Open Marriages Happier? Not So Fast, Family Research Expert Says

By Liberty McArtor Published on June 21, 2017

Anecdotal praise of open relationships can be found all over the internet. The New York Times’ May feature is the most prominent example. The headline wonders, “Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?

Meanwhile, LGBT advocates are celebrating the first polyamorous “family” to be legally recognized in Colombia this month.

But are these kinds of relationships really as healthy as recent reports suggest?

Just as Happy?

Studies traditionally report that people in open marriages and other forms of polyamory are less happy than monogamous couples. A March study suggests that’s because society is biased against them. Researchers at SAGE Journals found that “CNM [consensual non-monogamous] relationships generally have equally positive relational outcomes as monogamous relationships.”

But Dr. Brad Wilcox said there is a lack of good evidence on the actual appeal of open marriages. For instance, the Times piece on open marriages was “data free.” That was “striking,” he told The Stream. Wilcox is the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

Studies favoring polyamory “are based on non-representative samples,” he said. “It’s not really good science.” Even the SAGE study’s authors admit their survey respondents were not chosen randomly. They may have been biased toward positive reporting.

“My guess is that these marriages are really unstable,” Wilcox said. The complexity that comes along with an open marriage might be harder in practice than in theory, he added. 

Wilcox noted that most Americans still favor the idea of fidelity. And people who have had just one partner in the last year and not several tend to be happier, he said. He called those pushing for polyamory and open marriages “a small minority.”

Redefining Morality

Why is that minority so vocal? Perhaps it has to do with Americans’ shifting view of morality.

LifeWay Research released a telling study last month. It revealed that 81 percent of Americans worry about “declining moral behavior.” But people disagree about the meaning of “moral.” Nearly 50 percent said that right and wrong are absolutes. But 20 percent said something is “wrong” only if it hurts someone.

81% of Americans worry about “declining moral behavior.” But there is disagreement about the meaning of “moral.”

According to the study, “More than 6 in 10 of those older than 45 say right and wrong do not change. For those 35 and younger, fewer than 4 in 10 make that claim.” The age gap between the two is not surprising. Another recent study revealed that only 4 percent of millennials hold a “biblical worldview.”

Since many people don’t view moral truths as absolute, the growing acceptance of polyamory makes sense. If it doesn’t hurt anybody, why not? “How is love bad?” asks one husband who lives with his wife, daughter, and his wife’s boyfriend.

True Happiness Requires Holiness

The Times portrays its “Open Marriage” interview subjects with sophistication. The author is impressed by the “boldness” of their unconventional ways. But really, there’s nothing new or bold about seeking sensual pleasure. 

In Galatians, Paul refers to sinful desires as “the flesh.” He warns Christians to “not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” (Galatians 5:13) A few verses later, he writes:

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Galatians 5:16-17)

Christians are taught to reject fleshly desires in favor of something greater. We believe true joy is found in holiness. And we become holy by accepting God’s salvation through Jesus Chirst. In that salvation, there is freedom from the sin that enslaves all of us.

Anything in marriage beyond fidelity between one man and one woman is sin. And so participating in anything else is to resubmit to sin’s bondage. As D.C. McAllister wrote for The Federalist in 2015, critiquing a polyamorist columnist:

Burrows was so quick to throw off the chains of religion and social norms that she fails to see that she has entered a new kind of bondage: she is bound by the chains of her sexual desires. Little does she know that those butterflies that make her feel so alive will soon become dragons that burn off her soul and reduce her to an empty shell of animalistic appetites. Burrows fails to see that liberty — real liberty — is found in self-government and self-control. 

The idea of open marriage and poly-romance isn’t new. Neither is defining happiness and freedom by the unbridled pursuit of sensual pleasure. But there is a recent wave of exploration when it comes to the idea of polyamory as a legitimate, ethical relationship (and parenting) style — even if led by a “small minority.” Founded on empty desires, false morality and little research, it’s a wave that deserves push-back.

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