artificial devices, but that doesn’t mean they can’t share some of the same freedoms and respect. This is essentially Discredited Argument #8.
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.
Polyamorous relationships can be stable and loyal (and monogamous ones can be unstable and disloyal), and people can find joy and fulfillment in them. Monogamy can be beautiful, but so can polyamory. Polyamorists and monogamists can teach children that both are beautiful. I don’t have to paint at all to show my children the beauty of classic masterpieces or modern art, or to teach them that they can choose to paint in the classic way, a modern way, or take up welding.
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.
So they should be free to seek it.
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!
Chad Doberstein added…
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.
She edited that comment, too. Then she made accusations…
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.
Any romantic relationship can be painful, if for no other reason that almost all of them end with at least one person left around to mourn the end of it, but other times because someone felt used or deceived or rejected. But fewer people will be hurt as badly when we have full marriage equality and awareness of that equality. Polyamorous people will not be forced into attempted monogamy. Gays and lesbians will no longer be more or less forced to pretend to be single or involve someone of another gender. Those in consanguinamorous relationships won’t have to hide and go on dates with others in whom they really don’t have an interest.
I do think monogamy is right for some people, and they should be supported in that, and have competent therapists who will help them. But I also think polyamory is right for others, and they should also be supported and have therapists who will help them.