The World Has Moved Away From Marriage, Couples Can Cheat— Counselor

Mrs. Modupe EHIRIM is the Founder and Lead Counselor at The Right Fit Marriage Academy, Lagos.

She has counseled several men and women to become persons that their spouses wanted them to be.

Using The Right Fit Marriage Process, Modupe Ehirim guides married persons to intentionally design and build healthy and long-lasting marriages.

Mrs Modupe EHIRIM, the founder of and the Lead Counsellor at The Right Fit Marriage Academy

What Is Your Definition Of Open Marriage?

I don’t have a definition of an open marriage. But here is what I will say to you:  the world has moved away from what many older people consider marriage. If you talk to people my age, open marriage does not exist in their definition. You’re either married or not married, or you’re in a monogamous marriage or polygamous marriage. Those are the things that we know.

 However, in today’s world, there’s a concept of open marriage and what has become generally accepted as the definition of open marriage is a couple who are in a marriage and then give permission to each other outside of their marriage and to have sexual relationships with other people. A man and woman who have decided to be in a relationship as husband and wife and then between themselves they say okay, I want to be having sexual interaction with other people apart from you and their partner agrees, that is essentially what an open marriage is. 

What is not immediately obvious when people agree to such things is that there are as many understandings of that open marriage as there are couples who go into it because when they use the word, they seem to think they know what they mean but when they start living it out, they realize that it’s not what they think. But for those of us who are old school, when you go outside of marriage, that’s infidelity. For people who are in an open marriage, infidelity does not exist, cheating does not exist because they know and agree to it.

Is Open Marriage Cheating?

A marriage therapist, a marriage counselor, or a marriage educator shares principles about marriage so I cannot tell my clients what they should do in their own life. If a person comes to me and says “my partner is cheating,” that immediately suggests to me that in their mind, what they have with their partner is a monogamous marriage and so they won’t even be coming to me to talk about cheating. But the people who are intentionally in open marriages, won’t even come to me that their partner is cheating because it’s part of the agreement.

Do you recommend Open Marriage To Your Clients?

Intentionally, we need to understand what a marriage counselor is. Nigerian law, for example, you have to be a certain age that the law considers to be an adult before you get married. Even in customary law, you have to be a certain age and the reason why that is so is that the law is assuming that you’re an adult, you have what is called “personal agency” and  you’re in a position to make decisions for yourself. You’re in a position to decide what you want to do, you’re in a position to consider the implications of your decisions and the impact on yourself and people who are around you.

So when you go to a marriage counselor, what you’re going for is help to deal with situations that are existing in what you have chosen, and a professional marriage counselor isn’t going to say to you “this is what you should do or this is what you should not do.”

A professional marriage counselor is going to assess, for example; you are married to somebody and you want to be in an open relationship, and your partner wants to be in a monogamous relationship. That kind of situation can come to me. I’m not going to seat them down and say “you people, this is what you should do.” What I’m going to do is help them to understand what is it that they want,  help them to have the conversation.

 Now, whether they will stay together or go apart, it is them that will decide. This is why we encourage people to do pre-marriage preparations because there are many things to look into and agree and people will say, “we can talk,” and people can change but that is essentially it. Anybody who thinks that because times are changing, they can do whatever they like. It means essentially also they’re not people who understand commitment, who understand the integrity and so you now have a decision to make: “do I want to continue a relationship with this person who’s not understanding commitment, who’s not understanding integrity?

Is Open Marriage Now Common In Nigeria?

It’s more common than we realize. The practice of it is common, especially when you talk to the younger people, that’s people below 40 years of age. However,  what many of them are practicing is not open marriage as it is practiced in the Western world because if you’re doing open marriage, it also has the same amount of integrity as a monogamous marriage. So, if you’re going to do open marriage you have to discuss the terms, you have to agree and you have to remain faithful to that.

Essentially, it means that if you want to be in what is an open marriage, you have to look for a partner who also wants that. You cant be in a marriage and say “I’m doing open marriage” when your partner says no “I don’t want an open marriage; when I married you, it was you alone I wanted to marry.”

So, this second one is the more prevalent one, people who are cheating on their spouses, who then say “no I’m not cheating, I just want the freedom to be able to be with many people.” What we say to people, especially the younger people, be honest to yourself before you meet somebody. Don’t  go and take the vow of “I’ll stay with you for the rest of your life and you’ll be the only one and after that want to eat your cake and have it back.

Open marriage suggests that both partners agree to it. It’s not an open marriage if it’s one person who is just deciding what they want to do and telling the other person “you have to live with it.” No, that’s infidelity.

Is Open Marriage Likely To Work In Nigeria?

Well, to be honest, it has implications that people don’t consider. So, people assume they can be emotionally connected to many people simply because they have sexual interaction with them. So they think “after all, I’m only having sex with them, I can remove my mind from them, and when I come back home I’m with my partner.” They underestimate what is required to sustain such a relationship.

The second thing also is they overestimate their capacity to be accommodating. If a woman for example agrees to open marriage, has she anticipated whether she’ll be jealous if her partner begins to give more attention to somebody? Is she agreeing to one person? Is she agreeing to multiple partners? So, what will be the extent of it? What if he crosses the line of sex and begins an emotional relationship with the partner?

What if she begins to think that in addition to having sex with this man, I can also take money from him? So, there’s a lot of things involved. When people go into an open relationship, what we in family systems tell them is “you better sit down and think about what you want and what you think you’re looking for,” because emotionally, it’s like you can decide what it is you want to do but you have no control over the outcome.

I once had a client who agreed to have an open relationship and the marriage broke because when they started living it out, one of the partners could not just get over the fact that their partner has slept with another person. So, even though they wanted to close the relationship again, that image just never left their minds and they couldn’t move on. That is the kind of situation where they thought open relationship was something they could do but when they started to live it, they realized that the emotional implications of it for them were beyond what they could accommodate.

How Many Couples Have Come To You For Help About Open Marriage?

To be honest, in our culture, even though people say it on social media, when it comes to sitting face to face and saying it, they only say it amongst their pairs. So, have I ever had anyone in my practice who came to me and said we want to have an open relationship, no. But when people come to me, for example about infidelity, and were dealing with it, and one partner is seeing wrong in that, it suggests to me that what they want in their minds is an open relationship.

The reason is if you do infidelity, and your partner complains, you will want to remedy it when you know you’re in a monogamous marriage. But I think another reason why people think that open relationships are in  large number in our community, is because culturally, our society excuses men when they cheat on their partners. So, there’s that assumption that because of that we’re open to open relationships.

I tell people that even in polygamous relationships, there’s commitment, and there’s integrity. If I say to you I want to be polygamous, I still have to be committed in that relationship. We both have to agree on what the definition of polygamy is and we have to have the values and things by which we’re living it. You can’t just say you want to have an open relationship just because it catches your fancy.

 Perhaps what we’re practicing is what I call “opportunistic open marriages.” What is an opportunistic open marriage? The opportunity came and I took it. You’ll see that abroad, the amount of thought and discussion that goes into it is as much as the one that goes into monogamous marriages.

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