Would you open up your marriage to save it?

“Would you open up your marriage for a year to save it?” You may have heard this question being asked in the media lately. The quandary is trending thanks to author Robin Rinaldi’s new book The Wild Oats Project, which explores how she opened up her marriage in a bid to fight sexual boredom. Rinaldi’s plan was hatched after her husband of 17 years underwent a vasectomy. “I refuse to go to my grave with no children and only four lovers,” she said, “If I can’t have one, I must have the other.” The rules were set: they were not to sleep with mutual friends, get into serious relationships, or have unprotected sex. The pair lived apart during the week and on the weekends Rinaldi would return home. Seems simple enough, doesn’t it?

The arrangement didn’t save their marriage. Instead, Rinaldi fell in love with one of her lovers. But we shouldn’t necessarily look at this as a failure. I have heard some judgmental comments from people who have covered this story in the press, and I believe such comments are motivated not only by ignorance, but also fear. Internally, those covering the story may suffer sexual boredom or the feeling of being stuck in a rut (which is both normal and common), and they might be asking themselves if they could do this, too. However, we are taught situations like Rinaldi’s are wrong, that they go against tradition and that marriage is for ‘forsaking all others’. So, instead of this story being covered in an interesting and informative manner, it’s presented with criticism and comedic response, as a knee-jerk reaction to the fear the idea evokes.

But can it work? Unfortunately, it’s not a black-and-white case, but then neither is life, love or sex. Each individual is different and each relationship requires different parameters. But what this book and the media coverage surrounding it does, is bring up some interesting issues we should be discussing, without fear and mockery.

In a modern society, should we still be making the promise ‘until death do us part’ and should we still be ‘forsaking all others’? Or should we be looking for our own rules that will make our relationships work? When these vows were first written, I doubt there was any consideration for how relationships may evolve in future times. Also consider that the average lifespan was much shorter and ‘until death do us part’ was not as long as it is today. It’s not the end of the world if you do not forsake all others; many couples live happily this way. What matters is that you make rules that work for you and your partner, monogamy, monogomish (a term coined to mean an emotionally committed relationship, but with both partners permitted to engage in sex with others) or something in between. We are pushed to fit into the mould of marriage, a set of religious or spiritual laws that are supposed to be the key to happiness. But if we look at the high levels of sexual boredom in society, we might see that making up our own rules and finding what makes us happy is, in fact, the key.

We do not own someone’s sexuality and marriage does not give us exclusive rights to it. Monogamy and love can be two very beautiful things when combined and the decision to be monogamous should be out of choice, not enforced by a husband, a wife, or a religion. The way I have heard Rinaldi’s book being spoken about is not in terms of the risks of ruining intimacy or potentially losing a wife, but rather about a man’s “property” (a wife) ending up in someone else’s bed, as though it’s a threat to masculinity. If only more people could love each other as equals.

These days, we are more liberal with women exploring their sexuality before marriage and no longer require virginity as a prerequisite to ‘I do’. But from examples like these, we have to question if, as a society, we are liberal enough. I encourage women to find out what they want from love, life and sex before they open their lives up to a serious relationship. That way, they’re able to fully enjoy the relationship they choose, not only knowing exactly what they want, but also knowing what they’re choosing to go without. How do you know if you have something amazing unless you have other things to compare it to? If you only ate fruit and never chocolate, wouldn’t you think an apple was the ultimate dessert?

In Rinaldi’s scenario, even though she returned to her marriage, it didn’t last and she is now probably living happily with her current partner, knowing her decision is based on an understanding of what else is on offer. Hopefully, she can focus on being happy instead of wondering what else might be out there. It’s not to say that this will or won’t work for everyone, but we should commend this couple for giving it a go. So many couples experience sexual boredom and either stay unhappy, take it out on each other, or seek sexual excitement with another behind their partner’s back. What is worse: a husband or wife who cheats, or a husband or wife that discusses sexual issues and looks for ways to resolve them?

I prefer to sit on the fence with issues like these, mostly because I don’t know if this scenario will work for you. I don’t know you, your partner, how your relationship works, and I can’t create a blanket set of rules that will ensure a happy marriage until death do you part. What I do know is that you shouldn’t be scared to create your own rules, regardless of what tradition, societal norms and anyone else thinks.

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