Maybe you’re bored with your current sex life.
Maybe you and your partner want to meet other people but don’t want to break up.
Or maybe… you are single and are really interested in the idea of unconventional relationships.
Whatever your reasons are, open relationships are really tricky and require each person to take real responsibility in order to have a healthy, open relationship.
Before you read the 6 ways to make an open relationship work, let’s understand what exactly this type of dynamic is and if it is right for you.
What is an open relationship?
An open relationship is when both individuals consent to a sexual and sometimes emotional connection with other people.
Believe it or not, the concept of open relationships or ethical non-monogamy was actually popularized in the 1970s! That’s right, there’s a good chance your parents weren’t so traditional back in their day.
In a recent study, it was found that approximately 4.5% of Americans are involved in some type of open relationship. Despite an increase in its popularity, more often than not, these types of unconventional relationships fail, miserably.
Unlike a traditionally structured relationship, open relationships involve the emotions of several people, so if done wrong, more people are at risk of being hurt.
Are there any benefits of being in an open relationship?
For one, sexual satisfaction.
Humans seek novelty. We require and crave touch and new experiences. We are beings of pleasure. Safely, welcoming new and intimate partners can gratify your sexual desires.
It’s also often easier to explore new boundaries with someone you don’t have a deep foundation with. Maybe you have fantasies your current partner isn’t willing to explore?
An open relationship can allow you to try new things, set new sexual limits for yourself, and allow you to bring home your new teachings to experience with your partner.
Another benefit to having an open relationship is improved communication with your primary partner. In fact, your communication with everyone, including yourself, may improve.
When navigating these types of relationships, it connects you to your authentic wants and needs, and it is necessary to be able to express them openly. In other words, you will and should do a lot of thinking and talking.
Are there any negative aspects of being in an open relationship?
As mentioned above, most of the time these relationships really do not work. They fail for several reasons, but usually due to lack of, or poor communication.
Let’s be honest, humans can be kind of shady.
It sometimes feels easier to sneak and hide our desires than to risk potentially offending or hurting someone.
We also worry about hurting our own pride or ego. The better we really understand ourselves, the less taboo this type of relationship can feel for you.
How can it work?
If you are considering entering an open relationship, you need to really consider a few things and take responsibility, not just for your feelings and well-being, but for your partner’s and everyone else involved.
Here are 6 things you must do to make an open relationship work:
1) Be transparent
The keyword in the definition of an open relationship is “both.” Both individuals need to be fully transparent in their wants, needs, expectations, and feelings.
You and your partner need to feel comfortable explaining why you each want to open the relationship.
If you are married or in a deeper monogamous relationship, this may be more complicated but it is important to first understand why this is a topic on the table and be certain that it is mutually shared.
(Do not, however, ever enter into an open relationship to “save” an existing one or to make an excuse for infidelity. This only leads to distrust and discomfort).
2) Be willing to have uncomfortable convos
No matter how “cool” you think you are with things, it can be really uncomfortable imagining, let alone hearing, about your partner having sex or sharing intimacies with someone else.
You have to be willing to have uncomfortable conversations. Not just with your partner – but with anyone else involved.
This runs the full gamut:
- What are your boundaries?
- Is there anyone or any activity off limits (ie. your best friend or sister)?
- What are the risks of STDS (yes, this is an important topic), and how to protect you, your partner, and others?
- Is emotional connection allowed or just sex?
- Are sleepovers permitted?
- Is it okay to meet the other person’s friends or family?
You have to have a super detailed framework of what your mutual expectations are, and know that you will face necessary discomfort.
The more you have these awkward conversations, the easier it becomes.
Your communication and trust will improve with your partner.
3) Have an understanding of boundaries
It seems like a lot of work, yes, but to avoid a catastrophic mess of hurt feelings and a whole lot of drama, you and every participant have to understand the gameplay.
If you’re meeting someone new for casual sex, it is your responsibility to tell them that you are in an open relationship and your intentions are purely casual.
It is also your responsibility to discuss these new connections with your partner.
Take time with your partner to go over every scenario that you consider intimate, and discuss whether it is something you want to open to others or not.
Seriously, write out a thoughtful list of rules and make sure you both really understand them, but most importantly, that you both agree to them.
4) Be open to hearing “no”
Not everyone is going to accept your status so kindly. You will receive a lot more gasps and judgments than you will pat on the back.
And that is okay.
This decision is between you, your partner, and anyone consensually willing to enter into your relationship.
It also doesn’t need to be public info. Many people choose to keep their open relationship private so as to not invite any unwelcome opinions.
You may also hear the word “no” from your partner or the people you pursue outside your relationship. You may be questioned, held accountable, and scrutinized.
Be open to these questions. Be respectful of your partner’s objections and questions and always be honest.
5) Be willing to end your other relationships
If your main partner objects to or expresses discomfort with one of your new partners, this is a big deal and it is your responsibility to really listen to them.
You need to be willing to end any new relationship, simply upon request.
You both have an obligation to really consider each other’s feelings and if at any time or for any reason a new relationship or situation makes the other person uncomfortable, you need to honor that.
6) Prioritize the intimacy with your main partner
Ultimately, this decision is an initial agreement between two people: you and your primary partner. This is the relationship that means the most to you.
You need to prioritize your main partner.
Continue to constantly hold space for them. Be emotionally available. Listen to their experiences without judgment and be a safe home for them to communicate.
Create a plan for how to check in with one another. Continue to have date nights and romance. Continue to build your foundation and be a source of comfort for one another.
Talk and trust and really make it known to each other and your additional partners that the main thing is between the two of you.
Will an open relationship work?
“Communication to a relationship is like
oxygen to life. Without it … it dies.”
– Tony Gaskins
The real and true way any relationship, open or otherwise, can work, is when both people really communicate.
When they can value and validate one another’s feelings and emotions, and have respect for each other’s wants and needs, relationships have a better chance of success.
Choosing to enter an open relationship can be a really empowering decision for you (and your partner) but it does require a deeper level of responsibility and directness than most other dynamics.
It also requires you to deeply explore your own comfort levels and your understanding of intimacy.
There is no one right way to be happy in love and safe in sexual exploration. The right way is the one that works responsibly and best for you and your partners.