Minds. Letters. Your favorite restaurants. These are only some of the things that are best when open. Apparently, relationships now belong to that list. While Millennials and Gen Zs are engaging more in this type of relationship, it is not just a trend today. Open relationships date back since time immemorial and have been a part of different cultures around the globe. But what, exactly, are open relationships? And most importantly, is it for you (and your partner/s)?
“Open relationship” is an umbrella term encapsulating other forms of nonmonogamous relationships like:
- Polyamory - A practice and philosophy of loving multiple people simultaneously—intimately and romantically.
- Monogamish - Two people in a primary relationship but open to others strictly sexually.
- Swinging - A social practice of swapping sexual partners or joining group sexual activities as a shared bonding experience of a coupled relationship.
- Relationship Anarchy - A relationship approach that rejects rules and expectations. Instead, the people involved will follow their core values (not social norms) to navigate the relationship.
If you’re one of the 26% of Americans interested in having an open relationship, there are general guidelines, boundaries, and agreements to consider before you swing (heh) your shot.
There’s no non-negotiable, all-encompassing “rule” to follow as each individual and relationship differs. Still, establish ways to ensure you practice ethical nonmonogamy and provide emotional safety for all parties involved.
1.Do it for the right reasons.
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Start by identifying what an open relationship means for you. First, look internally—why are you interested in opening your relationship? People enter this type of arrangement for various reasons, like exploring their sexuality, a kink or fantasy, or mismatched libidos, among others.
Whatever your reason is, you shouldn’t start an open relationship to solve the problems of your current relationship or fill your dissatisfaction with it. Kicking off a nonmonogamous relationship for the wrong reasons builds a shaky base. And what does that do to an unstable foundation? It will easily topple over.
2.Honesty is key.
Honesty is the baseline of trust for any form of relationship—open or not. It means never lying, never hiding the truth, and never omitting or misdirecting from the fact INTENTIONALLY. And it’s even more imperative in a relationship involving more than two people. Being honest facilitates healthy and open communication for a functional relationship.
You need to be able to talk openly and have confidence in the person’s authenticity, transparency, and straightforwardness.
3.Always talk about your relationship.
Open relationships are neither novel nor rare—with 4% of Americans in open relationships and 20% of them having entered open relationships at some point in their lives, according to the same report above. Hence, it should be a topic you can discuss freely, especially with your partner/s. Communication isn’t a one-time, done deal. Set a schedule and space for these communications, like a date night or staycation to nurture the relationship.
Also, determine which and how much detail to convey. Some people want to know Every. Single. Detail, while others prefer to be left in the dark on some information.
4.Identify each other’s emotional boundaries.
Emotional boundaries are hard to define and set. Still, they should be discussed. The concept of feelings is complex. And while couples often turn to a “No Emotions Allowed” rule, you might be setting yourselves up for failure as—as cheesy as it sounds—you can’t know for sure who you’re going to fall in love with.
But you can take baby steps. Start by discussing these two questions:
- Can you have sex without developing feelings for the other person?
- If you do, how will you and your primary partner address that situation?
5.Set sexual boundaries.
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And be explicit and specific while you’re at it. Set sexual boundaries in your open relationship by defining the following:
- Which sex acts are on or off limits?
- When or how do you display affection?
- How often can sex occur (weekly, monthly, or so on)?
- How many partners at a time and where?
- Is penetrative sex okay? How about oral sex and kissing?
- Will sex toys be used and shared?
I know. It gets weirdly specific and personal. But you should clarify all these stipulations and logistics before going forth and unleashing your sexual vigor out there.
6.Practice safe and consensual sex.
Aside from the emotional baggage involved (or not) during sexual activities, sexual boundaries also center around sexual risk management. You and your partner will engage in sexual acts with multiple people, which translates to higher chances of contracting STIs. But you can protect yourself by establishing safe sex guidelines. And always ensuring everything is with CONSENT for all parties involved.
For example, make sure you use condoms. Simple, readily available, and effective—when used correctly. In fact, nonmonogamous individuals are more likely to use condoms and get tested for HIV and other STIs. Great!
7.Allot time to check in with your partner.
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Regular check-ins with your primary partner are ideal to ensure they’re nurtured, respected, and excited in the aspect of open relationships, especially when it’s new. Over time, you can make these check-ins less frequent when you and your partner get into the swing of things.
And (!) don’t forget your secondary partner(s) as well. All parties in the relationship should feel comfortable, respected, and cared for.
8.Jealousy is your enemy.
Ahh, jealousy. The elephant in the room.
Jealousy is often the crux of open relationships. And that’s normal because humans have feelings, needs, and wants. Some also assume people in open relationships don’t have the right to be jealous. That’s a no-no. These feelings are entirely valid, and you can work through them.
This is where everything comes in full circle—you’d need that trust, honesty, and open communication to cope with jealousy. Reevaluate your needs and boundaries as an individual and as a couple. Then, you can build a healthy and happy relationship if you work through it with your partner.
There are many nuances to people, relationships, and emotions. Continue educating yourself more on practicing ethical nonmonogamy if it’s something you want to practice.
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