Open relationships are often seen as a truly mysterious, impossible-to-understand (never mind navigate!) thing. But the truth is, healthy open relationships are much like healthy monogamous relationships in that they involve strong communication, respect, and understanding.
“Open Relationship” Is a Blanket Term
It’s important to know, right off the bat, that even the term “open relationship” encompasses many, many different types of non-monogamous situations. For some, this means each individual in the couple is able to have some “one night stands” outside of their relationship, while for others it can mean establishing whole, romantic relationships with other partners, or even including another partner in a relationship with both members of the couple. None of these examples is right or wrong—they are all about what works best for the couple and their outside partners—it’s just important to start here so we know that there is no “one way” to have an open relationship.
One of the absolute most important things to have in any kind of relationship, but perhaps most especially in an open relationship, is strong, consistent communication. Some non-monogamous folks choose to have one “primary” relationship and other “secondary” relationships, where their primary partner is a spouse, life partner, or someone to whom they are committed in whatever way works best for them, and their secondary or non-primary partners are something they may still be very much committed to, but who often don’t have as many legal, emotional, or financial ties to the couple.
Regardless of whether we’re talking about primary or non-primary relationships, non-monogamy simply will not work if communication is not continually developed and put at the forefront of each of the relationships in question. Since people do not have stagnant needs, wants, and personalities, it is crucial to keep the lines of communication open to make sure everyone involved in the relationships is feeling happy, healthy, and comfortable.
Ground Rules and Boundaries
Most of the time, couples within an open relationship will establish ground rules for what they are and are not comfortable with within the confines of their open relationship. These boundaries—whether about sexual behavior, general intimacy, or anything else that feels important to the individuals involved—must be given the utmost respect so that each party feels safe and comfortable as the relationship evolves, grows, and changes. It needs to be okay for any partner to revisit or adapt these rules at any time. Now, of course, if all parties cannot come to an agreement on these ground rules, then it may not be possible for the open relationship to work. Therefore it is incredibly important that these are brought to the forefront and agreed on by all parties. As I said before, these can always be adapted and amended, but that’s where the communication piece comes in again – these core rules must be considered a primary importance.
The reality of non-monogamous relationships is that they have the potential to get really difficult at times. So many hypothetical things could happen. You could begin to pursue an open relationship, but then one member of the couple changes their mind, or one person could end up loving it and another could end up hating it. You could push each other’s boundaries or make choices based only on what one member of the couple wants rather than both. This is why, along with communication and established boundaries, it is incredibly important to keep the respect and care of your partner or partners as a very high priority in an open relationship.
This means respecting pre-established boundaries, yes, but it also means allowing for renegotiation of those boundaries as time goes on, and constant consideration of not just your own wants and needs, but your partners’ as well. It is imperative that everything involved in an open relationship is reciprocal and balanced to the comfort level of everyone involved.
Of course, protecting yourself and your partner in the case of multiple sexual partners is incredibly important as well. Protection and regular testing will go a long way to make sure you and your partners’ are able to have a happy, healthy open relationship with little to no stress about it affecting each other’s personal health.
But Is It Really Possible?
Many people hear about others being in open relationships, but question whether it’s actually possible to sustain a healthy open relationship. Well, of course it is! It may require an extra amount of focus, communication, and respect, but with some clear boundaries in place and the ability to adjust and update them as needed, it is absolutely possible to pursue a non-monogamous relationship and have a positive experience doing it.
Have you been involved in an open or non-monogamous relationship? Were you able to navigate the boundaries in a way that felt comfortable and safe for all parties? We’d love to hear more about it below!