Of the Marriage Part of Open Marriage

In advocating for a sexually open model of marriage, sometimes it is possible to lose site of the fact that an open marriage is still a marriage.  To some in the polyamory community this will sound passé and even conservative, but I truly believe for most people the path to lifelong happiness is via the bonds of marriage and family.   Now, I’ll qualify that to say that marriage is not defined by the gender of the participants, nor on limit of two people; however, marriage is about commitment, lifelong commitment.

Why lifelong commitment? Isn’t that sort of old fashioned?

The traditional marriage vows said “for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health to death do us part”. They were written as a commitment that way because in the history of mankind, the good times are the exception; pain and heart ache are the rule.  A relationship built on “what I get out of it at the moment” will not survive when the hard times come that eclipse the excitement and passion that brought lovers together. Yet, we all need someone(s) that will be there when we are in trouble. We all, by fate or by our own poor judgments, will come to a point where we are not as lovely and desirable as we once were. I know it will come to a shock to readers under 35 years old and healthy, but in your life you will spend a significant number of years over 60 years old where health issues impinge greatly on the recreational based lifestyle young people think will go on forever. 

Two years ago I watched as my father-in-law began to slip away after 62 years of marriage. He had someone there for him, several someones. His wife and his two daughters were right beside him to the end.  This is the kind of security marriage and family bring.

A few months ago in a polyamory blog I read one blogger who was right up front that polyamory is about getting his needs met and if a partner does not want to meet his needs, he has no intention to stick with that person.  That may be well and good when you are 29 years old, but that kind of selfishness will, in the end, bring many lonely years.   The whole loose tribal type of polyamory with people coming and going, will not bring the kind of security most people desire.   I am amused at the term “tribal” in these cases because in a real tribe, the bond is for life and the individual will sacrifice all, even life, for the tribe.  I the modern poly usage, tribalism does not convey this sort of deep comment at all.  This is why the commune movement of the late 60’s early 70’s didn’t last for a decade. Tribalism and marriage both require a level of commitment that requires everything you are to make it work and to gain the benefits of group solidarity.  There is no solidarity without commitment.

I am a follower of Emanuel Kant and an older philosopher by the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Both of these men taught that there is a moral imperative, a duty that supersedes our own personal wants; to treat others as having the same value as we hold for ourselves.  This value is sadly missing in much of what is called polyamory.  I find this vexing because the very definition of love is the commitment to treat someone else’s needs on par with your own. Hence, polyamory is just the idea of more than one person with this high level of commitment.

Back to open marriage.  Marriage is about total commitment to the welfare of my spouse. The same kind of total commitment I have for my children. It is within that framework of total commitment that we have the freedom to form other relationships, both sexual and not.  Just as I would never let an outside relationship come between me and my ability to be a good parent, I would never let a relationship come between me and my ability to be a good husband.   It would be morally wrong of me to maintain a relationship that hurt my wife because that would betray my first commitment to her welfare. The same would be true for her.

In an open-marriage, it is always necessary to keep an open line of communication as to your spouse’s current needs.  There are times when we each have different needs and it is imperative that we adjust our external relationships to meet those needs.  In our case, Paula has only recently become comfortable with me dating without her.  On the other hand, I have long been comfortable with her dating without me; however, there have been a few times when I have asked her to back off her dating, or let me join a relationship, or stop seeing a particular person all together.   It is the implicit agreement that we each will respond to the other’s needs that allows our security in marriage to flourish while she (and occasionally I) has a social/sexual life with other men and women.

When she is dating, or even falls in love with others, it is always with the explicit understanding that her family is and always will be, the center of her life. Though she can have a rich and rewarding relationship outside our marriage, she does not mislead her lovers by implying her commitment his (or her) needs will ever of the same magnitude of her commitment to her husband and children.  By this means, we maintain the ethical principles of love while still privileging the family unit.

As I said, there could indeed be room for more than two people in such a committed relationship, but the difficulty of doing so raises exponentially with each additional person.   I could see us at some point having a domestic arrangement with a man or woman someday in the future. But I can’t see a three way marriage-like arrangement happening, at least for us.

So, as I continue to blog about our life in an open marriage, it is predicated on the fact we do have a real and strong marriage. 


