Behind closed doors: A glimpse into the realities of an open relationship

Three people holding hands
Sarah and Ben* have been in an open relationship for seven years, and have never been happier. Photo credit: File/Getty

Think it's strange that a husband might counsel his wife through a breakup with her boyfriend? To you and I perhaps yes, but to Sara and Ben*, a US couple who practice an open relationship, its part of the daily norm.

The couple, who met on their first day of university aged 18, have been together for nine years. Speaking to Popsugar, they say they first discussed being "monogamish" two years into their relationship. That arrangement "later evolved into full-blown polyamory," Sarah says.

Sue told the site that their open relationship relies on "honest communication and a strong connection" and they talk about every person outside of their marriage they sleep with.

But it's not just about the sex. Sara says she dated someone for over a year, with her husband comforting her when they eventually broke up.

"We shared a big laugh when we realised just how weird/unusual it is for a husband to comfort his wife about her break-up with a boyfriend," she says.

Her husband Ben meanwhile has been seeing two women for about eight months.

"If he did fall in love, I don't think it would bother me. We both feel strongly that our relationships with other people don't take away from how we feel about each other," Sara says. 

She told the website that she believes their unusual arrangement has made their relationship stronger.

"We've honestly become closer through sharing our dating experiences with one another. We've always had an awesome sex life, and it's fun to be able to have sexual experiences outside of the relationship."

While many (myself included) would struggle with jealousy in such a situation, Sara says they work through it by "making the other person feel valued and primary".

"We spend most of our free time together and try to be intentional about the quality of that time," she says.

Open marriages are more common than you might think, even in little old New Zealand.

Last year, former George FM breakfast host Clint Roberts asked listeners if it was possible to have a successful relationship "if you're both out there having a hoon on other people".

Listener Dan called in, telling them how his polyamorous relationship with his wife and two girlfriends worked.

"There's this massive difference between cheating and being in an open relationship... and the difference is everyone talks," he told the shocked radio hosts.

"Read and talk. There are people out there that are happy to share their information. There are communities available on Facebook, if you search polyamory. And yeah, talk to your partner," Dan advised.

*Names have been changed.