A Guide to Infidelity in an Open Relationship

Christian and Magda have been married for ten years, for six they’ve been having affairs with other people. It works — but it doesn’t mean they can’t cheat on each other.

Kati Krause

Source: https://medium.com/krautreporter-stories/a-guide-to-infidelity-in-an-open-relationship-bb1e5cb652b0#.jk4n0qdyo

This is a translated and slightly altered version of a text I wrote for the German magazine Krautreporter. Photos by Studio Kleinod.

A few months ago, my friends Christian and Magda suffered their first bad relationship crisis to date. Magda had a lover (“only sex,” she emphasises) and when she went to see him one night, Christian went out alone and met another woman. With him, too, it was “only sex” at first, but then things changed.

Usually affairs serve to improve their marital love life — they turn them on. However, this time the trick didn’t work. Christian was swept off his feet by the erotic tension with his new lover, the whole thing went out of control. “I felt intoxicated.” In hindsight, Magda even empathises: “That feeling that there’s a fire inside you, it’s amazing. I can totally understand that.”

Back then, however, she’d reached the limits of her understanding. Magda felt how Christian drifted away from her and, for the first time in their relationship, gave him a choice: Break this off immediately or I’m gone. It was a drastic measure, and it jolted Christian awake. He complied. Ever since then, they have been slowly rebuilding the damaged trust between them as I’ve been watching from the sidelines, in awe. Turns out you can cheat on your partner in an open relationship, too.

On this they agree: No matter how much you love each other — passion fades. That shouldn’t stand in the way of a happy marriage.

Christian, 37, and Magda, 39, have been together for 12 years and married for 10. And for about six years they’ve been having sex, affairs and little love stories with others. For a while that was fairly easy: She was in Berlin, he in Barcelona. But even now that they’ve been living together again for three years, they have kept it that way. Because on this they agree: No matter how much you love each other — passion fades. That shouldn’t stand in the way of a happy marriage.

“When you love somebody, there’s a difference between the relationship and the fleeting intoxication of sex,” Christian says. Neither of them can understand how a union that has been going well for years could end after one act of infidelity. “I’ve often asked myself: What kind of relationship is that? You’ve cheated once! Is there no empathy?” And Magda adds: “If I can’t be the way I am, I don’t want to be in a relationship. After all, many relationships fail because people aren’t being honest.”

We’re sitting in their kitchen, drinking wine and smoking. We do that regularly, Magda and Christian are my friends. That’s why they are letting me tell their story and even publish their pictures. Because we’re friends — and because they want to pass on some things they’ve learnt. They aren’t narcissists or social media junkies, both value their privacy. But this is a welcome opportunity to address a few prejudices. Because when they hear “open relationship,” many people still respond with a skeptical look. Isn’t that just an excuse for cheating? And is that really love, or a marriage of convenience?

These are questions I’ve been asking myself, too. But even more so, I’ve been wanting to find out the rules of engagement in an open relationship for very selfish reasons. I love sex. And I have yet to survive the blows that dying passion strikes against a relationship that has settled into comfortable routines.

Of course, I’m far from alone with this predicament. A large-scale study by the Psychological Institute at Göttingen University shows that only about a fourth of all German couples have sex twice a week. 57 percent sleep with each other once a week, 17 percent of all contestants hadn’t had any sex in four weeks. Another study by the same institute concluded that 97 percent of all men and women who start a relationship in Germany expect their partner to be faithful. And a very anecdotal survey among my friends leads me to conclude that this schism is something many of us strive to overcome, yet we have no idea how.

Because what if you aren’t ready for a life without the intoxicating effect of passion, of desire and its fulfilment? What if you’re attracted to other people even though you love your partner? The safety and stability of a stable relationship, coupled with the surprise and adventure that comes with sex with strangers — it sounds very much like having it all. But of several couples I know who’ve tried “the open relationship thing,” there are only two where it wasn’t the beginning of the end. Because it turns out that having an open relationship is just as hard as having a sexually monogamous one. It’s just that the hard bits have a different shape.

“It was an experiment. We didn’t know what would happen. There are no rules.”

Magda and Christian believe that for them it works because they’ve never regarded it as a model. “It was an experiment. We didn’t know what would happen,” Magda explains. “There are no rules. Every couple makes their own rules.” If you’d like an outside opinion, I believe that their recipe for success is no-frills pragmatism based on deep love and caring. And a near-total absence of jealousy, of course.

The path they’ve chosen was particularly challenging for Magda, who grew up in the Catholic culture of Colombia. She had to learn not only to have casual sex, but also to deal with other people judging her relationship. And she had to find out what love actually means to her, an issue she believes many people face today. “People want to redefine what love is,” she says. “They want freedom, but they don’t want to give back. They want to be loved but they don’t want to reveal anything. Maybe we have to expand our ideas of happiness and love. I don’t want love if it means doing something only because society expects it.”

