Ever wondered how open relationships work or thought about having one yourself?
The truth is, unconventional relationships are becoming more and more mainstream in society, with many couples wondering if this type of arrangement could work for them.
- What is an open relationship?
- How common are open relationships?
- Reasons people consider having an open relationship
- Types of open relationships
- Do open relationships work?
- Advantages vs disadvantages
- How to start an open relationship
- How to make an open relationship work
- Myths about open relationships
- Having a successful open relationship
- Safe sex always
If an open relationship is something you and your partner are thinking about, there are many things you will need to consider before diving into it. Read on to discover more.
What is an open relationship?
An open relationship, otherwise known as a non-exclusive relationship, is an intimate relationship that is sexually non-monogamous.
Simply put, an open relationship is when both partners agree to have sexual relations with other people.
This is in contrast to a traditionally ‘closed’ relationship, where both people in the relationship indulge in sexual activity with each other only.
The term ‘open relationship’ is often misperceived as all forms of non-monogamous relationships.
Non-monogamy generally involves a physical or romantic partnership that is not predicated on exclusivity, indicating that these types of relationships are all ‘open’.
How common are open relationships?
Interestingly, according to Bernard Chapais in the Evolutionary Anthropology, ‘only 17% of human cultures are strictly monogamous’, suggesting that we may not be naturally inclined toward monogamy.
According to Psychology Today, a recent study revealed that 4% of adults, or 1 couple in 25, are in an open relationship.
With marriage declining, divorce rates increasing, and the rise of dating apps that have changed the way we court and date, open relationships are becoming more common.
Reasons people consider having an open relationship
While it might appear a little bizarre to want to share your partner with another, some people believe an open relationship will heighten pleasure and excitement in their current relationship.
Others believe an open relationship will bring them satisfaction, love or even orgasms (if they have been unable to achieve that with their partner). The reasons differ for different people.
Here are some reasons why people consider having an open relationship:
- They have an interest or attachment to someone else but doesn’t want to end their relationship
- They have specific desires and needs that their partner is struggling to fulfil
- They want themselves and/or their partner to explore their differences
- They want to experience the toughest challenges in a relationship (e.g. jealousy, possessiveness, etc.) to become more self-aware and strengthen their relationship
- They believe they are able to love more than one person at a time
- They are seeking someone to connect with on an emotional or intellectual level
- They have a different sex drive or different sexual needs to their partner
- Their partner is not interested in sex
- They want to explore their sexuality with someone of a different gender
- Hearing or seeing their partner have sex with someone else turns them on
- They are in a long-distance relationship where personal and sexual desires need to be fulfilled
- They are in a relationship based on convenience instead of genuine love, such as economic or social factors
- They want to experience the excitement of a new relationship, such as heightened emotions and sexual receptivity
Types of open relationships
Open relationships are in fact a form of non-monogamy, just like swingers and polyamory, except this type of relationship is usually only physical – not emotional.
Here are some other types of non-monogamous relationships explained:
- Swinging – The best known and most popular form of non-monogamy, this is when couples consensually exchange partners for sexual activity
- Monogamish – A primarily monogamous relationship which allows varying degrees of sexual contact with others. This could involve rules that allow one-night stands or specific kinds of sexual activity, or time and location limits
- Polyamory – A relationship that allows people to have multiple sexual and romantic relationships simultaneously with consent from of all parties involved
- Polygamy – A marriage that involves more than two marital partners
- Polygyny – A marriage of one husband and multiple wives, who are each sexually exclusive to the husband
- Polyandry – A marriage of one wife and multiple husbands
- Polyfidelity – A type of closed relationship that requires sexual and emotional fidelity to an intimate group of people usually larger than two
- Polyaffective – A relationship that involves no sexual connection but emotional intimacy between people that are connected by a polyamorous relationship
- Hybrid relationship – This involves one monogamous partner and one non-monogamous partner
- Multi-partner relationship – A relationship between three or more people where there is no sexual relationship between all parties involved
Do open relationships work?
The short answer is yes. If you want an open relationship to work, you and your partner need to be committed and honest with one another and establish boundaries between you.
