Unlearn Vanilla Marriage, by Richard Woods. It is, mostly, a treatise on the various reasons for conflict and trouble inside of the institution of marriage. Woods has some rough edges, and he also has a real "thing" for the self-help industry, and Dr. Phil McGraw in particular. He doesn't mince words. Most of the book is an anti-traditional marriage diatribe, and there is very little actual discussion of the "negotiated non-monogamy" that he seems to be in favor of. Still it is clear, as I read it, that although he talks about a variety of "alternative" lifestyles, his experience is with the practice of swinging.
Frankly, it was a slog, and I skipped a lot of it. Toward the end, though, I was struck by one statement that I think we don't make often enough:
"I don't want to paint too rosy of a picture...In order to be in a successful marriage (relationship) that incorporates negotiated non-monogamy, the relationship would have to be strong to begin with...Swinging, or any variant lifestyle..., is not a solution to a failing relationship..."
It made me think of all the times I've read someone, new to the lifestyle, who has just discovered spanking (or some other exotic and / or exciting alternative sexual/erotic orientation). On a regular basis, those new to the lifestyle revel in the excitement and energy that is engendered by "this thing we do," and often those caught in a dull, dysfunctional, dying relationship get convinced that they have found some new kind of magic that can fix everything.
In the last couple of years, I did what so many did in those days -- typed "spanking" into an Internet search, and found a whole new, bright, shiny world of kinky people and ideas. I managed to talk him into going along with it all for a bit, and we experienced that newbie flush of excitement that feels like it really might make everything better and good. It buoyed us for awhile; a year or maybe a bit more, but it didn't last -- couldn't last.
Swinging, BDSM, Polyamory, Open Marriage... These and other alternatives are ways to structure a healthy, vibrant relationship. They are not substitutes for the hard and necessary work of learning to communicate clearly, be emotionally available and vulnerable, speak and act with truth, listen with compassion and openness, and build trust.
Sometimes I think we turn away from the comings and goings in our community. People who we once knew; maybe people who once blogged; maybe people we've met in person -- many of them stay around for a year or two or maybe three and then vanish. There have been so many of those over the years, I doubt I could name even a fraction of them, but I feel their absence still. I wonder how many of them came into the life with big dreams and starry eyes, only to smash into the hard realities of living in intimate relationship? I wonder if there might have been anything we, collectively, could have said about the foundations of relationships that might have helped at least a few of them to sustain their relationships through whatever bumps?
This isn't magic. There can be magic, but this is work. It requires attention and effort and energy and devotion and perseverance and tenacity and awareness and intent. No matter how exciting that first spanking might turn out to be, our lifestyle choices do not fix what might be broken. Only we can do that.