Is an open relationship a good idea?
Research suggests that 4-5 percent of heterosexual couples have agreed to be in an open relationship.
It’s likely that many more couples are curious about having an open relationship, yet are worried that open relationships don’t work.
I was once in an open relationship, and it wasn’t a good experience for me. I’ll share my experience in this article, followed by 12 reasons why open relationships don’t work.
Just because open relationships aren’t for me doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a shot. After I go through the 11 reasons why open relationships fail, I’ll then explain why people have open relationships in the first place.
Finally, I’ll finish with four principles to make your open relationship successful if you decide to enter one.
What is an open relationship?
An open relationship is one in which partners agree, either explicit or implied, to see other people while continuing to see each other.
Sounds fun, right? Well, it turns out that there are many reasons why you might want to hang on to your partner a little tighter.
12 reasons why open relationships don’t work
If you can’t watch the video above (where I share my personal experience with an open relationship), then keep reading for the 11 reasons to avoid getting involved in an open relationship.
1) Communication, communication, communication
Being in an open relationship means you have to be willing and able to share everything with your partner. This means that the risk of being hurt is multiplied tenfold.
Even in our most trusting relationships, we often hide tidbits of information from our partners. Setting ground rules helps, but there will always be a sense that something isn’t being said.
Even if you have decided to be completely truthful about everything that is happening in your relations outside your current relationship, communication will inevitably suffer. This is a key foundation of a successful relationship, and your open relationship will chip away at this foundation.
2) Most men can’t handle an open relationship
Men may love the idea of an open relationship. The idea of sleeping with multiple women while still being in a loving relationship ticks all the boxes of a good life.
However, there is one downside for men to an open relationship that quickly becomes apparent: it’s quid pro quo.
If a man is sleeping with multiple women, then she’s just as likely to be sleeping with multiple men.
Now, this objection doesn’t come from a place of double standards or discrimination. If a man can do it, then all power to the woman. What it boils down to is basic biology.
The hero instinct is a new concept in relationship psychology that’s generating a lot of buzz at the moment.
It claims that men have a biological drive to feel needed, to feel essential, and to provide for the woman he cares about. The hero instinct speaks to the built in desire men posses for something in life that goes beyond sex and even love.
Simply put, men need a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, especially from their relationships.
James Bauer, the relationship psychologist who discovered it, has created an excellent video about the hero instinct. Watch it here.
The trouble with an open relationship is that the hero instinct simply can’t be triggered.
For a relationship to be successful, it must give men a sense of meaning and purpose. That you genuinely want and need to have him around. And that he’s providing something essential to you that no one else can.
The fact that you’re being intimate with other men means that he’s not providing you anything that no one else is. He’s not indispensable to you.
When the hero instinct isn’t present in a man then a loving and long lasting relationship is extremely difficult. In my experience, it’s almost impossible.
So before you enter into an open relationship, consider learning more about the hero instinct.
3) New vs. old
Your existing relationship might have some tenure behind it, which means that when you start in an open relationship, it could take time to transition from an intimate couple to one that shares love amongst many people.
We are attracted to shiny new things, but it takes time to build intimacy.
You’ll likely meet some fantastic new people, and it will be exciting. But it’s rare to find someone you can create genuine intimacy with.
Creating intimacy can be harder than it seems, especially if partners are only focused on the sex of it all.
You need to be honest with yourself.
You can’t get into an open relationship just to please your partner. Feelings of resentment are bound to boil up and it can only end one way.
If you are doing this to keep your relationship alive, consider letting it die. If you are not enough now, you’ll never be.
5) It’s time-consuming
Being in one relationship is hard work and takes up a lot of your time. Imagine how much less time you would have if you had to maintain two or more relationships? What if your new open-relationship partner wants more of your time or demands something else of you?
Do you really have time for multiple relationships?
6) Do we have to mention STDs?
Of course we do.
Having an open relationship seems like a good idea, in theory, but in practice the risks of transmitting sexually transmitted diseases is very real. Don’t take the chance. And if you do, take all the necessary precautions.
7) It’s not real freedom
You might be tempted by the idea of an open relationship because you think you’ll be free to come and go as you please. But that is rarely how it works.
Someone always gets hurt. Someone lies. Someone breaks the rules.
You’ll soon find that your newly found freedom is based on a mirage. You won’t feel so free when the person you truly love is feeling hurt.
8) You might become jealous
You can tell yourself that this is a good idea, but before long, you might find yourself being jealous of the person your partner is sleeping with.
You might even find yourself on the receiving end of that jealousy. Few relationships are strong enough to weather that kind of storm.
Jealousy rears its ugly head in all relationships, but if you willingly put yourselves in a position to become jealous, you are asking for trouble.
Also, it’s important to ask yourself about the role of jealousy in your life.
Perhaps you and your partner are feeling jealous because you have genuine feelings for someone.
Often, we berate ourselves for jealousy, as though it’s something that we shouldn’t feel.
Perhaps it’s time to embrace these feelings. They may be a sign that you’re onto a good thing.
9) You might not stack up
There’s a very real possibility that your partner will find someone else who is better than you in bed, and vice versa.
Your existing relationship runs the risk of being put on the backburner. And, even if the sex isn’t better, it might seem better because it’s new and exciting. It’s hard for your existing partner to compete with that, even when there is no competition.
10) It’s a love thang
Whether you promise not to fall in love or not, you can’t help yourself sometimes. The risk of losing your relationship to love is very real. Think it’s just sex?