Short Update on Life in an Open Marriage

My wife Paula just called me. I’m working today and so is she. 

It seems one of the guy’s she’s dating came up to her store (she works for Victoria’s Secret) and brought coffee and muffins for the whole staff.   I asked her if she had to explain who he was since they all know me. She said no.  All who know her well are aware that she has an open marriage. One of the new girls asked if that was her secret admirer and Paula just said “not so secret anymore.”

Updates on the Life and Love in an Open-Polyamorous Marriage

This is the first of what will be many posts about Mr. & Mrs. Barbarian’s Polyamorous life.

First, I’ll give a brief background.    Mrs. Barbarian and I were married in 1986, long before we became open barbarian heretics.  We had not had premarital sex because we believed that to be morally wrong.  What we found quickly after our marriage was that we had very different expectations of sex in marriage.   She wanted quantity. Daily was her expected minimum and several times daily was preferred. Though some men would think this was heaven, I wasn’t made that way. I’ve always been more about the quality rather than quaintly.  For just routine sex, a few times a week has always been fine for me, even in my 20’s.  She didn’t (doesn’t) care about variety or surroundings; she just liked the services of a stiff penis and/or soft tongue as often as she could get it.   This created tension with in the first week.  In retrospect, had we believed that sex was a normal and wholesome part of the courtship (as we do now), it is likely we would not have gotten married due to this fundamental incompatibility.

It took me almost 5 years to come to the answer that, for her to be happily married to me, she needed the freedom to get sexual satisfaction from people other than me.   So, in the early 90’s I told her she was free to take a lover.  It took until 1996 before she was both ready and had the right opportunity. In the intervening time, nearly 17 years, she has had sex with around 100 men and women. Some were just “flings” others were deeply loving relationships, lasting for years.   Although at first glance, 100 sexual partners may seem a lot, if you work that out over 17 years it is not so many, a hand full a year. Over the same period of time I have has less than half as many sexual partners, and until the past year, they were almost always part of her relationships, with me just joining in.  Things have changed in the last year or so, but that is another story.

The key concept about our open marriage has not been that she does have sex with other people all the time, it is that she can have sex with other people whenever she chooses to.   That distinction is important, because over 17 years there is a lot of life. There are a number of years when we were not sexual with anyone but each other and more than one year in which she had more than two dozen sexual partners.  We were raising family, pursing education, caring for aging parents and just living our life. So there have been hot times and cold times, but in the background there was never a time when if she met a man (or woman) who hit her in just the right way that excited her libido, she couldn’t have sex with them if she choose.  That is the true nature of an open marriage.

There are many fun and erotic stories over those years, and and few stories of difficulty, that I will be sharing on this blog as time goes by. But today I just want to make an update on what happened this week.

We are in the mitst of a “hot period”.  In the last month she’s been out with 3 different men. We had a terrific threesome with one man and it was going great till we found out that his claim that his wife was cool with him having sex with us was not true and we got some hostile threats. So that relationship ended. She’s had hot make out sessions in her car with one guy 3 times in three weeks, where though she’s gotten practically naked and he’s brought her to over a dozen orgasms with his fingers, they have not had intercourse yet.   And last night we met with yet a third guy.

Mrs. Barbarian was so sweet.  Yesterday she calls me at work and asked me to meet with her a man she was meeting for dinner; a middle-aged divorced MBA.   So we have dinner, he was very polite…a grandfather perhaps in his mid-late 50’s.  Just dinner was not big deal, pleasant, but I wasn’t turned off or impressed. As always it would be her call whether this went forward to another date, or more. The vast majority of men, women or couples that she or we initially meet with never materialize into a friendship or sexual relationship.   

Since we’d both come from work to meet and my “creep detector” had not gone off, I was able to leave them to have someone on one time after dinner.    She arrived back at our home perhaps 30 minutes after I had and asked what I thought.  I told her that he was nice. Then she surprised me when she asks if I thought he’d be a good playmate for me.

Now, she’s known I was interested sexually in men for over a decade, and she’s been very encouraging for me to explore that interest; after all she is a full bisexual who is equally happy in relationships or in bed with women or men.  It has only been in the past year I have had a series of 3-somes where I’ve had oral sex with the man as well as the woman that has led me to self-identify as bisexual. So, last night, she told me that she had specifically set up the date because he was bisexual and thought I might like him.  Now how sweet is that of her.   How could I ask for a nicer wife?

