Helen Fisher on Open Marriages: "They never end up working long-term."


Marriage actually never works. You know those poor saps who decide to stay together? One or both eventually ALWAYS winds up dead.
Thanks, Dan, for talking about actual DATA, for pointing out the logical fallacies, and for generally fighting the good fight. We're SO lucky to have you!
Wow, this pseudo-scientific charlatan is even worse than the authors of Sex at Dawn.
@1 - That's the spirit!

Personally, I'm of the opinion that if people are honest and communicate well, the only thing that can create a problem is if their sexual and romantic preferences diverge significantly.

The bad news? People's preferences often diverge significantly.
Given that infidelity rates are sky-high, there are two kinds of couples: those in open marriages and those that don't know they're in open marriages.

Bravo to those who have the courage to be honest and stand up to the scolds.
Great take down of Fisher's unscientific arguments but I tend to think that open relationships on average are less stable because it takes a lot of hard work and compromise to stay in a relationship. Working hard at staying together is less likely to happen when going through life change while one is able to sample the field for amorous and lusty adventures (according to my limited experience).
Congratulations to you and Terry on 21 happy years together, Dan! :D
What 7 said :)
Didn't Neil Degrass-Tyson pit this moron against you IN ABSENTIA on his crappy Star Talk TV show where he constantly cuts off his "experts"???
@1. Seatackled. That is so true.
What a lot of crock. This Fisher chick is one lousy anthropologist.
Lots of cultures have gone for the multiple bonding, over pair bonding.
But what if I don't like sushi.
What a lousy anthropologist this Fisher chick is. Many cultures have and still do, have multiple bonding arrangements.
What if I don't like sushi.
Stupid fucking site. webmaster. Fix the problem.
I got nothing on you, Dan (17yrs open!), but my wife and I have been together 17yrs and open for nearly 3yrs, and just passing the polyfidelitous 1-yr mark with another couple. What does Mrs. Fisher consider long-term, anyways?
I'd like to add another layer to this: for some reason, in relationships longevity is the only factor that seems to matter, according to Fisher and, well, widely accepted narrative.
This just isn't true. Some relationships don't "fail", they "end". People grow apart, people want different things, people have external factors, people find other people - and they end previous engagements. What's with this weird fascination with lifelong stuff?

I mean, we, as a society, are essenially saying to a couple of high-school sweethearts, that their experience together wasn't a beautiful time of discovering themselves, that made both of them happy and enriched their lives. No, it must be a "failure", because they went to different universities and it had to end.

I mean, we don't think that people necessarily fail at their jobs when they leave the company, do we? Some do, sure, doesn't mean the non-lifelong job is a failure.
As a scientist myself, I'm calling bullshit on the biological adjacency thing. Not the idea itself (there's a grain of plausibility to it) but rather the claim that Dr. Fisher said it was so. Let's look at the article:
The reasons open marriages don’t work are biological, Dr. Fisher said: The parts of the brain involved in romantic love are next to areas that help orchestrate thirst and hunger, she said.

“Thirst and hunger aren’t going to change anytime soon,” she said, and neither is the pair-bonding instinct we recognize as romantic love. “It evolved so our forebears could focus on one person and begin the mating process.”
Note that she never said it was because of proximity! (Or at least, she wasn't quoted as saying so.) She merely said that the pair-bonding drive is the result of very deep-rooted biology, a symplesiomorphic character shared by practically all mammals (monogamous and promiscuous alike) and very strongly conserved. It was the words of the journalist (La Gorce) that invoked proximity. DO NOT TRUST "SCIENCE REPORTING" FOR TECHNICAL ACCURACY, ESPECIALLY IF THE REPORTER ISN'T THE DEDICATED SCIENCE NEWS GUY.

Yet again, we see a relationship columnist shitting on evolutionary psychology because he doesn't like societal norms about monogamy and can't separate the instinct (biological underpinnings of sexual and romantic attraction) from the institution (the cultural standard of monogamy being valued above promiscuity).
Dan, you know about relationships and people and sex, but you don't know about evolutionary biology. Please leave the science to the scientists, and please leave the philosophical rambling about science to Charles Mudede.

With all due respect to Dr. Rahman, he's a psychologist, not an evolutionary biologist. He's talking about the structure of the brain, but Dr. Fisher is talking about the processes governing change of that structure over evolutionary timescales.
And I'm a little skeptical of the anonymous report, partly because it's anonymous and partly because it verges (as written) on argumentum ad lapidem. It's perfectly plausible, again, that a certain allele of a single gene could increase the odds of philandering; if you understand the concept of penetrance, it starts to make a lot more sense.

