What makes a marriage viable—or not? In a word: trust.

The issue of trust between spouses, has come to the fore during the Republic primaries. Most of the candidates are men with decades-long marriages, which they hold up as a reflection of a trustworthy character.  The outlier is Newt Gingrich, married three times, and accused by his second wife of wanting an open marriage.

In my experience, open marriage is a hazardous undertaking.  However, it’s important to note that healthy marriages come in all shapes and sizes.  No two couples are exactly alike, and spouses need the freedom to define a relationship in which each can grow and thrive.

Some couples like to check in with each other several times a day; others are happy to wait until the evening to make contact.

Most couples socialize primarily with mutual friends—often other couples—and family.  However, in certain marriages there is an understanding that each spouse is free to independently pursue friendships, including those with members of the opposite sex.

No matter the couple, though, the basis of any marriage must be emotional security.  However it is expressed, the core message needs to be: “I’ve got your back.”

Trust must underlie the key areas that impact a marriage, and each partner should be able to say to the other:
“I trust you to be transparent, prudent and fair about our finances.”
“I trust you to share parenting responsibilities with me and to love and care for our child(ren).
“I trust you to treat me respectfully and value me, even when we disagree.”
“I trust you to support me in times of illness or stress.”

Another critical aspect of marriage is sexuality, an area in which each person’s needs must be balanced.  For some couples, any expression of sexuality must stay within the confines of a marriage, from flirting to having sex with another person.  But marriages can thrive without being strictly monogamous.

In an “open marriage,” where each spouse has the freedom to engage in sexual relationships with others, both partners can find satisfaction, but they walk a fine line between being honest and being hurtful.

In a successful open marriage—and I’ve seen just a few of them—the husband and wife need plenty or rope, but not enough to hang each other.

The question, “How was your weekend away?” need not be answered, “Thanks for asking.  I had the best sex of my life.”

An open marriage can inflict an open wound, as it did with (the second) Mrs. Gingrich, unless tact and trust prevail—and the same is true of every long term and committed relationship, monogamous or not.

More posts about relationships:
Learning from Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin: The Post-Scandal Playbook (April 24, 2013)
Working Families (March 5, 2013)
New Year, New Sex (January 10, 2013)
Till Tweet Do Us Part (December 10, 2013)
Me and My Smartphone–A Love Affair (August 7, 2012)
Does Couples Therapy Work? (March 21, 2012)
Marital Pre Nup (February 8, 2012)