Open relationships are part of the larger category of consensually non-monogamous relationships.
They are relationships in which both partners can pursue sex, and sometimes emotional attachments, with other people.
Open relationships differ from swinging, in which partners have sex with other people at parties and where the relationships are purely sexual.
They also differ from polyamory, where partners can pursue more than one committed relationship at a time.
Open relationships are sort of the middle ground between swinging and polyamory.
When done with respect and the consent of all involved, open relationships have plenty of benefits.
The first obvious one that many people think of is sexual satisfaction. Humans enjoy novelty when it comes to sexuality, and we all crave it at one point or another.
A new partner is a great way to satisfy that craving for new sexual experiences.
People who do open relationships well also share strong communication skills, a deepened sense of trust, and thoroughly negotiated roles and expectations.
It’s much easier to fulfill a partner’s needs if they tell you what they want, rather than making you guess.
Open relationships allow partners to put all their cards on the table.
Open relationships also allow non-monogamous people to express their needs and identity without fear.
They don’t need to hide their crushes or extra-marital relationships, at least to their partner, and this leads to a lot less emotional distress.
Pros of Open Relationships
- Heightened communication about wants and needs
- Pursuing new experiences and interests
- Exciting and different sexual experiences
- Freedom to express different sides of yourself
- No pressure for one person to fulfill a partner’s emotion and sexual needs and interests
Cons of Open Relationships
- Risk of jealousy and issues with self-esteem
- Emotional pain as your partner experiences pleasure and happiness with someone else
- Risk of sexually transmitted disease
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Sexual addiction or loss of libido from trying to please multiple partners
Aside from those already mentioned, open relationships have potential problems all their own.
Jealousy is the first.
For people raised in an environment where monogamy is expected, jealousy can rear its ugly head quickly.
Remember, though, that jealousy is rooted in feelings of not being enough, which is itself based on the idea that your romantic partner should be everything to you. ‘
Once you let go of the idea that you need to fulfill every single one of your partner’s needs, it’s easier to manage jealousy.
Negative feelings towards extra partners can also stem from increased vulnerability.
As you learn to negotiate your relationship more explicitly, you will need to explore and express feelings you may not have examined before.
This can make people feel anxious, angry, or make them retreat emotionally.
If you are having these kinds of problems, couple therapy with someone who understands non-monogamy can help you overcome these feelings.
Finally, multiple partners increase the risk of STIs.
Engage in safer sex activities with proper protection and get tested regularly.
Take care of your sexual health and that of your partners.
While there are no set rules when it comes to having an open relationship, it is beneficial to work together to establish expectations and boundaries with your partner. Here are a few to consider.
Is sex okay and, if so, what acts do you (or don’t you) feel comfortable? Be as specific as possible, including safe-sex practices like condoms, dental dams, and getting screened for STDs.
Talk about what would make you jealous and how to approach each other if jealousy does occur.
When talking about emotional boundaries, you can also discuss whether it’s possible to not fall for someone after having sex and what happens if that does occur.
What’s fair game? Are friends, coworkers, or ex partner’s off the table? How do you feel about strangers?
You might also want to discuss whether dating another gender outside of your relationship is okay with your partner.
You and your partner should set guidelines on how much time is okay to spend with other partners and when it’s okay to cut into your time together to actively explore other relationships.
On the other hand, being in an open relationship isn’t for everyone—it doesn’t show a lack of maturity or compassion to decide that you prefer monogamy.
In the end, being honest with yourself and your partner(s) is most important for happiness in your relationships.