Think again: sex is the most intimate thing people can share, and if you are sharing it all over time, it’s likely you might find yourself someone else to love. How do you have those conversations when you willingly put yourselves in the position to find new love?
11) Awkwardness abounds
There is a chance you might bump into your lover(s) on a date or with friends. How do you explain that to people with looking like you need to be committed?
Even if you have explained it to everyone involved and everyone is on board, there will come a day when someone decides that this just isn’t cool anymore, or they really don’t like running into you at the supermarket.
12) It cheapens the effect
You can’t help but wonder if what your open-relationship partner is just repeating what he or she says to everyone else. Relationships are special and intimate and when you have to be “on” all the time for multiple partners, the routine can get a little old.
Why open relationships fail
Ultimately, open relationships often fail due to a lack of honesty.
The issue isn’t so much the honesty between the two people in the relationship. If they have started to talk about having an open relationship, they are probably honest with each other.
The issue is the lack of honesty these individuals have with themselves.
Often, the person who wants an open relationship no longer wants to be with their partner. But they may not be honest enough with themselves to realize this.
Instead, they want to try something new to recreate the spark they used to feel with their partner.
It would be more honest of the person wanting an open relationship to simply tell the other person that they no longer feel this same sense of attraction.
It’s actually quite normal for attraction to wax and wane over the years of being with the same person.
I learned about the importance of being honest with myself from the shaman Rudá Iandê in his free masterclass on love and intimacy. If you’re thinking of getting into an open relationship but aren’t sure about the real motivations behind it (either from yourself or your partner), I suggest checking out the masterclass. It’s free and many have said it’s game-changing.
Why do people have open relationships?
While research is limited amongst couples engaging in open relationships, the most common reason people enter into open relationships do so based on the belief that humans are not created to be with one partner.
Research suggests that 80 percent of early human societies were polygamous.
Why, then, did monogamy develop in later societies?
Science doesn’t have a clear answer to this. The lack of clarity suggests that monogamy may have developed as a norm or tradition that no longer makes sense.
Modern-day couples pursuing open relationships often do so believing that polyamory is a more natural state.
Do you want to have an open relationship? Despite the challenges, it’s possible to make your open relationship work.
How to make an open relationship work
Open relationships are a bit taboo coupled with a whole lot of mystery.
People don’t understand them or what it really means, and many people think it takes a certain “kind of person” to be in an open relationship.
Of course, the reason it’s such a mystery is that people don’t go around talking about it.
Despite the name of this kind of relationship, people who engage in open relationships are often quite tight-lipped about it.
It’s a very personal thing for couples to engage in, and in order for it to be successful, both partners have to have a full understanding of what being an open relationship means to them.
It’s the conversation that needs to happen over and over again as the relationship continues to evolve.
If you are thinking about having an open relationship, consider these few tips before embarking down that road.
1) Set the rules
If this is your first kick at the can, initiating an open relationship might be a very awkward conversation.
But consider this: if you can’t have the conversation, you probably shouldn’t be in that kind of relationship.
When you speak to your partner about being in an open relationship, you need to be very clear about why it is you want to do this.
If your partner agrees to it, you need to have them articulate why they want to do it, and “to make you happy” is not a good enough answer.
Doing something just because someone wants you to do it is a recipe for disaster and years of resentment down the line.
Be clear about expectations and determine what can and can’t be done inside and outside this newly-formed open relationship.
You’ll have to get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations about sex and what it all means, but if this is on your mind, it’s likely that you will be able to get through this part.
2) Checking in
You’ll need to decide ahead of time what kind of details you want related to your partner’s other relationships.
For instance, will there be a limit on the number of partners you can have, how often you can see them, or what you’ll if feelings change.
Again, tough conversations, but very necessary in this kind of relationship.
Make a rule that you’ll check in with one another regularly about how the other is feeling about the arragnement and promise one another that you’ll be hoenst if you don’t feel like it’s working out.
You might decide that there will be no other partners in your home – that’s your space – but if that changes or if you want it to change, you need to talk about it.
Some couples say that being in an open relationship acts brings them closer to their original partner because they realize what they have at home and they find that while being in an open relationship is fun at first, the novelty of it wears off and the trust and love at home is what people really want to experience.
3) Create an off-limits list
Everyone has a list of people they’d love to sleep with, and just because you are entering into an open relationship doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all any day of the week.
There need to be rules about who you can and can’t have sex with. For instance, friends should be off limits. You don’t want to cut that close to home.
Perhaps you will decide that you’ll go out together on Friday nights and find people for each other, or one another and then go your separate ways for a few hours.
There are literally no rules when it comes to this kind of relationship, so it’s important that you set them and be clear about your expectations and those who are off-liimits.
4) When it’s not going as planned
Sometimes one partner in an open relationship is quite active in seeking out new partners, while the other is not actively looking for people to be in a relationship with.
This can cause a strain on the arrangement, so it will be a good idea to have a conversation about whether you’ll be actively looking or just open to the idea if the opportunity ever presented itself.
They are two very different things and it can cause a lot of unnecessary problems for couples when one person is outside of the relationships half the time and the other is at home 100% of the time.
One of the most difficult aspects of having an open relationship is dealing with the comments and questions of others.
You may decide as a couple that you won’t disclose this aspect of your relationship to your friends or family. It’s hard enough to manage on your own and find out if this is what you want without having to deal with people who don’t understand your life choices.
Consider keeping it close to the chest for the first little while and then slowly introducing the idea – as a couple – if people really want to know.
It’s not something you bring up over Sunday dinner at your parents’ house, but it is a conversation to be had if you want to share that part of your life with those in your family or your close circle of friends.