Today’s guest post comes from Meredith Cox who lives and works in Shanghai, China.
Before I tell you what an open relationship is, I’ll tell you what an open relationship isn’t: Open relationships aren’t cheating. Cheating is when you break your relationship rules against your partner’s knowledge and wishes — for most people this means having sex with someone else without their partner’s approval.
Open relationships, while not cheating, can be hard to define, because they can mean different
arrangements for different couples. In broad terms, however, an open relationship is one where you are emotionally monogamous but sexually non-monogamous (with your partner’s consent). There are lots of variations on this, but most open relationships fall under this definition in one way or another. Some common open relationships types include swingers (where two couples exchange partners), threesomes (a couple together has sex with another person), and couples where one or both partners have occasional sex with someone outside their relationship.
Polyamory (where someone is in a committed relationship with two or more people) is also considered an open relationship, but differs from the types above in that in a polyamorous relationship, it’s implied that you are both emotionally and sexually committed to more than one person (i.e., it’s not just sex). For this article, I’m focusing on open relationships where two partners are emotionally committed, but interested in having uncommitted sex with someone else.
There are also a lot of reasons why a person might decide to have an open relationship instead of breaking up with their partner. Maybe you (or your partner!) are bored. Maybe sex has become monotonous, or you have mismatched libidos, or your partner has lost interest or can no longer have sex, or you have a fetish, kink or desire that your partner can’t fulfill. Maybe you just want to experiment with someone else! Basically, relationships become “open” when partners decide that they want to have sex with other people, but they don’t want to break up with each other for whatever reason.
Getting into an open relationship is a personal choice, obviously, and it’s not for everyone. Before you take on an open relationship, there are five main points to consider:
First, you’ve absolutely got to discuss having an open relationship with your partner to find out how you both feel about the idea. If you don’t have the guts to bring up the topic openly and clearly, then an open relationship is probably not for you.
2. Create boundaries
Figure out what kind of open relationship you’re going to have. Some couples only allow each
other to kiss or flirt with other people. Some couples insist only on threesomes, where they’re
both involved. Some couples allow each other to have sex with other people, with various levels
of restriction to abide by. Whatever you want to do, discuss it with your partner, compromise if need be, and stick to those boundaries.
You’ll also need to think about how much you’re going to share with your partner. Will you have
a “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of agreement, or will you share details of whom, what and when?
Come to an agreement about sharing however much you feel comfortable with without feeling like you’re being lied or pandered to.
3. Make rules
You MUST have a set of rules before starting an open relationship. There are no exceptions on
this. Rules will vary from couple to couple, but it’s important to discuss them with your partner and that you both agree on them. Then, you have to follow the rules without exception.
The rules will be different depending on what type of relationship you have and want to have and
what you’re allowing each other to do, but here are some examples of common rules for different
types of open relationships:
• Both partners must always practice safe sex outside the relationship
• No sex with other people in the bed (or home) you share
• No sex with mutual friends or coworkers
• Sex is only allowed when both partners participate (for example, a threesome)
• No sex unless the other person is out of town
• Both partners must come home at night (no spending the night with someone else)
• You must tell any potential hook-ups that you’re in an open relationship
4. Make your partner a priority
In order to make an open relationship work, the time you spend pursuing sex with someone else
should never interfere with time and obligations you have with your partner. Basically, your
partner is still your priority and should be treated that way. Being aware of this will go a long way to alleviating potential jealousy and resentment in an open relationship.
5. Reevaluate your situation
You’ll need to occasionally reevaluate how your relationship is doing. Are you both happy and
satisfied? Are you still emotionally connected? Is an open relationship working for you? If it’s not working for you (or your partner), you may need to change your rules so it’s a better fit, or consider other changes (like going back to monogamy or even breaking up). Relationships
change over time, including open ones, so it’s perfectly normal to have mixed feelings or a change or heart over the status of your relationship.
Open relationships may fix a small portion of your relationship, but if you have problems that extend beyond sexual compatibility, an open relationship isn’t likely to solve your problems. Don’t let yourself be forced into any situation that makes you uncomfortable, and likewise, don’t force your partner into an uncomfortable situation either.