As is often the case, topics in the news prompt people to think about the concepts being discussed and possible to evaluate them in a new light. Currently, thanks to Newt Gingrich, the spotlight is on open marriage. The concept of open marriages or open relationships is far from new, however. It’s simply that most people in open relationships do not see the benefits to being “out” about them, much as gays and lesbians remained closeted (and some still do) out of legitimate fears of retaliation from people in their communities.
One of the reasons, too, that open relationships are not widely discussed is that they’re difficult to label and define. Practically all of them are based on mutual trust, communication, and consent – so they are quite the opposite of cheating. But phrases like “ethical non-monogamy” tend to become a mouthful, and simply going by “poly” (short for polamory, a term meaning “many loves”) is so general that it doesn’t really tell you what kind of relationship configuration you’re dealing with.
The good thing about all this, though, is that practitioners of and advocates of open relationships/marriages/whatever have used this media event as an opportunity to speak up about what their lifestyle is and isn’t. The emphasis has largely been on distancing true open relationships – meaning truly ethical non-monogamous relationships – from Gingrich’s shady behavior. The newsfeed Polyamory in the News has done a great job of documenting these responses in three different posts. I’m also a fan of the discussions in USA Today and in Role Reboot.
As Charlie Glickman writes in the latter, “Infidelity and cheating are when you break the rules. If you aren’t breaking the rules, it isn’t cheating, even if your rules are different from mine.” And it’s that ability to recognize that different relationships operate by different rules which is needed in this conversation, I think. Whether your relationship rules are “if I cook, you clean” or “play all the videogames you want except for when I need help around the house” or “don’t have sex with other people” or “do have sex with other people but check with me first,” we need to respect that consenting adults are able to determine how their relationships should be. This also means we need to call foul on people who claim to do that but are actually full of lies that harm their partners.
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