Lets Talk About Open Marriages

Recently, Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett-Smith have reignited public discussion about the concept of open marriages. These are marriages in which couples are not exclusive but are able to have other intimate (particularly sexual) partners. Let us discuss the concept of open marriages briefly in light of our Catholic Christian faith.

  1. Couples Need A Pure Source of Love

Marriage can be extremely difficult without attachment to a source for renewal. Ironically, it is this truth about the need for renewal that probably drives people to the concept of open marriages. However, seeking renewal from sexual relations with other people will always leave us wanting. This is because other people are humans and are unlikely to satisfy us with pure love. 

For Christian couples, their source of renewal is God. This is because God is the only one who understands us totally and loves us purely, unconditionally and infinitely. Every married couple has to root themselves in God and find in him  – both individually and collectively – the source of their strength, and the courage to love their spouse exclusively.

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2. Marriage Is a Christian Concept

Marriage as we know it today is a Christian notion. The idea that one man and one woman enter a monogamous relationship as opposed to polygamy is something that has emerged from Christianity and is mentioned in various parts of the New Testament by Christ and his followers (Mt 19: 4-6; Mk 10 : 6-9).

Marriage is designed to mirror and demonstrate the image of God’s love for humanity and humanity’s response to God. This is why marriage is a covenant and not a mere contract, meaning it consists of an exchange of people and not of goods and services.  

Therefore, as a covenant,  marriage is supposed to be for life. The exceptions include abusive relationships and matters that affected the validity of the marriage during the initial marital rites.

3. An Open Marriage is not Marriage

According to Christ, marriage happens when a man and woman leave their homes and come together to unite. Consequently, the two become one flesh Mt 19: 4-6. This term “one flesh” indicates a total unity whereby both parties become so united that they become one entity. Their lives and everything they are become so deeply intertwined that both persons cannot truly be separated. The best evidence for this unity is a child. Children are concrete evidence that the couple have merged so well together. So much so that they produced a completely different entity consisting of half of each of them. The child, in turn, enjoys love from both parents who co-created him or her. 

According  to this vision of God for marriage, an open marriage by definition is not a marriage but a constellation of relationships governed by various entities to different degrees.

This is because the couple in an open marriage has not given themselves exclusively to the other. They have withheld an aspect of themselves, and given that aspect to another person outside of their marriage. Their relationship with the outsider forms another intimate combination altogether – one that is unique from the combination they created with their spouse. 

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4. Impact on Children

Since marriages and the family form the first society for a child; a place where they learn all the disciplines to counter the effects of original sin, for example, morality and self-control, the actions of parents are very important. Children need to see their parents love each other in the true sense. Here, true love means emotional and physical attraction but also selflessness and obedience to God’s will (John 14: 15).

In such a context, children could learn the virtue of patience, humility and above all, true love. Opening one’s marriage to various personalities and characters is unlikely to ground the children in these virtues. Instead, it indicates that it is ok to bypass the hard work of true love and to chase individual happiness at any cost.

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5. Sex is not “Just Sex”

Because we are Souls with bodies and not bodies with souls, engaging sexually with another is not only a combination of bodies but also a combination of Souls. Merging our Souls with others – who we do not know intimately – is a high risk, both physically and spiritually. Thy physical dangers of sexual relations with people we do not know, is well-documented. The spiritual dangers lies in the fact that we are mingling our Souls with the Soul of another who we ultimately do not know well, and we are doing so in an act of disobedience to the will of God. When this is habitual, it can be an invitation to unclean spirits. This is because the clean spirit of God, does not dwell in a Soul with habitual sin, unless that Soul repents. The good news is that God waits eagerly for the repentance of Souls no matter how far away they have gone from his initial plan.

6. Someone will Get Hurt

There are people in open marriages who will get hurt. These include any of the couple or others with whom they become sexually or otherwise intimately involved.  This is because sex is not simply that. Sex is an act that binds people beyond the physical dimensions. 

What happens when one of the married persons falls in love or gets emotionally attached to someone that they are not married to and vice versa?  Someone is likely to get hurt because sexuality cannot be easily dissociated from matters of the heart and mind. Given that most people do not wish to hurt others, this is a disturbing reality with a high likelihood of occurrence in open marriages.

7. Objectifying People

Entering several relationships without depth means that there is unlikely to be intimacy between the married couple and the others they engage with. This would often mean that the couple is engaging in the use of others for their own pleasure. Even when those others are consenting adults the situation becomes a type of state of mutual-objectification. This is wrong considering that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor 6: 19. We are to use our bodies to glorify God, as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to him, Rm 12: 1. Accordingly, our bodies should not be a marketplace where casual transactions happen but rather, they should be a place where the virtues of God’s covenant with his people is seen and exemplified, Jn 2: 13-17.

Ultimately, keep in mind that your body is not yours. We co-own everything that we own because everything on earth belongs to God Ps 24: 1. Therefore decisions about our bodies must be made in sync with the will of God.

                                CONSIDERATIONS FOR A GOOD MARRIAGE:
  1. Marriage is Not a Human Endeavour

Invite God into your marriage. First by choosing your spouse through prayer and also by having a sacramental marriage. This is necessary, otherwise marriage would be hard for anyone – VERY hard.  Marriage should be viewed in context of its Christian origins and in the framework of God’s relationship with humanity and salvation history.  To remove marriage from its original Christian context is like planting a mango tree in Alaska or a Gala Apple tree in Lagos. It will be a very challenging endeavour.  In fact, the tree may not survive.

2. No Human Can Make You Happy

To enter a marriage expecting that the other will be your source of happiness is an unrealistic expectation. Putting such a burden on another is also unfair and unreasonable. No one should be saddled with the task of making you happy. You should find what (moral things) makes you happy and then bring your happy self into your marriage for your family to enjoy the best of you. 

For Christians, we know how to be happy. Christ taught us that the true path to happiness is  through the beatitudes: Mt 5: 3-15. The beatitudes show us that we should be humble (poor in spirit) and to endure suffering for the sake of righteousness and for the sake of those we love greatly, Jn 15: 13. In other practical terms, we can also make ourselves happy by getting good therapy from God-fearing therapists, making good friends, praying while doing our ordinary work, picking up good hobbies etc.

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3. Love Entails Suffering

Marriage is the place where love is tested. Unlike what society portrays in popular culture, love is not merely an emotion. Love is an action. It is a combination of virtues culminating and feeding into sacrifice or selflessness. A kind that, although difficult, brings peace, joy and fulfilment.

Therefore, marriage and the family are both the place to enjoy love but also the place to put our love for others into practice. Since love is both joyous and difficult, anyone who goes into a marriage should expect both the ease and the difficulty that comes with love. They should have a good plan to help themselves when difficulties appear too difficult to bear including going for spiritual direction from a Priest and seeing a therapist who believes in God.

4. Marriage is a Vocation

Marriage is a way of entering heaven. It is the state of life to which one has been called to help themselves and others – particularly their spouse and children – to enter heaven. Therefore, before entering the vocation of marriage, one must be ready. One must discern and prepare for both the good (and there can be deep and long-lasting joy in marriage) as well as the difficult sides of marriage. 

Essentially, one must “count the cost” prior to entering the commitment, Luke 14: 28. The true cost of marriage includes preparedness to forgive many difficult sins. It is a place where all your varied needs may not be met as you would like. It is a place where you might have to work hard – very hard – to stay on the straight and narrow of what it means to be married; so that the ultimate purpose of your vocation will be fulfilled. 

…….

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Mt. 19:26

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