These days, there’s a lot of hand-wringing about tying the knot. Is the problem just plain ol’ cold feet, or is the traditional marriage as we know it is on its way out? We asked Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson whose new book The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels is a roadmap for couples willing to step outside the marriage box (and bed) and test the bounds of matrimony. With the trend toward waiting on trading rings, simply opting out, or going straight to kids, it’s no wonder couples are doing the marriage thing their way. They want the kind of union that’s successful by their definition of success—not society’s, and who are we to judge?

Here are two of their stories.

THE OPEN MARRIAGE: Bonded By Sexual Honesty open marriageB

ryce and Dana were attracted to each other from the moment they locked eyes in a Mexico nightclub. The relationship grew from casual dating to a committed partnership to marriage. There were just a couple of little details: Bryce knew he wasn’t cut out for monogamy and Dana was attracted to women as well as men. While those realities may have split apart most couples, for Bryce and Dana, both in their 30s, their sexual needs became their strongest bond.

Their marriage is open, not because they want to explore intimacy with other people but rather, because they want to honour each other’s sexual desires while also being committed.

We each want the other to be happy.

In the early days of their marriage, they only had threesomes and foursomes together. But after two years, they knew they had enough confidence in themselves and each other to have sex with others on their own. It took work to create a framework to make outside partnerships comfortable for both of them.

Of course, there are rules. For instance, sex is always safe, there are no sleepovers, and they have to tell each other about a potential extramarital romp in advance. Despite their freedom, the two say they’ve only had other partners a handful of times each year since they tied the knot. But, as Bryce says, just knowing that’s an option deepens their trust and bond. It also helps them appreciate each other more. Not to say that there haven’t been pangs of jealousy, especially early on. But they are able to work through them. They’ve become better communicators because of it. Bryce believes that more people might be willing to explore an open marriage if they had similar communication and trust. But many don’t, he says.

Many people don’t trust their partner enough, and people don’t want to share.

THE CO-PARENTING MARRIAGE: Not Together, Not Apart open marriage

After 27 years of marriage, Ann and her husband, James, were struggling. Like many couples, having kids turned out to be a game-changer in their relationship. With her husband acting like a third needy child, she felt like her life force was getting snuffed out. Ann and James were in their early 50s when they reached their breaking point. But they didn’t want a costly divorce because really, all they needed to reduce the stress was space.

Before they knew it, four years had passed and they were no closer to a divorce. Money was tight and they were getting along so they decided that it made sense to move back in together. That was eight years ago.

This time around, however, the terms were nothing like those they agreed to when they exchanged vows back in 1975. Now, sex and romance were off the table (at least with each other), outside lovers were OK as long as they were never brought home or introduced to friends or family, and they could share some of their old social connections but were free to have separate social networks (sort of a don’t ask, don’t tell set up).

We basically lead separate lives, says Ann. I have learned to keep things very private from my husband.

Perhaps surprisingly, there’s a magic that happens when people stop trying to fit square pegs into round holes – at least for this couple. Ann and James communicate better than ever, mostly because the pressure of trying to make their traditional marriage work is gone; now, they can just focus on taking care of their own needs. Ann appreciates that her family is one place, especially at holidays, and is thankful she lives in the home she loves. She also likes the financial security of their arrangement. Plus, they both get to enjoy longstanding friendships without anyone having to choose sides. While outsiders see Ann and her husband as being like any other long-married couple, the people closest to them know they are not “married” in every sense of the word. Ann is enjoying this time in her life and has no regrets.

An alternative marriage is definitely an option people should consider when divorce is not a clear-cut solution, she says.

How does an open marriage work

Susan Pease Gadoua

what is an open marriage

Vicki Larson

Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson are the authors of The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press). Follow them on Facebook and Twitter  and for more details, check out The New I Do.   Featured Image photo credit: Mike Burns via photopin cc Susan Pease Gadoua Photo Credit: In Her Image Vicki Larson Photo Credit: Frederic Larson

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