Alternative Forms of Marriage Open Marriage Part 2

About the alternative form of marriage known as open marriage, history of the practice and people who have them.

Alternate Forms of Marriage


The central idea of open marriage is synergy, the idea that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts; synergy comes about when each partner in a marriage is committed to personal growth and that of the spouse. Guidelines set forth by the O'Neills are: living for now, realistic expectations, privacy, role flexibility, open and honest communication, open companionship with others, equality, identity and autonomy, and trust. They see the process of developing a group marriage as a snail-like spiral of evolving stages, leading from the self to others to transcendence. To the O'Neills, marriage is not a "couples game." Couples have a nonexclusive right to intimate friendships with other, which does not necessarily include sex, but can.

Practitioners: The 1800s saw many experimenters with open marriage. Two of the most interesting were Mary and Thomas Nichols, who married when she was a divorcee of 37 and he a medical student of 32. In Marriage (1853), they advocated the idea that a woman should have children by different lovers. In fact, each such child would provide "a living likeness [of the lover]. It is better than a daguerreotype." In the end, after a series of experiments with utopian commune living, they became Catholics.

Famed sexologist Havelock Ellis espoused open marriage--mainly for himself. After he married novelist Edith Lees in 1891, he insisted that they maintain separate houses and live apart for six months of the year, have their own incomes, and have the freedom to enter sexual relationships outside the marriage. She grew violently jealous of his affairs; the only lover she took was a woman. Ellis got his comeuppance when, after the death of Edith, he entered an alliance with a Frenchwoman who took him at his word and had an affair with a poet-friend, reducing Ellis to fits of insane jealousy.

Others of that time who experimented, mainly unsuccessfully, with open marriage were H. G. Wells and Bertrand Russell.

Where It Stands Today: Few succeed at open marriage, primarily because it demands such emotional maturity, though many try it. Witness the Los Angeles husband who came home at dawn to find that his wife had locked him out of the house and scattered the pages of Open Marriage over the front lawn.

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