Continuing our relationship series, we’re taking a look at open relationships. And there couldn’t be a better time! Non-monogamous committed relationships are on the rise now more than ever. According to a 2016 study, nearly one in five people have participated in some type of consensual non-monogamy. We’re not scientists or anything, but we’d say that makes open relationships pretty darn common.
If you’re new to open relationships or simply want to improve your approach to non-monogamy, consider this your guide for making an open relationship work for you and your partner. We’re helping to better define this relationship type and exploring the definite do’s and don’ts. Hint: It starts with you both being down for it, no exceptions. Keep reading to learn more about how to open up your relationship in a healthy and successful way.
What Is An Open Relationship?
While the term “open relationship” is typically used as an umbrella term for all types of non-monogamy, it’s actually its own thing. An open relationship is all about trust and communication, as is any relationship. But, in an open relationship, an established couple mutually agrees to share a non-monogamous lifestyle, agreeing to open up their relationship sexually, but not romantically. This can include one or both partners having sexual experiences outside of the primary relationship. Some of the reasons a couple might consider opening up their relationship include:
- You and/or your partner want to explore their sexuality with someone of a different gender.
- You and your committed partner have differing libidos.
- You and/or your partner believe you can be sexually intimate with more than one person.
- One partner is asexual and not interested in having sex, while the other partner seeks a sexual relationship.
- Hearing or seeing a partner have sex with someone else turns you and/or your partner on.
- You and/or your partner have a kink or fetish that they would like to explore that the other person is not interested in.
Open Relationships vs. Polyamorous Relationships
While open and polyamorous relationships share some similar characteristics, they’re actually quite different. As we’ve stated, an open relationship is when one or both partners have sexual relationships outside of each other, but remain fully and romantically committed to one another in the “primary” relationship. Polyamorous relationships, on the other hand, involve having sexual, loving and romantic relationships with multiple people. There is no relationship hierarchy. Each person can have multiple relations with other polyamorous individuals. Oftentimes, these can morph into a single polyamorous relationship.
The biggest difference is that, unlike open relationships, polyamorous relationships are rooted in love and romance — with every partner involved. Instead of being in a committed relationship with one person and deciding to have sex with others, you are in multiple committed relationships. Open relationships are explicitly about sexual interactions to bring one or both partners more pleasure, satisfaction and excitement outside of the core relationship.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Open Relationships
Some people think that an open relationship is just an excuse to cheat. And while some may do this (and these people suck, by the way), most people find non-monogamous arrangements freeing — a way to actually make their committed relationship healthier and stronger. Whether you’re considering an open relationship or looking for a way to make your current open relationship a little better, there are a few do’s and don’ts that you’ll want to abide by.
Do Clarify the Rules and Boundaries
What do you think an open relationship means? What does your partner think it means? Before you dive head-first into the non-monogamy pool, settle on some definitions and ground rules. For example: always practice safe sex, tell your partner if you’re about to hook up with someone else and if you’re physically with someone, be mentally with them as well. Whatever rules you establish, they are meant to be strict rules. While these boundaries are a good starting off point, know that they may change and evolve as the relationship develops, and that’s OK.
Don’t Get Jealous (and Don’t Shame Anyone for Getting Jealous)
We know. This is a hard one because everybody gets jealous and it’s going to happen now and again. Those in open relationships certainly aren’t immune to this. The trick to dealing with jealousy is talking about it and not sitting with it, letting it stew and simmer. Discussing it with your partner turns that jealousy from a negative thing into what it really is: a sign that maybe you just need a little more attention from the one you love most. And remember, this goes both ways. Never shame your partner for feelings of jealousy, and be open to talking about it if they’re envious or resentful about anything.
Do Remind Your Partner That They’re Enough
This goes off of our last point. It’s important to really and honestly let your partner know that they are enough, that you love all of them and that you wouldn’t change a single thing about them. It’s important that you want your partner fully in your life. Communicate to them that just because you have a sexual attraction to someone else, it doesn’t mitigate or devalue what you feel for them.
Don’t Make Ultimatums
Nobody likes or responds well to ultimatums. Never back someone into a corner or demand something. And don’t withhold an emotional connection or sex because you’re not getting something you want. This is your partner, not your enemy. You’re in this open relationship together. Sometimes you’ll have to pick up the slack and sometimes your partner will have to. When there’s an issue, making demands or ultimatums is never the way to work things out. So, just leave it out of the equation.
Do Keep the Line of Communication Open
Instead of making demands, take a breath and extend a hand or an “exit ramp” to your partner, even when you’re furious. Say, “Hey, I know you’re not in the right headspace or mood to talk about this right now. And that’s OK. But when you’re ready to talk, I’m here. Your happiness is my happiness. I care. If we can’t talk now, let’s talk soon.” This creates a pathway for your partner to take when they’re ready and allows you both to be part of a positive solution.
In general, open relationships only work if you’re completely honest and open with your partner. This starts with being willing to talk about things that are maybe a little uncomfortable. But in time, this will get easier and you’ll figure it out along the way.
Don’t Neglect Your Main Partner
In any new relationship, it’s natural to want to spend a lot of time with that person. But, one of the most important factors in making an open relationship work is ensuring your main partner stays your main priority. Don’t neglect them or spend time texting a sex partner when you should be spending time with your main squeeze. Set aside time to go on dates and to have sex to make sure you’re taking the time and putting in the effort.
Do Love Yourself
No, we’re not talking about masturbating in this case. Though, if you’re in the mood, boy do we have a selection of sex playlists for you. But, to be able to be in a healthy and open relationship, you need to know and love yourself completely. It gives you confidence in yourself, as well as in your relationship. And if you don’t feel comfortable in your own skin or with your current partner, insecurities are bound to arise, making an open relationship suddenly a very bad situation.
Don’t Force It
We’ve saved maybe the most important tip for last: If you or your partner aren’t into this type of relationship, or if it’s simply not working, don’t force it. If the core relationship is more important to the both of you, maybe it’s time to let the fantasy of an open relationship die. If it’s not, maybe it’s simply time to move on from your partner and do what makes you happy. Be honest with yourself and make sure you’re doing what’s right for you.
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