If you want to attack a researcher's work, attack their work; a quick Google Scholar search will turn up piles of Dr. Fisher's published articles and studies. If you find something in there that you think doesn't hold water, THEN you've got something. But it's imbecilic to take aim at your garbled perception, acquired through a newspaper, of someone's work. It's beating a strawman, no more no less.
"The reasons open marriages don’t work are biological, Dr. Fisher said: The parts of the brain involved in romantic love are next to areas that help orchestrate thirst and hunger, she said. "

That sentence is just straight up pseudo-science. I was unable to relocate any research involving any measurements of the brain at all related to open marriage.
@15 if she simply said that "there is a pair-bonding drive shared by both monogamous and non-monogamous mammals", how exactly is that relevant to the conversation about monogamy? I mean, how do we go from that to "humans are monogamous mammals" (when, i might add, it is painfully obvious that is not the case?) which was the clear implication?

I mean, if the "pair-bonding drive" is not the definitive feature of a monogamous animal, why even bring it up?
Curious about people's experiences with poly relationship. Have they worked well for you?
With Fisher's insulting claim to know better than Mo’Nique and Hicks about how the Mo’Nique and Hicks really feel about their marriage? (They only think they're happy, those deluded human animals!)

I get the same crap about living in a One-Penis Policy relationship, only it's from third-wavers who insist this "unfair" dynamic isn't really something I decided I wanted for myself, based on my own experiences and preferences, but is the result of "internalized muh soggy knee."
Oh I just can't with this! Do we define monogamy as "working" even though we have high rates of cheating and divorce? Wouldn't basic common sense tell us that a lot of people like variety in their sex lives and are okay and encouraging of that in others, including their partners?
Remember when being bisexual was looked at as "unnatural"? Gay? Trans? Ethical non-monogamy, poly, open, whatever you want to call it, is what many of us want, and it's working just fine, thanks. People who try to use biology as a compass: shut up. Just stop. If it's not for you, DON'T DO IT but FFS, leave us out of it. We've obviously evolved past you, but I hope you catch up soon.
One more point regarding "pair bonding" : I can guarantee you that my bonding is way more dedicated and honest because I have nothing to hide. You can also bond and pair with others without needing to own them.
@1,@7, @14 +1. (or would that be +3)

24yrs together, 17 open. Rarely tell people. Too much negative reaction. Like one friend who slut shames me and boasts how he's soooo happy he and his husband are monogamous. Sometimes see said husband at sex parties, and have promised to keep the secret.

Or a friend who goes on about how dirty it must be to have your spouse have so many partners, she couldn't imagine living like that. Her husband of 30 years, meanwhile, brags to me when we're alone about how many chicks he's banged in the last 30 years.
How the fuck can Fisher claim to be an anthropologist without addressing the large number of human societies where some form of polygamous union is the norm? They may not be open, but they ain't monogamous and they have been around for centuries and are stable.
Bonding in human animals is defined by the culture in which they live, not by brain structure. If it was a biological drive to be monogamous, then there would be no chance of any deviation from this.
Both my relationship with my boyfriend and The Husband have been open from the get go. That's 9 years with both of them (married these last 3 to the aforementioned Husband). Boyfriend walked me down the aisle. Another occasional partner of mine officiated. The Husband's girlfriend of at the time I think 17 years, was my matron of honor. She and her husband have been in an open marriage for over 25 years.
Fuck this lady and her assumptions right in the ear.
Yeah, this lady sounds like a right idiot but I also agree with venomlash. Dan is pro evopsych bullshit that confirms his biases and anti evopsych bullshit that confirms this lady's biases.
An OPP doesn't have to be sexist, but when men are explaining why it's important to them that they have one, they usually say something sexist.

It's also associated with groan inducing, new to poly, unicorn hunters looking for a hot bi babe.

And I have yet to hear a currently unpartnered woman say she's looking for a one penis policy relationship.

Then there's the old "if you just don't want any other men, why do you need a policy?"

So it's not wrong, but it's at least a yellow flag.

Kind of like how only dating within your race might be racist, or just a result of it being easiest to relate to others with similar life experiences.

They are also similar in the way they draw attention. If you just date women, or just date within your race, no one is likely to care. Whereas a declaration that "the only dick allowed is mine" gets a similar reception to "white dick only".

I am in a one penis policy marriage. I can date women. But he doesn't. I can have a girlfriend. But that relationship is entirely separate from my marriage. I may or may not include him (obviously with girl friends consent). Perhaps he shouldn't feel so insecure over another man doing me. But his "kink" is dominence, possession (in bed room). Maybe that isn't "evolved" (poly knock that language out. It turns off people like me who really have no negative opinions on open relationships and couldn't care one bit) but a lot of sex is dark and murky. I have some seriously sick fantasies myself.

