There is no one-size-fits-all for life, love, or relationships. All of us are unique, meaning we each have different needs, wants, and desires.
A traditional monogamous relationship may not be right for you, or maybe you are curious about other relationship types. An open relationship is one of these types that’s becoming more “popular.”
Just more than 25% of Americans are interested in having an open relationship; many of these are millennials, followed by Gen Z and Gen X.
If you aren’t quite sure what an open relationship is, whether it is cheating, if it’s right for you, how to have a healthy open relationship, and how to broach the topic with your partner, I’ve got all the details for you!
Defining an Open Relationship: What Is It?
Depending on whom you ask, an open relationship is either a type of consensual, non-monogamous relationship or it is an umbrella term for other forms of non-monogamy.
In an open relationship, the couple are openly dating or seeing other people. Both partners can pursue sexual or emotional attachments with others.
You can have an open relationship if you are dating someone or married.
And there are various configurations of an open relationship:
An open relationship isn’t the same as swinging, where a couple engages in sexual activities with other people at events like parties. And an open relationship isn’t a polyamorous relationship where the couple has more than one simultaneous committed relationship.
An open relationship falls in between swinging and polyamory, where the couple is in a committed relationship with each other, but they can have sex or form emotional attachments to people they are attracted to. However, these “other” attachments are and remain casual.
Others view an open relationship as not dating another person exclusively; you can have other romantic partners too. Similarly, there are those that view a polyamorous relationship and open marriages as a type of open relationship.
That being said, the kind of open relationship you pursue with your partner needs to work for you both.
Is an Open Relationship the Same as Cheating?
An open relationship isn’t the same as cheating.
If one partner cheats on the other, it is done in secret and without consent.
With an open relationship, both partners know they have consent or permission to engage in sexual acts or form emotional attachments with other people.
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Pros and Cons of Open Relationships
There are various pros and cons of open relationships that you need to consider before diving into one.
Pros of Open Relationships
Cons of Open Relationships
The Key to a Healthy Open Relationship: Setting Rules
If you want a healthy open relationship, you and your partner need to set agreements. These “rules” help you manage expectations and stick to boundaries so you both know what’s okay and what isn’t.
Here are some “rules” to get you started:
1. Communicate clearly.
Communication is essential to a healthy open relationship. You can’t read your partner’s mind, and they can’t read yours.
So you need to honestly and openly talk about everything to ensure you are on the same page.
If you are hiding information or doing things behind your partner’s back, it’s a clear sign that the open relationship isn’t open or working and something needs to change.
2. Set sexual boundaries.
Decide whether it’s okay to have sex with other people and whether you’re still having sex with each other.
What is considered as “sex?”
What can you explore with other partners?
How will your sex toys be used, shared, and cleaned?
What PDA is allowed, and with whom?
Talk about whether you can bring your other sexual partners home.
Also discuss safe-sex practices and how often you’ll get tested.
3. Set emotional boundaries.
Chat about what happens if one or both of you get jealous or feel hurt.
Consider primary relationships becoming secondary and falling for other partners.
How much information do you want to know about your partner’s interactions with others, and how much information are they comfortable knowing about yours?
Can you create and foster emotional intimacy with others?
4. Set personal boundaries.
Discuss sexual orientation and gender identity.
Who’s fair game? Friends, family, colleagues, exes, and/or strangers.
What are you sharing about your primary relationship with new partners?
What words do you use to describe your primary relationship versus those you have with others?
5. Talk about time and logistics.
Have a conversation about how you will split up your time between your primary partner and any other ones.
How much time can you spend with other people?
6. Set up regular check-ins.
While you can discuss various scenarios when you first talk about opening up your relationship, how you will feel and behave when a challenge or situation arises is often different.
That’s why having regular check-ins are essential. It helps foster honesty and trust, and it keeps the communication lines open.
During a check-in, chat about what’s working and what isn’t. Revise the “rules” or agreements so your open relationship can work for both of you.
7. Make space for your partner.
It’s so easy to get caught up in the “new” and forget your partner.
Remember to make space for them and spend time with them too.
They fulfill needs and desires you have, while your other connections fulfill other needs and desires.
How Do You Tell Your Partner You Want an Open Relationship?
Telling your partner you want an open relationship is easier if you are currently single and want an open relationship when you find “the one.” If you are currently in a monogamous relationship, exploring an open relationship isn’t so easy.
Your current partner may feel jealous, angry, heartbroken, hurt, sad, or become defensive when you bring up the topic.
You need to be honest about how you feel and what you want, and you need to approach the open relationship conversation with understanding and patience.
Know that your partner may not be open to a non-monogamous relationship, you may not be able to continue to meet your partner’s monogamous needs any longer, and it’s possible that your relationship may end.
When bringing up the open relationship topic, use “I” statements. Say you’ve been thinking about having an open relationship or been curious about it, but you haven’t acted on it.
Say why you’re interested in non-monogamy, and ask if your partner would be open to discussing this further. Give your partner time to process, and be open to questions.
When Is an Open Relationship Right for You?
Reading or hearing about open relationships may intrigue you. After all, the thrill that you can foster intimacy with other people while still having your partner is alluring.
But that doesn’t mean an open relationship is right for you or your current relationship.
So how do you know you should pursue an open relationship?
Answer these questions honestly, and if your answer is yes, then an open relationship may be right for you.
You may also want to visualize what an open relationship will look like. Be as detailed as possible. How does this fantasy make you feel when you think about the following:
Final Thoughts on Open Relationships
An open relationship can work, and it can be healthy. But it takes both you and your partner to put in the effort, keep the lines of communication open, and be honest.
Having agreements in place helps you create, implement, and maintain boundaries so you and your partner can manage expectations and know what’s what.
If you want to work on intimacy in your relationships, check out my comprehensive guide on how you can increase intimacy – the physical, emotional, spiritual, experiential, intellectual, and creative kinds.