A past study on non-monogamous relationships conducted by the University of Rochester, found that solid communication is key to a high-level functioning open relationship.
However, getting into an open relationship when your relationship is deteriorating, purposefully looking to pursue a love interest, or simply seeking an open relationship out of spite or boredom is likely to bring issues to your relationship.
You should both want to open up your relationship with a positive outlook for it to work.
Advantage vs disadvantages
While sexual satisfaction is an obvious benefit to open relationships, there are other aspects that are just as rewarding.
When open relationships are carried out with respect, honesty, and the consent of all parties involved, they can be a great experience.
Here’s a list of amazing benefits to your relationship and personal life you can look forward to:
- Enhanced confidence and communication about wants and needs
- Experience the thrill of a new relationship without monogamous expectations
- Drawing attention to how you would like to be appreciated or loved by your partner
- Greater commitment and passionate love with your partner
- Pursuing new experiences and interests
- Different sexual experiences and being sexually satisfied
- Freedom to express different sides of yourself
- No pressure for you or your partner to fulfil all of each other’s emotional and sexual needs and interests
All the above can lead to greater relationship satisfaction. Many couples have seen an open relationship bring them closer together, prompting greater levels of communication, trust and openness.
A study conducted at the University of Michigan discovered that those in consensual open relationships report high levels of satisfaction and trust, as well as low levels of jealousy.
Avoid any risks linked with having an open relationship by firstly ensure you’re not getting into one for the wrong reasons.
Open relationships can exacerbate pre-existing personal and relationship problems, so it’s important to overcome these issues first before getting into one.
Here are some potential risks of getting into an open relationship:
- Experiencing jealousy, insecurity, and low self-esteem
- Emotional distress from your partner experiencing pleasure and happiness with someone else
- Depression and anxiety from trying to break free from monogamy, which many of us are conditioned for
- Contracting an STI
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Sexual addiction or loss of libido from trying to fulfil the needs of multiple partners
- Conflict due to you and your partner wanting opposing things from an open relationship that you both don’t feel comfortable with
- Conflict from one partner deciding they want to continue with an open relationship but the other doesn’t
- You’re likely to spend more money
Also, if you have bad communication or have dishonest, manipulative, jealous or selfish traits, other parties will be affected by this, which can cause relationships to break down.
If you or your partner have previously experienced issues in your relationship, such as adultery or unfaithfulness, trust needs to be regained and previous issues need to be resolved for your open relationship to work.
How to start an open relationship
Although the idea of having multiple sexual partners is very attractive to many people, it is not for everyone.
Firstly, you need to establish whether an open relationship is right for you and your partner. Prior to starting an open relationship, it’s important to check if you and your partner both meet some of the following criteria:
- You’re both interested in a non-monogamous relationship
- You’re able to openly communicate with your partner
- There is a sufficient level of trust between you and your partner
- You both have mismatched libidos or different sexual needs, such as a particular kink or sexual fantasy that the other is not interested in
- You are able to cope with jealousy in a healthy manner
- If one partner is asexual and disinterested in sex, and the other is interested in sex
- You want to explore your sexuality with someone of a different gender
- Seeing or hearing about you partner have sex with someone else turn you on
If the answer is predominantly yes to the above, then here’s what you should do:
Have an honest conversation
The first step is to simply be honest and have a conversation about having an open relationship.
Discuss your thoughts, feelings and opinions to see where you both stand on the matter and if this is something that can benefit your relationship.
While attraction to other people is entirely normal, this can incite jealousy, which can be a major pitfall in a relationship. This type of conversation is therefore essential.
If you’re in a committed relationship, initiating this conversation can be a little nerve-wracking. But remember, you are not trying to convince your partner to be in an open relationship, but express how you feel and ask them questions about the matter.
Also, dismissing your desires can be quite damaging to a long-term relationship, bringing resentment and frustrations, so it’s important to talk about it.
Agree on an open relationship
An open relationship should not be one-sided or involve fulfilling your desires at the expense of your partner’s emotions.
Therefore, choosing to have an open relationship must be a conscious decision, and one that is truly positive for both parties.
Before going ahead with seeing other people, you should both compromise or reach a mutual agreement to begin an open relationship in order to avoid any misunderstandings.