This is the way we live.  It’s not a one off experiment, but a way of life. We wouldn’t want to live any other way.

Polyamory: Love is Not Finite

Polyamory: Love is Not Finite

by posted on Life on the Swingset

“One of the most difficult parts of opening myself to non-monogamy and, really, to polyamory, has been letting go of the ideals of monogamy. Deeper than our drive to find ‘the one’ seems to run our drive to be ‘the one’. We seem to be socialised to want to be the still point of the turning world for our partner; and there’s definitely some truth in how that idea has made me feel for most of my life. I’ve always wanted to look at someone and feel that they love me uniquely and for me, and only me; that I am enough.”

A Better Camelot by including Polyamory


The story of King Arthur is essentially a Shakespearian type tragedy.  King Arthur , a good and virtuous monarch who sought only to do good and to make a just and peaceful society.  He is married to Guinevere and they love each other deeply and together rules the Kingdom well. The land prospers in a time of peace and plenty.   The great Launcelot Du Lac comes to Camelot with the sole purpose of serving the King and Queen in their great an noble mission.  The tale is told by Mallory of the many feats he accomplishes in the direct service of the Queen. In the process, he falls in love with her, and she with him….and they express their love for one another sexually.  All the while both Guinevere & Lancelot love and respect the King.    For years, this love triangle goes on with Arthur pretending he does not know about his wife and closest friend romantic and sexual relationship.    He uses self-delusion to reconcile the fact he is expected to react negatively to his wife’s amorous relationship with Lancelot but does not.

However, when it becomes public Author feels compelled to put both Guinevere & Lancelot to death. In the process of trying to do so, Camelot comes crashing down. The round table is broken, war rages, people great and small have their lives destroyed, including Arthur, Guinevere & Lancelot.   It is a tragedy because all three believed in the dream of a better kingdom and none acted in out of a wicked heart, yet fate used their goodness to destroy the great good they sought to build.

What, if we changed to story to say King Arthur defies the conventional morality and publicly acknowledges that to two people he loves best also love each other.   What if he gives Lancelot an adjoining chamber to the Royal bedroom so that his wife can share her life with both the men she loves?   Camelot  survives, the people, great and small, continue to prosper in peace. And everyone lives happily ever after.

Perhaps in the musical movie adaptation of this version of Camelot the grand finale will be a scene of the three of them in the big royal bed singing a rousing song of their love’s triumph over the forces that sought to destroy it.  All three hit a high note as they all climax together. The End.

You see, the absolute demand for both emotional and sexual monogamy destroys lives. An acceptance of the core principle of polyamory (i.e. loving a second person does not reduce one the lover for the first person) would eliminate the destruction of so many marriages and families.   I will say firmly that polyamory is a family value.

I am thinking on this because my wife has told me she is falling in love with her new boyfriend.  She and Steve an I have had this conversation over the weekend.   She has that excited “always thinking about him” kind of love that simply can’t survive in a marriage of 26 years.  Saturday night we all had a great romp in our bed together and all day Sunday she glowed with that special glow or both sexual satisfaction and new love.  She asked me in the early evening if I was sure I was OK with the intensity of her feelings for Steve.  Although we’ve been through this many times before, this time is seems even more intense than her relationships have for a number of years so she just wanted to make sure. 

I assured her that I was happy for her.  I have no concern that Steve will displace me in her life. My only concern is that Steve’s wife is on board.  For although he tells us they have had one poly relationship with a man, both my wife and I are adamant we will not undermine her security.

There is a brand of polyamory that simply doesn’t give a damn about existing relationships and the feelings and needs of anyone but those who are in the throes of love.  We don’t buy into that narcissistic approach.  Loving more doesn’t mean loving more at the expense of others. Polyamory as a family value is one in which existing relationships are highly respected and the good of all concerned is the higher value.  This is especially true when there are dependent children involved.  No amount of passion or love between adults justifies the undermining of a dependent child’s stability and security; however, polyamory,  by providing an outlet for new and exciting emotional and sexual relationships for the husband and wife can enhance domestic stability.  

