Long-time Frank Love readers already know that I am all for relationships that work. If both people are happy, I say do your thing. Do what you want, and label them as you feel appropriate. But what intrigues me is the reasoning behind labeling our relationships for others. After all, each romantic partnership and its “rules” are defined by the people in it; therefore, no two relationships look the same. So, why are labels even necessary?
One term I hear being used more frequently is “open marriage.” The commonly-held understanding of this term is that it is a relationship in which the participants are open to and accepting of their spouses dating and/or having sex with other people. I have discussed “open marriages” with my friends, Carl and Kenya Stevens of JujuMama, and enjoyed the presentations they have done on the topic. My understanding is that their mission is to expand how relationships and love can be framed so that people experience relationships that are expansive, inclusive and accepting. In interviews, Carl introduces their union as an “open-marriage,” which makes sense given his expertise and subject matter. But if we’re not presenting information on or discussing relationships, what are our motives for defining our partnerships for other people?
When you introduce your partner as your “husband,” “wife,” “girlfriend,” “boyfriend” or any other label, why are you doing so? Is it to relay, “She is with me, so if you’re interested in her, back off”? Are you saying, “We have agreed to have sex only with one another, so keep an eye on my partner and let me know if he does something I might find questionable”? Or are you simply saying, “We are close to one another”?
I don’t feel the need to discuss or define the terms of my relationship with anyone other than my partner, because I don’t believe anyone else has a role to play in it (unless at my request). Those interested in knowing whether we are close will probably be able to see it – whether we call ourselves “married” or not. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what they think or what I call it; my relationship is between me and my mate. So, if you see her out with another man, you can keep your policing and judgment to yourself. You can let her and yourself off the hook. I think this is the most respectful way to approach anyone’s relationship – whether they call it “open” or not.
I am curious about what you think. Do you feel it is your responsibility to police the marriages of those who are close to you (or even not so close)? If so, why? Is it because you would want someone to tell you if your partner was dating outside of your relationship? Is it because you believe that the “cheater‘s” partner would want you to? Is it your duty, as someone who respects “the sanctity of marriage“? When a couple tells you their relationship is “closed,” or fails to say it is “open,” what do they (or you) want your role to be in making sure everyone plays by the rules?
This is a dynamic I genuinely want to better understand. Please weigh in with your thoughts.
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