I have substantial reservations about Evo psy because it feels like so often they represent "just so stories" used to justify cultural norms.

I've known several stable open relationships and several that are not. If it works for Monique, fine by me. I don't see how it's fisher or the reporters business to comment on it.

@ 16. YES. I am horrified by how all sorts of people twist research findings. Especially on a hot topic, I go back to the original studies.

@14. I have wondered that as well. There is an energy and time cost to multiple relationships.

Ultimately though, Monique's marriage is NOYB.
My therapist says that in her experience it's very common for one person in an open marriage to hide their unhappiness with the situation. But then it's not like people don't hide their unhappiness with monogamous arrangements too.

Also, STFU and MYOB Dr. F, you don't know Mo'Nique's life.
@19, it's working well for us. Twenty-two years with my husband, open for six, poly for over a year, each in stable, happy relationships, including our marriage.
Open relationship from the time we met in 2001, married since 2003. In practice most of these years have been just the two of us, but we can negotiate moving back and forth between having outside partners and not having them with little drama. We've recently started attending play parties together where I get to stride in and hit people, which is lots of fun.

Since the age of 13 I've never been particularly monogamous; never cheated either. I had one boyfriend straight through from the age of 12 to 22, which is pretty 'successful' for that age group I think.

If Fisher means that she thinks that opening a troubled marriage is unlikely to fix it, she might be right. Note that this marriage is by definition troubled already as a monogamous one.

If Fisher means that nonmonogamy [usually] suits one partner more than the other, she may be right. But the same can be said of monogamy.

I don't think nonmonogamy is right for most people. I'm weird. But it can be right for some people.
Lissa @26 wins the thread.
I think Alison @32 pretty much nails it. Opening a troubled monogamous marriage to save it can lead to its dissolution if you don't address what the problems in the marriage actually are. The failure won't be because new people were added, it will be because the new partners will be being used to distract from or actually run from existing problems within the relationship.
Communication is key in any relationship monogamous or otherwise and more so when there are more people involved. Everyone's needs need to be considered.

@33: :)
Poly seems a lot like racquetball: It's not for everyone, it might not be for you, and it can get pretty hard, but that doesn't mean it's for nobody.
I would like to make the point that "people are naturally inclined to pair bonding" and open/polyamorous relationships are not mutually exclusive.

I have been with my non-live-in, emotionally primary, partner for 4.5 years. We are a pair and we have a bond.

I have been with my toyboy for more than two years. We are a pair and we have a bond.

I was with my kinky partner (who has sadly now moved away) for over four years. We were a pair and we had a bond. He (and my other non-primary partner) have emotional relationships with other people. They are pairs and they have bonds.

In the meantime, I have had shorter-term relationships that involved bonding with those partners.

So whatever science concludes that humans are driven to bond does not prove a natural, evolutionarily predetermined "forsaking all others" instinct as part and parcel of that inclination.

Anecdotally: I have been in two long-term monogamous relationships that ended for reasons other than my preferring even a one-penis-policy arrangement which they vetoed. Between the relationships, my casual relationships generally lasted three weeks to three months before one or both of us discovered incompatibilities which would have doomed us as a committed monogamous couple, and those relationships ended. In my post-monogamous life, such incompatibilities did not in fact doom the relationship because we could get those needs met by other people. So for me, polyamory has enabled me to have longer-lasting relationships with partners who are wonderful but don't fulfill 100% of my needs. It's not for everybody, but it's working for me.
I think that Fisher overstepped when she said "“But they [open relationships] never end up working long-term.”" The implication is that monogamous relationships do end up working long term. But I think it would be more accurate to say that "pair-bonds never end up working long-term" or "infatuation never ends up working long term". It fades, and can be reestablished, but seems to involve idealism and thus is fairly transient by nature. Another way of saying this is that monogamy is not all smooth sailing, there will be rocky patches. It seems to take a mutual commitment to a similar lifestyle to get through the rocky patches, whether you are poly or mono. And I don't think that the lifestyle that you prefer is an instinct, or related to the biological mechanism inducing pair bonding feelings.

I do think she may have a point about open relationships being emotionally difficult. Jealousy in open relationships can create its own rockiness. Especially when there are strong feelings toward outside partners. But I'm not sure that it is more significant than typical sexual incompatibilities in monogamous relationships. I'd love to hear about how Dan dealt with Terry falling in love with another.

There is at least a little bit of reasonable criticism of Fisher in this article. I still don't think the witch hunt is at all justified, though. I remember being impressed by her TED talk, and also the first article that Dan attacked.
Thank you for this. I have been wondering about this for a long time. Excellent article.