“Maybe we have to expand our ideas of happiness and love. I don’t want love if it means doing something only because society expects it.”

In Christian and Magda’s relationship, things always just sort of happened. They met at Sónar Festival in Barcelona where he, the Austrian graphic designer, worked as a VJ and spontaneously used her, the Colombian who’d overstayed her tourist visa, as a model. Their one-night stand slowly turned into an ever more serious relationship, and Magda’s inability to travel became a nuisance. She needed a residence permit. Suddenly, they were talking about marriage. “It was a pragmatic decision. It had nothing to do with love,” Magda asserts, matter-of-factly. She had never even wanted to get married, she’d seen too much sanctimoniousness and double standards back in Colombia. Christian, on the other hand, simply felt too young. “I wasn’t at an age where I could say: I’m marrying the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.”

But marry they did, in summer 2005, and two years later Magda was awarded Spanish citizenship. They could have gotten divorced now, yet didn’t. However, while Christian’s design studio flourished, Magda had trouble settling in Barcelona. She decided to move to Berlin. They both needed the break.

Looking back to those days, they say: We were like brother and sister. Their relationship had changed, desire was gone. “And that’s still an issue,” Magda says. “Being happy is never a permanent state. Passion fades. Always, in my experience. But many people can turn me on. Love goes deeper. And love I only know with Christian.”

This is something of a fashionable topic among sexual therapists. Both the German Ulrich Clement and the Belgian Esther Perel are stars of their trade who advocate more openness and honesty in relationships (for some entertainment, watch Perel’s TED talk on the subject). They believe that our standards in modern relationships are simply too high — that we expect one person to fulfil the roles traditionally covered by an entire village. “We want everything from one person: Great conversation and great sex, security and adventure. These are hopelessly excessive demands for any normal relationship,” Clement said in an interview.

These “delusions of grandeur that one love has to provide for everything,” as he calls it — Magda and Christian have simply turned their backs on that. And even though they have no rules, they instinctively act according to principles that Perel and Clement suggest: They are respectful, loyal, relaxed and very much aware of their boundaries.

Sexual therapists believe that our standards in modern relationships are simply too high — that we expect one person to fulfil the roles traditionally covered by an entire village.

One question that often arises when discussing open relationships is that of balance and fairness. Isn’t one person exploiting the other? When I ask Christian and Magda whether they feel one is profiting more than the other, they both say: Yes, me.

They’re saying this as they are sitting together, correcting and finishing each other’s sentences. At first glance, they are cultural clichés: She’s emotional, talks about big feelings and existential learnings and true love, while he focusses on facts and details, acts rationally and interrupts her when she strays from the chronological sequence of events. Yet he is the one who blossoms when he’s among people, who travels constantly and parties all night while she, the yoga teacher, goes to bed at 11pm, gets up at 6 and generally likes things quiet. He has more affairs, her’s may last a bit longer. There are no clear power structures. Certainly neither lacks willpower.

The feeling of benefitting more than the other goes back to the first time they cheated on each other — because their open relationship didn’t begin with rules, but with two acts of infidelity. Christian in Barcelona, Magda in Berlin. They told each other at their Christmas reunion, first her, than him. The cat was out of the bag, both were relieved and decided, more implicitly than explicitly, to continue this way. Christian recalls it as a grey zone: “We simply accepted it tacitly.”

That leads us to transparency. How much does the other person have to know? He’s always found it more difficult to come clean than her, and they rarely tell each other immediately. Details aren’t required, either. “We’ve never had an interrogative situation,” Christian says. “Sometimes things surface after a couple of glasses of wine.”

All in all, they have few rules. “Nobody from our circle of friends” is one, but Christian is by now good friends with one of Magda’s former lovers and often forgets that they ever had an affair. “It’s like knowing Magda’s ex. I couldn’t care less about her ex,” he says and laughs.

So does sex matter less or more to them than to others? It’s hard to say. Clearly sex is very important to them in general, but it plays a secondary role in their relationship. There are much more important things. That Christian inspires Magda to strive to be a better person, for example. Or that Christian feels incapable of being angry with Magda, no matter what she does.

There is one rule, however, and it was Magda who spelled it out. “I’m the queen. There may be ladies of the court, but I always have to be number one.” In other words: They can share their bodies freely, but their hearts belong to each other. Even their relationship is exclusive. Christian puts it this way: “It’s essentially a monogamous relationship. Only that we give each other space.”

But even though they emphasise the difference between love and passion, the boundaries are unclear. Magda says she can’t have any superficial relationships at all, whether they’re friendships or affairs, and Christian agrees: “It’s never just about a quick fuck. There’s always attraction that goes beyond the purely physical.” Where attraction ends and love begins is something only the two of them know.

The betrayal wasn’t the other woman. It was Christian’s doubt in his life with Magda. And that could have just as easily happened if they didn’t have an open relationship.