But there’s more to just agreeing to start an open relationship. You need to take each other’s desires and feelings into consideration when getting into an open relationship. It’s essential to think about what your open relationship will look like.
Find out the main aspects that involve this type of relationship and see if it is something you really want to try.
How to make an open relationship work
If you are interested in having an open relationship, here are some rules you should follow to ensure it works successfully.
The consent of everyone involved, including third parties, must exist when it comes to the events in an open relationship.
Among the many potential issues that can arise in a relationship is not only dealing with the expectations of your partner, but with lovers outside of your relationship.
These particularities, however, do not mean that an open relationship is impossible to happen. Just that all parties have to be satisfied with the events taking place to prevent the relationship from breaking down.
Honesty is key in an open relationship. Being dishonest about where you are, what you did and with whom can result in distrust and emotional damage to your partner.
There are some people who open up their relationship, but do not wish to have any knowledge about encounters with other partners.
However, even in these circumstances, you must still be honest with yourself and your partner and stick to agreements so that there is no friction between you and the open relationship is legitimately what it intended to be.
In an open relationship, it’s important to listen to your own emotions and that of your partner to understand how it can work and keep you both happy.
Tell each other what would make you jealous or feel uncomfortable in an open relationship, and find ways to compromise. For instance, many couples like to make rules about not falling for someone else.
But in reality, this is not guaranteed, as you can’t know who you’re going to fall for. Think about how you should both handle the situation if jealousy or negative emotions occur or if you begin to develop feelings for another person.
Physical and sexual boundaries
Physical and sexual boundaries involve what sex acts are on or off the table, safe-sex practices and when and how you display affection.
These type of boundaries ensures that you both feel comfortable, establishes better trust, keeps you feeling aware about your partner’s external sexual relations, and most importantly, promotes safe sex.
For example, you both may need to decide how often you will get tested and how often you will talk to other parties about getting tested.
You might want to discuss who gets to touch you and where, as there may be certain erogenous zones you do not feel comfortable intimately sharing with another person.
You might also want to think about what sex toys you and your partner would want to use or share and how they will be cleaned.
Defining the types of people who you and your partner can and cannot have sexual relations with is another boundary you might want to consider.
Are friends, co-workers, or ex-partners off limits? Some people prefer only getting involved with people they do not know or have casual relationships with to prevent any emotional connection evolving (although this is not guaranteed). If it’s difficult to find a third party for an open relationship, some people even hire escorts.
Others are adamant that they don’t want them or their partner seeing close friends or those in their social circles to keep their affairs secret.
Myths about open relationships
Since open relationships involve multiple sexual partners, many people believe there are no boundaries or rules in the relationship. But it is quite the opposite.
The fact that partners are open to talking and understanding each other’s needs, desires and fantasies, is precisely what makes the relationship more harmonious.
The stereotype that there is a detachment in the relationship is also not true, since those who choose to have an open relationship are able to clearly distinguish sex from affection – an essential element for the relationship to work.
Also, there isn’t always jealousy in open relationships, as both partners generally understand each other’s sexual needs and are confident that opening the relationship will be healthy for them personally and their relationship.
Having a successful open relationship
If you’re thinking about starting an opening relationship, our open relationship rules highlight some of the best practices to help make your open relationship work, while ensuring all parties involved are comfortable and safe.
For an open relationship to be successful, it is essential to know how it works, the advantages and disadvantages of having an open relationship, and the potential risks. Only then is it possible to make a conscious decision to change the dynamics of your relationship.
The most important thing is that everyone involved is aware, avoids misunderstandings, and that everyone’s health and safety comes first.
Safe sex always
Just like any type of relationship, safe sex is essential in open relationships. Not only to avoid an unexpected pregnancy, but to protect you against sexual infections. The more sexual relations you have with others, the higher the risk of catching an STI.
It’s important to use protection, such as condoms, to prevent this from occurring and transmitting infections to your partner and others.
Disclaimer: Due to the current social-distancing measures, should you decide to participate in any sexual activity of any kind it should be with a person who you have been self-isolating or social distancing with. All parties involved should also have adhered to Government social-distancing guidelines.