Open relationships: Love without strings

You're happily married, but both free to have sex with other people. Are open relationships the answer to modern matrimony – or just a recipe for divorce?

"Open marriage destroyed Ashton and Demi's relationship!" cried one tabloid. "Did Ashton and Demi have an OPEN MARRIAGE?" spat another. When Hollywood couple Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore split last month amid rumours of having an alternative union, the press had a field day. The astonishment and bewilderment over a couple engaging in such a lifestyle was screamed from the front pages.

We live in a society that is more sexually liberated than ever before, yet open relationships – a relationship in which both partners are allowed to have sex with other people – still have the propensity to shock. It is one of the last remaining taboos.

Kutcher and Moore are not the only high-profile couple to allegedly reject monogamy. The actress Tilda Swinton caused similar ripples when she gave a frank interview in 2008 explaining her unusual living arrangements. She and her long-term partner, the artist and playwright John Byrne, have been together for more than a decade and live with their twins in a rambling house in Scotland... along with her 33-year-old lover Sandro Kopp. When pressed, she remarked: "We are all a family. What you must also know is that we are all very happy."

Mo'Nique, the actress and comedienne who won an Oscar for her role in Precious, and her husband Sidney Hicks are another couple who have spoken candidly about their personal life. "Could I have sex outside of my marriage with Sidney? Yes. Could Sidney have sex outside of his marriage with me? Yes. That's not a deal breaker," Mo'nique told a flabbergasted Barbara Walters in an interview.

So can open relationships work? Jenny Block, the writer and author of Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, certainly thinks so. The 41-year-old mother of one is currently the poster girl for open marriage in the US, describing herself as "the most average-looking, regular soccer-mom type". Having married her husband, Christopher, in 1997, Block embarked on an affair with another woman three years later. When she finally came clean to her husband, she found his response fascinating. "What was so interesting to me was that he said, 'I can't believe you lied to me', rather than, 'I can't believe you had sex with someone else'," she says.

"It was the trust thing rather than the sex thing that had hurt him and so I began to ask myself which was more important and what was marriage really based on?"

They decided to embark on an open marriage, albeit with certain ground rules: complete honesty and strictly no carrying on with someone else from their neighbourhood. Currently Block has a girlfriend, Jemma, who has her own apartment but is also considered part of the family. While Jemma and Christopher don't have a sexual relationship, he is free to date other women. Keeping up?

"We're not monogamous creatures, it is a lifestyle choice," Block says. "And it doesn't always work. In the US we have a 50 per cent failure rate for marriage. If you get 50 per cent on a test at school you wouldn't be like, 'Great! Keep doing what you're doing'; you'd look for better results."

What irks Block is that we live in a society where cheating is acceptable (if not exactly welcomed), whereas open relationships are scrutinised. "Isn't it better to be honest about your desires?" she asks. "I'm not claiming that this is possible across the board or that we're all ready for this yet, but I'm suggesting that this is something that works for us and other people."

Her 13-year-old daughter is aware of the situation and the couple have elected to answer any questions as they come. But Block stresses that theirs is not some wild household with people swinging from the chandeliers. "We couldn't be any more mainstream if we tried," she says. "Saturday night is Scrabble and Chinese take-out."

As one might imagine, Block and her family have been given a hard time by certain groups since the release of her book three years ago. Why does she think people object to her situation?

"I guess it's hard any time you stray from the social norm. Our society's foundation is based on monogamous, heterosexual marriage," Block says. "But even though we have had people be unkind sometimes, unless we all sort of come clean, when are we ever going to get a conversation going?"

Despite Block extolling all that open marriage has to offer, it shouldn't come without certain warnings; jealousy being the most obvious catalyst for causing cracks. "It really depends on the couple and what their values are but generally it doesn't work because eventually somebody will form an outside attachment and that will cause problems with the primary relationship," Mandy Kloppers, a relationship psychologist and counsellor, says.

On her decades-long relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, the philosopher and feminist Simone de Beauvoir wrote: "We were two of a kind and our relationship would endure as long as we did: but it could not make up entirely for the fleeting riches to be had from encounters with different people." It was Sartre who proposed the open relationship and he was the one who engaged in numerous affairs, while de Beauvoir rarely did. Critics have observed that her fiction, so autobiographical in nature, suggests she suffered deeply from jealousy, going along with Sartre's plan merely to please him.

This, Kloppers points out, is often the outcome of such arrangements. "It's common to see one person coerced into it because they want to keep their partner happy and want to keep an eye on them," she says. "If you have an unstable relationship to begin with then you're asking for trouble by doing this type of thing."

Such arrangements are as old as time but in modern, Western society perhaps it is possible that such imaginative ways of life can offer happiness for those involved. It might not be for everyone, but maybe we have to accept that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to love and commitment. And for those who find the arrangement emotionally fulfilling and feel it breathes life into long-term relationships, perhaps it's not such a shocking set-up after all.

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
musicReview: 1989's songs attempt to encapsulate dramatic emotional change in a few striking lines
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
I'm not worried about United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Arts and Entertainment
Saw point: Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in ‘Serena’
filmReview: Serena is a strangely dour and downbeat affair
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Computer Science Teacher required

    £7200 - £36000 per annum: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently recr...

    Teaching Assistant Plymouth

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Plymouth: TEACHING ASSISTANTS NEEDED FOR PLYMOU...

    SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

    £50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

    Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

    £7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker