Long-time listeners have heard us say over and over again that we don’t recommend getting into the Lifestyle as a means of “fixing” a relationship that is less than ideal. It can be problematic, even disastrous, if one or both partner decides to partake of the Lifestyle in order to fill in an important missing component in the relationship or as a way to make a relationship work that currently is not for one or both partners.
But the difference between “fixing” and “enhancing” a relationship can be nuanced. What counts as “fixing” and what counts as “enhancing”?
Let’s tackle “enhancing” first. If you’re in a respectful, mutually satisfying relationship and you both agree that you’d like to expand the boundaries of your sexual activities to include other people, you’re looking to enhance what you already have. That’s a great reason to try out the Lifestyle! We’d argue that it’s the ideal reason. It may happen that one or the other (or both) of you find that you experience things with others in a play experience that are different than the things you experience with your partner — that’s part of the excitement of the Lifestyle! That’s not the same as seeking out a “fix” to problems you may experience with your primary partner. If you get something from other play partners that you don’t get from your primary partner, it doesn’t mean you’re trying to fix a missing part of your relationship. It means you’re enjoying the variety of human experience. And, if you’re doing it well, you’re also talking about those experiences with your partner and encouraging one another to explore and enjoy them.
“Fixing” is when one or both partners are less-than-satisfied with the intimacy of their primary relationship and hope that opening up to experiences with others will fulfill the missing component, often without discussing it fully (or at all) with one another. “Fixing” is using the Lifestyle in place of honest communication and maybe in place of counseling that would strengthen the relationship. “Fixing” occurs when a couple feels unhappy with each other, whether they discuss it or not, and look to the Lifestyle as a salve for that dissatisfaction. It may be that the couple loves and admires one another a great deal, but experiences difficulties or incompatibilities in their sexual relationship. The Lifestyle isn’t a great way to “fix” that. In fact, opening up a relationship with sexual tension to others may jeopardize the relationship. On top of that, it may cause drama that gets foisted on the play partners invited in. Nobody in the Lifestyle wants to become part of a schism between two primary partners.
How can you tell if you’re fixing versus enhancing? Take an honest inventory of where you are in your relationship. Ask important questions, such as…
- Can/do we talk openly, candidly, and without reservation with each other about our sexual desires and fantasies?
- Do we have a fulfilling intimate life right now, with each other?
- Do we both have a desire to experiment with the Lifestyle, or is one of us trying to convince the other?
- Is there anything we should address about our intimate life or relationship but one or both of us would rather avoid?
If you find one or both of you would rather not address all those questions honestly, that’s the first sign that you’re heading toward trying to “fix.” If you are able to be very honest in your responses to those questions and the answers are YES, YES, YES, and NO — you’re probably looking to enhance more than fix your relationship.