9 Ways to Be Married: Explained

It's one thing to say "I Do"—and another to keep on doing. At a time when statistics show many forces working against it, how does marriage continue to thrive? MORE talks to a variety of women in committed, if sometimes unconventional unions about how they choose to tie their knot

by Doren Allen
Photograph: Jens Bonnke

Nancy Kalish, PhD, a professor emeritus of psychology at California State University at Sacramento, has surveyed more than 4,000 rekindled relationships since 1994; 3 percent of these participants had been married to and divorced their lost loves. The reunions she followed displayed a high success rate: Nearly 75 percent were still together after 10 years. (One group that fared less well: those whose reunions were extramarital affairs.) Kalish thinks the durability of early love in the successful couples is often due to growing up together, sharing friends, culture and values. Cozy has her own insights:

Why The Reunion Worked When we got together for that lunch, we were both at a point in our lives where we were hitting the reset button.

Doubts about reconnecting?I was scared shitless. But the choice was either take a leap of faith and try it or regret it the rest of my life.

What’s different?In our time apart, we’d grown up. Everything we needed to work out, we worked out with others. We played the sad country music song backward.

Why remarry? Marriage is a commitment. I know some people say it’s just a piece of paper, but it makes us feel secure. Now I have my mate; now we can move forward together. We’re like big teenagers. We have responsibilities, but we have a good time. The sexual spark is there, but it’s more than just a sex drive. We call it divine drive.

#5 Open Marriage
Harper James, 52, and Michael James, 48 (Not their real names, and some details have been changed.)
Urban Southeast
ACCORDING TO a National Science Foundation survey,80 percent of Americans believe infidelity is wrong. Harper and Michael James agree. Yes, both have sex with other people—they call these encounters “-excursions”—and sometimes participate in threesomes (or moresomes). “But we’d never cheat!” says Harper. Their definition of cheating? “Having sex without telling the other person,” Harper says.

Harper owns an organic-products business, Michael works in tech sales, and their teen and young-adult children don’t know about their lifestyle. The couple sometimes meet other partners through a “swinger” website that has 50,000 members. They discuss each extramarital adventure beforehand and get to know the other couple before any swapping goes on.

Estimates of the number of American couples in open marriages range from 1.7 percent to 6 percent. Harper explains her unusual union:

How it happened When we got married 17 years ago, an open arrangement was in no way on the radar. But nearly five years ago, we were in kind of a sexual lull. I had a higher libido but I wasn’t going to cheat, so I was trying to figure out ways to rectify this. I read an article online about open marriage from a husband’s perspective and shared it with Michael.

Ground rules No sex with clients, coworkers or anybody in the state. We both travel for work, so that’s not a problem. No spending the night—that creates the opportunity to start developing a relationship. We always talk about how we feel, and the other person has to accept the feeling, good or bad. If one of us is uncomfortable, we say, “You can’t do that person anymore.”

Safe sex? Absolutely. Condoms always.

Benefits Since we started having excursions, our own sexual relationship has been a lot more fun. If we hook up with anyone, the idea is to bring that energy back to each other. We’ve always been good communicators, but in an open marriage, you end up communicating a lot more about your feelings.

Why stay married? First and foremost, we’re a committed couple. We opened our marriage for the experience of having varied sex with others, not to replace each other.

First published in the March 2013 issue

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