The kind of relationship that builds a life together is different than the kind that provides for mind blowing emotional and sexual encounters.  Not that at times the former can’t be the later, but they are different. Mortgages, bills, children, illness, parental care and the list of hard things in long term relationships goes on and on. The kind of love that sees people though these events all the way to old age is built on commitment, commitment and more commitment.  These kinds of things can squeeze out passion that is built on a single focus of emotional and physical pleasure.  Hence people have affaires with work mates where those “real life” problems can be forgotten for a little while.  We all need a break sometimes, and some people need them more often.  The monogamous model says such breaks from the pressures of life is “cheating” or being “unfaithful”; however, the polyamorous model calls such low stress relationships as positive and healthy to both the individual and the couple.

With our daughter’s upcoming marriage, my search for a college teaching job for the fall and the attendant move, the recent death of my wife’s 86 year old father and a nagging health issue, my wonderful wife needs a break. Steve might well be the break she needs.  How it that anything less than pro family?

So back to Camelot. 

Arthur was King, it was a very stressful job. Guinevere, as queen was under a lot a stress and Arthur was too consumed with the work of being King to meet her emotional needs. Lancelot steps up and meets Guinevere’s needs out of love for her and love for the overworked Arthur.  The King is better off because his wife is happy. The Queen is happy her needs were being met and Lancelot was happy to serve the two people he loved most in the world.  There were no losers. This is the promise of polyamory.

Of Erotic Love, Familial Love and Marriage

Social anthropologist contend that humans, prior to the advent of sustained agriculture (about 6,000 years ago), had not conceived of the idea of monogamy. Rather they suggest that sexual relations was in a tribal-Polyamorous type arrangement so as to allow for both genetic variety and for a lifelong communal bond that was both familial and erotic. It was only with the advent of agriculture and ownership of land that men began to be concerned about the paternity of “their” children, and the rise of monogamy….. sort of.  Monogamy of women, yes, monogamy of men was not required.  Polygamy, rape and prostitution  was fully acceptable behavior for men.  Ah, but that is a different discussion.

What I wanted to discuss was the concept that one is or should be sexually active with only one person for life is not part of human DNA, it is a rather recent social function.  Further, according to Kinsey and later researchers, human life-long monogamy is nearly entirely myth.   The most telling new finding was actually an accidental finding.  It was when DNA paternity testing was new, and as part of the early research they collected DNA from hundreds of nuclear family groups.  What they found was in 1/3 of families whom the wife claimed had been 100% monogamous, that at least one child in the family did not share the husband’s DNA.   The old joke that one kid looks more like the mail man than dad is more true than anyone realized.   The simple fact is that only a tiny minority of couples actually are 100% monogamous.  And if you include the prevalence of premarital sex, (again Kinsey found far fewer women had not been sexually active before marriage than was previously believed)  the number of people with only one sexual partner for life is very small indeed.  Humans just aren’t evolved for that.

But does that mean marriage is problematic? Should we decry marriage as an impediment to human happiness?  I suggest no.  For even our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in family groups. Not simple father-mother-children groups but in groups of a few dozens were the property, children and sexual contact was communal.  What is significant is that that their survival depended on complete commitment to the group for life.  The commune movement of the early 1970’s failed when the men who impregnated the women did not stay around to raise the children for life.  Why? Because we are not hunter-gatherers and the men had no intrinsic need to care for the women and children for survival as did their ancestors.

So, is group marriage the answer? Would group marriage with all the legal protections and obligations as individual couple marriages solve the problem?  Maybe, but I don’t’ see that happening anytime soon.

What is more practical is to acknowledge the difference between erotic love and familial love.  Though most marriages begin based on erotic love, the reality is that that “in love” high rarely lasts more than two to three years.   What replaces that hot, passionate erotic love in successful long term marriages is the growth of familial love .  This familial love is not too unlike the love one has for parents or children. It does not excluded bouts of erotic love but does not depend on it.  Why? Because life happens.  Child rearing, financial struggles, chronic illness, disability and eventually old age crush the hot burning sexual love on which the marriage was founded.   This is why we find live-in relationships change and sometimes fall apart shortly after marriage.   It is familial love that survives when one’s body is no longer capable of erotic love and none of us know what might happen to impair our ability to maintain erotic love until next week, let alone next decade.

