Special Reports

Opening up about open relationships

Monday, February 07, 2011

When it comes to marriage, there is no shortage of experts with opinions about what works and what doesn't.

Few of them will tell you what the couples you're about to meet told me. They claim to be deeply in love, committed couples, but they've made a choice that will raise a few eyebrows, and they say we can all learn a thing or two from listening.

"Well, we actually met on a blind date," said Carl Stevens.

Carl and Kenya Stevens had what you might describe as a whirlwind romance. They met as freshmen at Howard University and fell quickly and madly in love.

Two months later, they were engaged. 10 months later, married. It was, they say, a perfect picture, until...

"My husband came home from work and shared with me that he was falling in love with another woman," said Kenya, a relationship counselor.

Words, Kenya admits, that broke her heart. But a few years earlier, she says, she felt the same emotion for another man and never said a word about it.

Carl's admission began a conversation, and their relationship took a turn neither saw coming.

"Right now, I only have one girlfriend," said Carl Steven.

"And I have one boyfriend," Kenya said.

Yes, a proudly monogamous couple for more than a decade, Carl and Kenya opened their marriage 3 years ago, still in love with each other, but dating, even falling in love with other people, too.

Jealousy? They say it's not an issue.

"I am excited if my mate is having pleasure of joy or ecstasy outside the relationship," said Kenya.

The Exton native and his wife don't suggest their lifestyle is for everyone, but they say it's definitely for them, though it may seem odd.

The Stevens say there are no secrets between them. Their open relationship is an honest one. And they think monogamous couples can follow their lead when it comes to communication.

They're not alone. This past weekend, Philadelphia played host to the 6th annual "Loving More" Convention, organized by Robyn Trask who used to own a wedding chapel, and now calls herself poly-amorous.

"I want people to know there's a choice. Monogamy is great for a lot of people, but for some people it's not," says Robyn Trask.

To be clear, they say, this is not "swinging".

It's not about sex, they insist, but about love, and allowing themselves to experience as much of it as possible.

"I actually think they are all destined to fail, one way or another. I don't think that's realistic at all," said Dr. Stephen Treat.

Dr. Treat, of the Philadelphia based Council for Relationships, says monogamous couples form a unique bond, a level of love bred through commitment that those in open relationships will never achieve.

Jennifer and Ryan of Chester Springs don't quite see it that way. The pair, together for 3 years, and about to get married, also practices an open relationship.

"If you can't talk to each other, then you're bound to fail, regardless of how many other complications you add to the mix," said Ryan.

Both couples hope even those who disagree with open relationships learn all relationships require sometimes hard truths.

Dr. Treat, meanwhile, says the hard truth is this...

"Intimacy is hard, intimacy is difficult and marriage takes work. My hope would be that they wouldn't try to find exits," says Dr. Treat.

Now, to some, if not most of you, this may all seem somewhat ridiculous. But even if the idea of open relationships repulses you, the couples who practice hope you'll take away the importance of opening up. They say the secret to a good relationship is a relationship with no secrets; this being the most extreme example.

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