My husband Ted and I agreed from our relational beginnings that we wanted to have an open marriage.
How did we come to this decision? And so quickly, at that?
The truth is, it was a fairly easy one to make, albeit not necessarily an easy one to practice over the years. After all, like all things worth having, an open marriage comes with a price. Yep, while it brings a definite freedom to our relationship, it isn't as easy as it sounds.
Before I go any further, I should clarify.
Our definition of "open marriage" isn't the culturally understood one. It's not the marriage of approved extramarital sex, bed sharing, or threesomes. Nope, you won't find us swinging. That's not our style.
Ted and I are as monogamous as it gets. While neither of us came to the altar with unkissed lips, we decided not to share a mutual kiss until our pastor pronounced us "husband and wife." And, while some would gasp, or perhaps even shake their heads, at our lack of a sexual test-run prior to matrimony, we have no regrets. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
So if our open marriage isn't the thing tabloids are made of, just what kind of open marriage do we have?
That would be open as in transparent. Honest. Vulnerable. Back in those relational beginnings of ours, we'd been told that open communication is one of the keys to a healthy, successful marriage. We decided to give it a go, and turns out it's true. Almost thirteen years later we can testify to it.
But as I said, it isn't always easy to practice. Open and honest communication comes with a price. And that price? Well, it's risky work. Lots of it.
It means care with our words and a continual effort to be truthful and honest. It means talking about our feelings, both the good and bad, and yes, sometimes even the ugly. It means no secrets -- at least, not the relationship-wounding kind. And it means choosing to look at each other, even in our worst moments, and determine that flaws, brokenness, and all, this story that we're writing together is worth writing. Together.
What are some of the areas in which we work hard to have an open marriage? Here are four specific places.
For us, there are no "his" and "hers" finances. When it comes to money, Ted and I are on the same team and the same page. Money Saving Mom's Crystal Paine says these two things are vital to a healthy financial relationship.
What does financial openness look like in our marriage?
We have a joint bank account and shared credit cards. While Ted does most of the bill paying and finance balancing -- primarily because I find it stressful -- I have full access to it all. When it comes to big purchases, we discuss them together, determining as a team whether we should spend the money or not. Sure, like most couples, there are times when one of us may buy first and tell later, but this isn't the norm and we trust each other enough that it doesn't create conflict. Well, most of the time.
Ted and my lives are intertwined in both the real world and the online world. We have committed to be -- just like my friend Bronwyn Lea writes that she and her husband are -- "an open (e)-book" with each other.
How does this look in our marriage?
I know all of Ted's passwords, and he knows mine. We're "friends" on social media and actively peruse each other's Facebook pages. Not only that, but we give each other full access to all of our online communication and accounts. Email. Social media. Even Amazon. While we've built enough trust with each other over the years that we don't feel the need to check the other's iPhone, iPad, email, or search history regularly, this open sharing of information keeps us both accountable when it comes to our virtual lives.
We openly address and work through conflict together. It took us time, though, to get to this place in our marriage. As I talk about in my book Team Us: Marriage Together, I came into our relationship a conflict avoider.
What happened to change my ways?
I learned to view conflict as an adventure, rather than a threat. This mental and emotional shift was a game changer for us. It brought with it the ability for me to risk being vulnerable with Ted about things that he'd done that upset or hurt me. And, the more I chose openness over concealment, the more I discovered that working through conflict together in a healthy way made us and our marriage stronger. It still does.
Although our definition of an "open marriage" isn't the culturally understood one, this doesn't mean we aren't open with each other when it comes to sex. In our relationship, honest communication about intimacy happens regularly.
With sex, like finances, we strive to be on the same team and the same page. This requires vulnerably sharing with each other our needs, expectations, and disappointments. It also demands that we listen well and don't respond defensively.
My husband Ted and I agreed from our relational beginnings that we wanted to have an open marriage. And while it may come with a price -- risky work, and lots of it -- we wouldn't have it any other way.
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