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
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
Ministry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
i100
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Richard Dawkins is known for his outspoken views
people
Life and Style
L’Auberge du pont de Collonges (AFP)
food + drinkFury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Arts and Entertainment
Bourne's New Adventures dance company worked with 27 young Londoners to devise a curtain-raiser staged before New Adventures' performance of Edward Scissorhands
theatreStar choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells
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

    Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

    £15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

    Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

    Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

    £18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

    Day In a Page

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

    Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
    Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

    The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

    Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
    Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

    Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

    A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
    How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

    How books can defeat Isis

    Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

    She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
    The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

    The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

    The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

    Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
    Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

    Young carers to make dance debut

    What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
    Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

    Design Council's 70th anniversary

    Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
    Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

    Dame Harriet Walter interview

    The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

    Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

    Bill Granger's winter salads

    Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
    England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

    George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

    No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
    Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links