So it is possible to be unfaithful in an open relationship, only that adultery doesn’t take place in bed. It’s not an act, it’s a feeling — the feeling that Magda had a few months ago when Christian was swept off his feet by his lover. For the first time in their relationship, she thought they’d be better off going separate ways. However, the betrayal wasn’t the other woman; it was Christian’s doubt in his life with Magda. And that, both agree, could have happened just as easily if they didn’t have an open relationship.

So they had to make a very conscious decision to be with each other again. They gave themselves a few months, talked a lot, fought, made up again, travelled to Colombia and said: Let’s see how things go afterwards. Things are going fine. They’re thinking about having a baby. I continue standing by the sidelines, in awe.

It’s not that, having written this article, I’m much wiser about how one leads an open relationship. I still have no master plan for my own love life and no idea whether I could deal with the emotional stress of my partner having sex with others. Like Christian and Magda, I’ll have to experiment, I guess.

But there’s one thing I’ve taken away from their story: perseverance. “We have a lot of stamina,” Christian says. “Others would act much more quickly. We simply wait a bit and often things just work themselves out.” Or to say it in the words of celebrity sex therapist Ulrich Clement: “Innocence is lost. But hanging on provides the opportunity for something new. And that can be very exciting.”

克里斯蒂安和玛格达结婚十年了,他们各自和别人有过六年的外遇。这样可行 - 但这并不意味着他们不能互相背板。


通常外遇用来改善他们的婚姻爱情生活 。然而,这一次的把戏没有凑效。克里斯蒂安与他的新情人的紧张刺激让他神魂颠倒,失控失控。“我感到陶醉。”事后,玛格达甚至对此强调:“觉得有一团火在你里面,让人惊讶。我完全理解。”


在这一点上他们同意:无论你多么爱对方 - 激情褪去。那不应该妨碍幸福的婚姻。

克里斯蒂安,37岁,和玛格达,39岁,已经在一起12年,结婚10。大约六年来,他们有性爱,外遇和与他人的小爱情故事。有一段时间很容易:她在柏林,他在巴塞罗那。但即使现在他们已经在一起生活了三年,他们一直这样。因为在这一点上他们同意:无论你多么爱对方 - 激情褪去。那不应该妨碍幸福的婚姻。






因为,要是你没有准备好去过一种没有激情、欲望和满足的陶醉感的生活呢?要是你即使爱你的伴侣但是却吸引了其他人呢?安全和稳定的伴侣关系,再加上和陌生人做爱的刺激和冒险 -这听起来非常像拥有一切。但我认识的几对尝试过“开放式关系”的夫妇中,只有两个不是结束的开始。因为,开放的关系一样具有一夫一妻的本质特点,只是具有不同的形式。










性治疗师是一个时髦的话题。无论是德国的乌尔里希克莱门特,还是比利时埃丝特佩莱尔都是这方面的明星。他们主张更开放且更诚实的关系(作为娱乐,可以看佩莱尔关于这个话题的TED演讲)。他们认为,我们现代的两性关系的标准太高了 - 我们期待一个人来完成传统上由一整个村庄来扮演的角色。“我们想从一个人身上得到一切:极好的交流,超棒的性,安全且刺激。这些是任何正常的两性关系没不可能完全满足的条件”克莱门特在接受采访时说。

这些他称之为“爱必须提供的一切的夸大妄想。”  -玛格达和克里斯蒂安都背弃了。虽然他们没有规则,他们本能地按佩莱尔和克莱门特建议的原则办事:他们彼此尊重、忠诚,放松且非常了解自己的界限。

我们现代的两性关系的标准太高了 - 我们期待一个人来完成传统上由一整个村庄来扮演的角色。






那么和其他人相比,性对他们来说是否更重要? 这很难说。显然,性对他们来说很重要,但在他们的关系中起着次要的作用,还有更重要的事情。比如,克里斯蒂安激励玛格达努力成为一个更好的人。或者克里斯蒂安觉得不能对玛格达生气,不管她做什么。




所以有可能在一个开放的关系不忠,只要奸淫不是发生在床上。这不是一种行为,它是一种感觉 -。在几个月前得知克里斯蒂安与情人交欢后,玛格达也有这种感觉。。在他们的关系中,第一次,她认为他们分道扬镳更好。然而,背叛不是因为另一个女人,而是克里斯蒂安对与玛格达生活的怀疑。而且,双方都认为如果他们没有一个开放的关系,可能会很容易发生。



但我已从他们的故事中获得的一种东西:毅力。“我们有很多耐力,”克里斯蒂安说。“其他人会行动得更快。我们只是等待一下,然后事情往往自己找到解决办法了。”明星性治疗师Ulrich Clement说:“纯真是失去了。但搁置会提供一些新事物出现的机会。这会非常令人兴奋。”




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