Are you considering the idea of beginning an open relationship with someone? Whether you have been with your partner for years or are just getting to know each other, approaching the idea of beginning an open relationship is something very few people have ever dealt with. Even if you have been in an open relationship before, starting a new one can be a challenge. Add to that the stress of coming up with the ground rules that will make this whole thing work – you are left with a puddle of confusion.
Nevertheless, that is not to say that open relationships never work, or that they can’t be as solid and fulfilling as standard monogamous relationships. However, in order for open relationships to be successful, they have to have a mutually-agreed upon set of rules that both partners follow exactly to the T.
This will not only help you protect and preserve the trust of your partner, but they will also reduce the risks that both of you face by being in an open relationship. What kind of risks could there be, you might ask?
There are plenty. Not only can being in an open relationship increase your risk of getting or potentially spreading an STD, but it can also seriously damage your emotional well-being. Most rules, of course, for setting up an open relationship have to do with limiting and preventing the damage that jealousy can cause.
The Rules of Being in an Open Relationship
Understand the Definition of an Open Relationship
Open relationships are pretty simple and easy to define, yet at the same time, shockingly complex. While they fall under the general umbrella for non-monogamous romantic relationships, they can have some nuances beyond that.
For instance, open relationships tend to focus on engaging in other sexual activities – instead of emotional bonding activities – with new partners. Beneath the umbrella of the term “open relationship”, there are all kinds of consensual relationships you could engage in.
One is polyamory. In polyamory, both partners support the other having sexual and emotional relationships with other people. People in a polyamory relationship understand that romantic love can take several forms and that people have the capacity to love more than one person at once.
There is another kind of open relationship known as “monogamish.” This is similar to a completely open relationship but it is restricted to sexual activity alone. The next type is “swinging”, which is jointly exploring new sexual activities together with other couples, usually at social events.
The final type of an open relationship is known as relationship anarchy, in which there are no set rules but the relationship instead bends with ease to meet the needs of every involved partner.
Whatever type of open relationship you are in, one thing is very clear, an open relationship is not the same thing as an affair – that is a common misconception. Instead, in an open relationship, there is no element of secrecy. The partners are clear about their activities with others and work to support each other instead of hiding the activities.
In an open relationship, it is essential that both partners decide what the term means to them. While many people resent the idea of putting a name or label on a relationship, when you are in this kind of relationship, it is absolutely essential. You need to make sure there is some sort of “permission” granted to seek out new sexual partners – and likely, each partner will have a different answer on how this is defined.
Figure out boundaries
Before you do anything else, it is essential that you decide what the boundaries are in terms of sex. How often can it occur? Weekly? Monthly? A few times a year? How many partners at a time can it happen? Where can it happen? What other logistical or physical concerns might there be?
It is also important that each partner identify the type of sex that is acceptable. For instance, is penetrative sex allowed? Oral? BDSM? Would you prefer that your partner only has sex with strangers, or would you rather it be with someone you already know?
You have to get uncomfortably specific with these details, but it is important to figure it out before you decide if this kind of relationship is right for you.
You also need to determine the emotional boundaries, in addition to the physical. Find out what kind of behaviors are acceptable outside of the bedroom. Perhaps you do not mind your partner having random sexual encounters, but you do not like them hanging out with another person on dates or in a social context.
These boundaries, surprisingly, can be even tougher to decide upon than the physical ones. Lots of people do not think they will get jealous, but of course, they do. Make sure you discuss with your partner whether you can have sex without developing romantic feelings for someone, and what you will do if that does happen – even if you aren’t usually the type to fall in love.
Only practice safe sex
This should go without saying, but it is super important that you begin and conduct your open relationship in the safest way possible. As you transition from an exclusive relationship to an open one, make sure you two discuss the best safe sex practices. Find out what each of you is comfortable with and how you will both practice safe sex when it finally comes down to it.
Determine who you can hook up with
We touched upon this point briefly already, but again, it is important that you decide who the open relationship is actually open to. Before you start engaging in an open relationship, make sure you both agree on who you can get dirty with. Even if you think you are the coolest, most easy-going cat around, you would be surprised by how easy it is to find yourself getting jealous when your partner hooks up with strangers.