So, what of erotic love? Clearly we as humans crave it (some to higher degrees than others), so what should be done. I am quite convinced the solution is to openly and practically separate the two loves and their attendant behavior.   If we would stop expecting that our marriages will be the sole venue of erotic love in our partner’s life, we will resolve a host of problems.  When my wife has a lover, it does not diminish her familial love for me one bit.  I’m not just speaking of the sex itself, but the romantic relationship as well. In my wife’s life, she has actually had romantic relationships that did not become sexual and sexual relationships that did not become romantic.  I have no reason to begrudge her either. They make her happy.  Since I love her, I want her happiness.  There is no substitute for new erotic love. No high quite like it. She gets personal fulfillment in relationships that I get out of academic and professional work. She doesn’t begrudge my happiness  in those things that make me happy and I don’t begrudge her loves and lovers.

In the end, we will be married for another 26 years and age gracefully together as family. And that is what I want, that is what my wife wants,  that is what our kids and (when we have them) our grand kids will want. 


Originally written and posted Jan 22, 2012 on my Tumblr blog

Of Polyamory vs. Mono-Amory

I recently was having dinner with a couple who are the epitome of the ideal of polyamory, yet they had never even heard of the term.  As I don’t believe I’ve ever written on this subject is in one in which Heidi and I wholeheartedly believe and practice.

To put is simple and short, polyamory is the practice of opening one’s life, heart and body up to more than one person.  This is in contrast to mono-amory where one believes that one can (or should) only love one person at a time.  Of course never in the history of the world have people been consistently  mono-amorous.  The issue is not whether one has the capacity to have emotional and physical love with more than one person, for some research suggests that the vast majority of married people have extramarital affairs sometime in their marriage.  And what is an affair if not loving someone in addition to one’s spouse?  The issue is whether one embraces the need and capacity to love more than one person at a time as good, wholesome and of benefit to all.

The polyamorus community (including Heidi and I) believe that humans have an infinite capacity to give and receive love, both emotional and physical.   This is not an aberrant or exotic belief, but rather has been the way of life for most of human civilization.  It was only since the advent of property owning culture (about 6,000 years ago) that love became a limited commodity to be bought and sold like any other property.  The simple adherence to the mono-amrory position  reduces love to something one buys with a marriage license or other monetary provision demanding both parties comply with the terms of the contract that limit ones love options to a single person.  Indeed even today brides are bought and sold in many parts of the world.

Even in “liberal” western countries, the larger culture believes that when a husband or wife (or boyfriend or girlfriend) find love elsewhere, they only have two options, to break the contract or to secretly violate the terms.  Both options harm everyone involved. The concept that a significant other must choose between one love and another is simply taken for granted in most of the world.  How much pain is caused by a husband or wife who falls in love with someone new having to choose between that love and the security and stability of their life and the lives of their children.   In the end there are only losers in those situations, and “those situations” are the norm not the exception in life.

In the classic tale of King Author, Guinevere must choose between her hot love for Lancelot, and her deep love for Author.  The result of this quandary is that the utopia of Camelot is brought to ruin.  This ancient story is a morality tale, but I would suggest that it is a cautionary tale of the evil of mono-amory.

Yes, I say evil, for I do not see any good or happiness coming from the expectation of exclusive love.  Anger, jealousy, hurt and violence come in the wake of this system as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

I propose, the polyamory community proposes, that love is not a limited commodity.  When Heidi falls in love with someone else it does not diminish our love, it does not threaten our family; on the contrary, she is happier and a better mother and mate when in the glow of new love.  Currently she very much loves one of the people I spoke of in introduction to this commentary. Over our 25 years of marriage, she has loved many people; and, yes, sex often, but not always follows her loves.  I believe I am enhanced, not diminished by my wife’s many loves. 

I would suggest we can, each of us can, help build a new and better society by embracing all the love we can love for ourselves and for those we share our lives. After all, do any of us have so much happiness that we can afford to shun the love that comes into our path.


 Originally Posted 5-12-2012  on my blog NeoBarbarians.tumblr.com