It sounds like you and your husband are both interested in developing a new direction within your marriage. Your interest in expanding your marriage to include new friends and potential lovers is not unique, but certainly uncommon and looked down upon in our culture. As you are well aware, norms for marriage and family emphasize monogamy and the nuclear family unit as the correct and only truly workable form for a marriage. However, there are definitely other healthy people who choose alternative lifestyles. Most are very, very private about doing so due to fear of judgment or of alienating friends and family members.
What you are wanting to develop is a lifestyle that requires self-knowledge, clear and continuous communication, maturity, and finding at least a few supportive friends or a supportive community with whom you can be open and honest. It is a complicated challenge. You may already have done enough research on this subject to know that there is a modest but growing list of books, workshops and support groups on how to develop successful and healthy open relationships. This lifestyle is referred to as “polyamory”, a word that refers to our capacity to love and cherish more than one person in an intimate way.
Some people have the desire and capacity to do this, but most people never question our culture’s conventional wisdom that relationships in general and sexual relationships in particular should exist only between two people. It is much more common for people to cheat on their partners, having affairs or forming secretive intimate relationships outside the marriage than to develop an honest, consensual polyamorous lifestyle. Obviously, cheating is dishonest and the partner is not given the opportunity to consent or not consent to sharing their spouse with another lover.
Polyamory is different from cheating in that it is open, honest and requires the consent of all partners. In addition, new intimate friends or partners are given a clear understanding of the primary status of the marriage and that the new friendship is not a replacement for the marriage. Therefore, the third party is also given the choice as to whether or not they wish to become involved with a person who is already in a committed partnership.
Several resources exist both regionally and nationally to support individuals who are choosing this alternative lifestyle. Loving More (www.lovemore.com) is a registered Non-Profit 501 (c) (3) organization whose mission is to “support polyamory and relationship choice.” The organization began in 1985 and has chapters around the country, including here in Northern Colorado. The organization is not a “pick-up” or casual sex organization, but does host social gatherings, support groups, and workshops and conferences on the topic. The Loving More website is a great place to begin to locate resources, support groups and information helpful to those choosing to develop polyamorous relationships.
With respect to disclosure, there is a strong likelihood of misunderstanding and judgment from friends and family members who are unfamiliar with polyamory and ethical non-monogamous relationships. Most people confuse polyamory with cheating. In general, I suggest that you and your spouse have a chance to explore and develop your lifestyle according to your own values and needs before subjecting yourselves to potential negative judgments or risking alienating your friends and family. It is valuable to first get very clear about what you are doing and also to develop a network of supportive friends, especially friends who are experienced and successful in their own poly relationships.
Eventually, and especially if you do find one or more partners with whom you want to share alot of time and develop a deeper relationship, it is likely that you will want to come out to your family and friends (selectively) and introduce them to the new special person or people in your life. As you become educated and confident, this will become easier to do, but realize that acceptance by your other loved ones is not guaranteed. It is courageous to choose a less traveled path that promises great fulfillment and joy for the two of you and that is not easily understood or accepted by others.
You may wish to utilize the services of a knowledgeable and supportive therapist or counselor to support you and guide you through the process. It is best to choose a helping professional who is willing and able to help you see what is working and not working within your chosen lifestyle rather than one who knows nothing about polyamory or who might pathologize your choice out of hand. Lists of poly aware and poly supportive therapists can be found through links on the Loving More website. I wish you success in your explorations.