More than one in five Americans engages in a consensual, non-monogamous relationship, also known as an open relationship.
An open relationship is one in which two people in an ongoing relationship are not exclusive with one another and agree to the possibility of having a relationship with another person.
Couples often choose an open relationship in hopes of getting more of their needs met. For example, a relationship might have a sexual desire mismatch, or the couple simply becomes bored, or one partner has a track record of infidelity but the couple still wants to stay in the relationship.
An open relationship also can be an option for couples who don’t believe in monogamy, have failed at it in the past, or simply don’t want to be monogamous, but they still want to remain in their current relationship for the long-term, and are committed to making that relationship work. For instance, if your partner can’t fulfill all of your needs or your intimacy levels have dwindled, an open relationship allows you to pursue other options while continuing to have the deep bond that you’ve created with one another.
Before considering an open relationship, make sure your current relationship is in a good, healthy place. If you are happy, in love, and excited to try new things, an open relationship can be fun, however, if you are choosing to have an open relationship in the hopes it will save a failing connection, this can speed up the destruction of your relationship. If you want an open relationship to have any chance of succeeding, there has to be a strong and sturdy foundation in place.
That is why specific parameters need to be set before and during the open relationship period.
If you decide you want to try an open relationship, clearly define with your partner what your expectations are. Thoroughly explore what you want, discuss the arrangement in detail, agree to review it regularly, and continue having conversations about it.
Here are a few questions to discuss:
- Do you want an emotionless relationship?
- Is kissing allowed?
- Is it OK to date another person?
- What about sex?
- What happens if you fall in love?
- What if I get jealous?
Also, think about how things might play out in the long run. Don’t assume that just because you want to have sex with a different partner that you will like it when your partner has sex with someone else. And, what about those unanticipated issues that arise that you did not negotiate? How will you handle those?
Have a detailed game plan, and one that you are willing to renegotiate.
Continue to communicate – often and honestly. Communication is critical to keep the open relationship – and your relationship – healthy. And continue to clarify the parameters you negotiated throughout the relationship. Check in with your partner regularly.
When someone deviates from the open relationship contract, discuss it right away to avoid potential problems.
How do you approach the subject of an open relationship with your partner?
First, start testing the waters to see if your partner is receptive. If you try this path and don’t get the response you want, you may have to accept the fact that an open relationship may not work for you. If your partner seems receptive to exploring the conversation, take your time and approach the subject slowly.
Talk about your current relationship and what has changed.
Maybe you always were interested in non-monogamy, but social pressures or family expectations have prevented you from exploring an open relationship. Or, maybe you have developed a crush on another person and want to pursue that relationship, or maybe you have been unfaithful. Be prepared for how your partner will react. Your partner may feel betrayed and hurt, and you will need to deal with that before you actually open up your relationship. Open up your relationship with a positive outlook.
When handled with respect and the consent of all involved, open relationships can have plenty of benefits. People who are successful in an open relationship share strong communication skills and a deepened sense of trust. It’s much easier to fulfill a partner’s needs if they tell you what they want, rather than making you guess.
Is an open relationship right for you?
In order to determine if an open relationship is the right choice for you, it’s important to not only understand what an open relationship entails, but also to explore its pros and cons so you can make an informed and educated decision.
If you are considering an open relationship and one partner just doesn’t think he or she can go through with it, the other partner has to honor and respect that decision.
If you both decide you want to try an open relationship, start small. Join a small community, attend events, get comfortable in this new setting, and remember to have fun.
Talking with a therapist to negotiate the contract and discuss its parameters may be helpful for many couples. The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health has a team of highly qualified counselors and therapists who can provide guidance. Simply call the center at 248.399.7447 for an appointment.