Having sex with someone who isn't your partner may sound like a death sentence for a marriage, but according to Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch, it actually “saved” his relationship with his wife. In fact, they’ve enjoyed that aspect of their relationship so much they're writing a comedy series together based on their swinging lifestyle.
So… how does swinging save a marriage? Personal Space spoke to licensed psychologist and AASECT-certified sex therapist Dr. Shannon Chavez to learn more.
"Opening Up" — What Does It Mean?
According to Dr. Chavez, swinging or "opening up" a relationship has actually been one of the biggest trends in her practice the past two years. This phenomena doesn't necessarily doom a marriage because, as she explains, “traditional monogamy is not for everyone.”
To begin understanding the movement, it’s important to know what swinging actually entails. Dr. Chavez said “swinging is one form of an open relationship” and is “a lifestyle that involves one or both partners in a relationship engaging in sexual activities with others.”
An open relationship refers to the “more general term for people that practice consensual non-monogamy.” The swinging lifestyle usually refers to the “clubs and parties where couples can enjoy sexual play with other couples" and was very popular “in the '70s and '80s.”
Dr. Chavez explained swinging can strengthen certain relationships because for some, “monogamy puts too much pressure on one partner to meet all of their needs.” In those cases, “opening up becomes a way to meet other needs, while still committing to a primary relationship with your partner.”
Why Do People Swing?
According to Dr. Chavez, swinging can “help a marriage as long as both partners are in agreement and have had open communication with each other.” Dr. Chavez noted “many couples are exploring” and “opening up their marriage for many reasons, including sexual boredom, curiosity, and wanting to explore different aspects of their sexuality.”
Middleditch explained in an interview with Playboy the reason the lifestyle works for him is because he is “sexual” and he and his wife, Mollie Gates, "have different speeds.” He explained they argued over it constantly,” but working through this nontraditional path to sexual exploration has been “better than feeling unheard and alone” or having “to scurry in the shadows.” Luckily, Gates was supportive because it was important to him.
Dealing with Jealousy
Just like traditional monogamy is not for everyone, so is non-monogamy. Dr. Chavez noted she would “not recommend that a couple go into an open relationship, or swinging lifestyle unless they are both on the same page.” But if both partners are interested in trying it, but are nervous about feelings of jealousy arising, that's normal!
Dr. Chavez said “there are always possibilities of emotions coming up,” but “it shouldn’t deter a couple from exploring" as long as they can talk about it. If you have open communication, it’s OK to explore those feelings because jealousy is not always a “negative emotion.”
Instead, jealousy can actually help inform individuals “what they want to keep sacred in their primary relationship, or where their values lie.” If a couple is having difficulties navigating through the complex emotions, "consider going to couples therapy and getting the support of a therapist that specializes in non-monogamy.”
Each relationship is unique to the people in it, so the rules for each can be different too. Middleditch explained that he and his wife created their own rules, which he admitted were “strict” compared to others he knows in the lifestyle. For them it’s clear: “We’re not off on our own; we’re together, a unit.”
Dr. Chavez advised each couple should create “a relationship agreement that details what is OK and not OK when it comes to sex with others” and “be as detailed as possible.” The agreement “can include sexual acts, types of intimacy, and the nature of relationships with others that is acceptable to you both.”
The couples who are interested in swinging that work with Dr. Chavez create "a written agreement that they can sign and revise as needed,” so that everything is clearly communicated on paper. This way, the couple knows exactly what they both feel comfortable with before they dive in and can also update it if they choose to open up more.
For some couples who are sexually curious, opening up or swinging can improve their relationship. However, it is important for both to be on the same page and remember that “the strength of the primary relationship is an essential ingredient to opening a relationship.”
Not sure if it's right for you? A good first step in exploring that option is going to “an erotic event, art show, play, etc.” and talking with others who practice non-monogamy before trying a party to test the waters. Dr. Chavez suggests getting "as much insight as possible, so you can make an informed decision with your partner.”
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