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An “Open” MarriageAfter her own marriage faced infidelity, author Jenny Block and her husband decided to be “open”—that is, sleep with other partners if they chose to. Block detailed the journey in her memoirs, Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage. Here she speaks with 2 about her marital insights, sharing how she thinks relationships and the institution need to change.

Illustration of a bleeding rainbow.

2: Why is it that marriages run into affair trouble?
Block: When you’re in a one-on-one socially defined relationship, you are and are not allowed to do, say and be certain things. That’s not intimacy. In the beginning, your relationship is sex and pillow talk, but look at later when you’re talking to girlfriends about him. If he heard what you said, he’d kill you! We need to take a step back, look at marriage and discuss what it is, what it could be and how it harms us. For many people, the institution of marriage can feel like a trap, so that we can’t grow and be in great relationships. In friendship there aren’t limits, but if we’re dating, there are suddenly all these rules. Why are we so much more intimate with a best friend than a lover?

2: So why not find someone who is open to us as we are, and create that kind of monogamous union instead?
Block: There are some people who can do that, and that’s fabulous. But biologically we’re not a monogamous species. For most people to be truly fulfilled, that would mean more than one loving relationship. You have to let yourself out of the chains of the supposed-to’s. We made these rules, but we can’t play within them. Right-wing proponents for marriage say the rate of infidelity is 12 percent, but if marriage as an institution fails 50 percent of the time, that can’t be right. So does that mean we’re doing it wrong? No, the institution itself is the problem. What if there’s no Prince Charming? What if there’s more than one? Why can’t all those relationships make you a whole, happy person? Not everyone has to do it. The only thing I advocate is honesty.

2: Okay, so if you don’t advocate open marriages for everyone, who is it best suited for?
Block: It’s for people who know that they’re in a great relationship and still know that it isn’t enough for them, but they can be completely honest. They need to look at each other as human beings—not just as partners and spouses—and be able to say, “I’m not defined by you, and I am who I am regardless of the relationship.” Most of us become the royal we when we marry, and you lose your identity. But I do think there are people who are great at monogamy. I have a friend who calls himself Mr. Monogamy who feels he could never do an open relationship, but at least they went to the edge, looked over, shrugged and came back. That’s what I hope for couples—that they at least have the discussion so that they know there are other options. When it comes to marriage, it seems like there is this one-size-fits-all attitude, and I don’t know how many people it actually fits.