Discuss the relationship status of the partners you are getting involved with too, outside of the open relationship. These people need to be on board with what you and your “main ” partner have going on, especially if the other partner is not necessarily cool with the whole arrangement. Remember, there are no secrets in an open relationship – and this applies to the parties involved outside of your “main” relationship too.
Honesty is vital
Honesty and trust are important components of any relationship but are especially essential in an open relationship. You need to be honest about your needs and why the two of you are doing what you are doing. Sometimes, open relationships are started because neither partner really has a desire to be in the relationship anymore, yet is not ready to break things off. Make sure you discuss these conditions frequently and reassess the situation and rules as needed.
How much time to spend with others
Again, it might seem like you are getting a bit too nitpicky here, but it is important that you actually take the time to decide on all the nitty-gritty details. How much time will each of you spend pursuing your activities in the open relationship? Will you be passively or actively exploring new relationships? Will you only take on new partners when they approach you, or will you be reactivating your Tinder profile?
Regardless of which conditions you agree on, it is imperative that you and your partner decide on rules about how much time you can spend with other people. When you meet new partners and start having sex with a new person, it is easy to let your feelings and behavior become somewhat obsessive. Make sure you and your partner check in frequently to make sure these feelings won’t get obsessive.
For instance, how much time will you be allowed to spend with a new partner? What is the protocol if you decide to skip out on date night with your significant other to go meet up with someone you have been in touch with on Bumble? Be specific, and be painstakingly detailed and honest.
Have regular check-ins
Chat with your partner on a regular basis about how he or she is feeling. Make sure it is clear that the two of you are on the same page when it comes to the other person’s sexual pursuits. It is easy to make assumptions in a relationship, so be sure to have regular check-ins to ensure you are able to process your emotions. You can make any adjustments and assess the health of the relationship as needed.
Determine how you will discuss the relationship
Do not just tell yourself you are going to chat with your partner about the relationship but you must figure out how you are going to talk – and when. One of the most difficult aspects of starting an open relationship is figuring out the logistics of talking about the open relationship. The best way to do this is to decide ahead of time how you will talk about your open relationship. Are you going to talk about your outside hookups? How much detail are you going to share?
Sure, there is going to be some trial and error. You might discover that hearing about the sexual encounter your partner has had makes you incredibly angry, or you might be surprised to learn that you are incredibly turned on.
No matter how you decide to discuss the relationship with each other, it is important that you agree on how you are going to talk about it with each other – and especially with others, too. And by others, we mean people close to you like your friends and family. Many people do not think this last part through all the way, but it is essential. You may feel judged by others, or as though they do not understand.
Just as you would with anything private in your relationship, make sure you check in with your partner first.
Do not neglect the relationship
Being in an open relationship does not mean that you can explore all of the available options out there and totally neglect your partner. Instead, you need to make sure that you take the time to love and nurture your partner just as if you were not in an open relationship. Express your love for each other through date nights and trips away. Prioritize the relationship and do not get distracted by the next new shiny thing!
Is an Open Relationship the Best Choice for Your Relationship?
In order for an open relationship to work, it is necessary that both partners enter into it willingly. You need to have the same level of enthusiasm because if only one person is truly invested and the other enters into it begrudgingly, it is a disaster waiting to happen.
Open relationships can be super challenging even if both parties are fully invested. If you are in a non-monogamous relationship and someone feels pressured into the arrangement, resentment is naturally going to build up. Things will be even worse if someone gets an STD or just as bad (or sometimes worse!) gets pregnant.
An open relationship should not be used as a band-aid to fix a damaged relationship. Instead, you should only ever consider entering into an open relationship only if your current relationship is solid and strong. You will need trust and confidence in your relationship that allows the two of you to mutually support each other while you are getting started.
Take the time to figure out why you even want an open relationship to begin with. Evaluate your motivations and think about how you are going to go about the logistics of it all. Make sure that the two of you are able to communicate well, and if you have trouble communicating, remember that it might be worth your time to visit a certified sex therapist.
And, as always, remember to listen to your gut. It has more to say than you might think!