One writer’s secret to a perfect marriage

The solution to writer and performer Mark Bentley Cohen’s marriage problems was seeing other people — with his wife.

Joe Kellen

Driving up a mountainside to a secluded cabin with your wife should be romantic. For writer and performer Mark Bentley Cohen, it felt more like the beginning of a horror flick in which he was the deranged serial killer and his wife of 12 years, Lianna Walden, was captive and unaware of what was to come.

As the road wound by, Cohen’s dread built — the couple was driving to a place where he would reveal the truth about their crumbling marriage.

The experience would prove to be the spark for Cohen’s one-man show, “Bi, Hung, Fit… and Married,” that’s coming to the University of Minnesota on Saturday.

“We got to the cabin, and I basically told her what happened,” he said. “I had come to terms with my bisexuality for the first time in my life.”

Cohen had been experimenting with men outside of their marriage and saw his relationship with Walden as a struggle. But when he confessed to her, the dark mood shifted to something that neither of them could have predicted.

“I thought, ‘Well, this is a chance for both of us to create something very different and take a huge risk,’” Walden said. “I wanted to explore, too. To just have sex with one person my entire life and only have experiences with this person seemed so huge and daunting. We decided we had to free each other.”

The couple decided to open up their marriage, and the newfound connection changed their lives.

The events that followed make the content of “Bi, Hung, Fit… and Married,” which will run at the BECAUSE Conference at the University — a two-day amalgamation of talks, social activities and art focused on empowerment in the LGBTQIA community.

The show centers on the ups and downs of Cohen and Walden’s newly polyamorous relationship. Cohen plays multiple characters and acts the couple’s situations out, rather than merely narrating or recounting them.

The scenes range from the cabin discussion to his sexually experimental past, each showing dynamic shifts in Cohen’s life and relationship with his wife. At first, he said the change was frightening but freeing.

“We didn’t even know what an open relationship was; we just were doing what we wanted to do and didn’t know what to call it,” Cohen said. “Every step we were taking was so counterintuitive to everything we knew about relationships and love.”

As far as they were concerned, the only option was diving right into exploring with more sexual partners. Walden and Cohen began attending swinger’s clubs, participating in group sex and engaging with other open couples.

But things weren’t always easy. Cohen said there were times when the couple struggled to maintain the lifestyle, adding that polyamory isn’t for everyone.

“We’re never trying to force our views onto anybody,” he said. “Our relationship still has issues, and we’re always working to fix them; we’ve just found a much better rhythm for ourselves.”

Now, Walden and Cohen couldn’t be happier. Their relationships with their two children remain strong, and they’ve derived great satisfaction from sharing their story across Canada and the U.S.

“People told us that we were talking about things they were thinking about and how it had shifted a certain paradigm with them,” Walden said.

The couple hosts a discussion session after every show, and Walden said audience members seem to leave with their minds changed about how they view nonmonogamy.

Cohen also runs a bimonthly bisexual support group in Vancouver, and Walden works as his touring manager and as a relationship coach.

“The idea that there is this heteronormative, monogamous world [as] a monolith isn’t exactly true,” Cohen said. “We all feel like we’re the only ones, but we’re really not. People cross the line all the time.”

 

What: “Bi, Hung, Fit… and Married”
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Coffman Union, 300 Washington Ave. SE, Minneapolis
Cost: $15–20