On the fence about monogamy? You’re definitely not alone. Many people are turning to open or polyamorous relationships, which are becoming less taboo in today’s modern dating world.
As open relationships become more mainstream, many couples are curious if this arrangement could be right for them. Here, we’ll take a closer look at what open relationships are like, how to navigate them, and the potential benefits.
In short, an open relationship is when both partners have the freedom to explore sexual and/or romantic relationships with other people. An open relationship can involve casual sexual relationships in addition to your primary relationship, or long-term, more romantic sexual relationships.
If an open relationship is something you want to explore, you’ll need to be open and honest about your emotional and sexual needs, along with any boundaries you need to feel safe and secure. Even if the open aspect of your relationship doesn’t work out, prioritizing honesty in any relationship is crucial for it to be healthy, happy, and long-lasting.
Start by telling your partner that you’ve thought about opening up your relationship, but you have not acted on it. Explain your reasons for wanting an open relationship while reassuring them that it is not due to a shortcoming on their behalf. It’s also helpful to define what an open relationship means to you — sexually open, emotionally open, etc.
The most important part of this conversation is giving your partner time and space to reflect on it and respond. Remember, this shouldn’t be an ultimatum! If your partner is not comfortable with the idea, you need to respect their decision and move forward monogamously or end the relationship if you’re unable to do so.
Some people are not fully satisfied in monogamous relationships, and instead, need the emotional or physical intimacy of more than one person to feel complete. Other people look for open relationships because they don’t feel satisfied in a straight or gay relationship. These are great reasons to look outside of a monogamous relationship, as long as both parties are on board.
On the other hand, you should not start an open relationship thinking it will solve any problems in your current relationship. It will actually do the opposite! Those problems won’t go away, and they’ll only be amplified if you add in other people. Most importantly, an open relationship is not the solution to infidelity. If one of you has cheated, there is likely a major break in trust that will ultimately end your relationship.
If you and your partner decide to explore an open relationship, make sure to create sexual boundaries and discuss what exactly is allowed. Are you comfortable with penetrative sex? Oral sex? Kissing? Setting these boundaries will also help you determine what it is you’re hoping to gain from your sexual exploration.
Safe sex is crucial for open relationships. Will condoms be required? Will you both be routinely screening for STIs? Discussing protection will make sure that you and your partner both feel safe about exploring an open relationship.
Are you comfortable with your partner sleeping with the same person for an extended period of time or going on dates with other people? What about your partner sleeping with people in your social circle? Be honest about your emotional needs from the start, and create boundaries around them.
How many partners can you have outside of your primary relationship? Does your partner have veto power over your partners? Should you actively or passively explore new relationships? Is this an indefinite change to your relationship or a trial run? These parameters can of course change over time, but starting off with some ground rules is always a good idea.
Will you have a don’t-ask-don’t- tell kind of policy or share everything? Some people are completely comfortable being left in the dark, while others need to know all the details to prevent paranoia. Finding a happy medium might take some trial and error, but you will eventually get the hang of it!
Just like in a monogamous relationship, it’s good to check in with your partner before sharing private things with your friends. Are you both comfortable sharing your open status with friends and family? Many couples choose to keep their open relationships discrete, while others are okay with talking openly about it.
Lasting feelings of jealousy will outweigh any potential benefit that comes from an open arrangement. In an ideal situation, initial jealousy will evolve into a feeling of security as you become more comfortable and confident in the relationship. If jealousy continues to be a problem, an open relationship might not be the best option for you as a couple.
It’s important to frequently check in with your partner to make sure that they’re still comfortable in the arrangement. Make sure to still leave space for things to change or for your partner to change their mind.
If an open relationship is right for you and your partner, it can actually help you stay more committed. According to Chanta Blue, LCSW, a sexuality and relationship therapist, couples in an open relationship tend to have more sex with their primary partner as well as with other people, which can strengthen their connection.
Open relationships require a ton of trust, honesty, vulnerability, and communication to work. If it’s something you want to explore, remember to be completely open about your needs. While not for everyone, open relationships can work, and as long as you and your partner are on the same page, you’ll be able to enjoy it!
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