First of all... what is an open relationship or open marriage?
"An open relationship is essentially a relationship where one or both partners engage in either sexual or intimate relationships with more than one person," Couples Therapist, Sexologist and Coach, Isiah Mckimmie, told Men's Health.
The most important part? It's done so with their partners' knowledge and permission.
"It’s different from ‘cheating’ because your partners knows and fully agrees to the extra relationship/s occurring."
Are there different kinds of open relationships?
Yes. Much like how monogamous relationships can differ in their expectations, so too can open relationships. It comes down to deciding what works for you as a couple.
"Dan Savage coined a great term ‘monogamish’ which is a great alternative to use for people who aren’t comfortable with ‘open’ relationship," Mckimmie says.
It basically means that you are committed to each other in both a romantic and sexual sense, but there's space for some sexual experiences outside of the relationship every now and then.
Do open relationships work?
"When done well, they absolutely can work," Mckimmie says. "However, an open relationship isn’t for everyone."
What is the difference between polyamory vs open relationships?
An open relationship involves sexual relationships with other people while polyamory is about having intimate, committed relationships with multiple people.
How do you bring up the possibility of having an open relationship with your partner?
Approaching your partner about the possibility of opening your relationship can be a daunting prospect. It's worth doing a bit of soul searching before you even broach the topic, so you can really consider your own reasoning for the decision.
"Deciding to be in an open relationship isn’t an easy or fast decision," Mckimmie says.
The first conversation can set the tone for the experience so it's important to consider your words wisely.
"When discussing the possibility with your partner, include your reasons and intention for being in an open relationship, share what you think it will mean for your relationship and how you feel about your current partner."
It's also one that you can't push your partner into – an open relationship will not work unless both participants are willing.
Is there a standard set of rules you should follow in an open relationship?
Guidelines and boundaries are a vital part of successful open relationships, these can vary from couple to couple.
"Couples should really take their time researching the possibilities for open relationship and discussing what feels right for them," Mckimmie says. "These agreements can change as the relationships progress, so continued communication is important."
Some rules to consider include:
- Who can you engage in a sexual relationship? Who is off the cards?
- How much time will you be spending with other partners?
- Does each partner want to know the details of who the other is seeing or dating?
- How will you practice safe sex?
How do you make open relationships work?
Here is Mckimmie's advice for making your open relationship a successful one:
1. Take your time making this decision and moving forward
"Deciding together that you’re going to have an open relationship isn’t enough to make it work. Moving into a successful open relationship is going to be a process and take time. There is a lot to discuss in terms of what your specific agreements are and how you will support each other and yourself in the process."
2. Being self aware and having high emotional intelligence is vital
"Emotions are going to arise as you move into open relationship. Even though we might be really aligned with the idea on an intellectual level, if we’re moving from a monogamous relationship to an open relationship, it’s still going to have challenges. You’ll ned to be able to support yourself through difficult feelings and be able to support your partner/s also."
3. Communication is key
"You’ll need a higher level of communication than most people have if you’re going to have a successful open relationship. You’ll need to continue discussing your emotions once you’re in an open relationship, and continue discussing what’s working for you and what isn’t as you move forward. You’re going to need to give a lot of time to managing your relationships if you’re going to do it well."
4. It’s not going to fix your relationship problems
"Opening your relationship to other people isn’t going to fix your underlying relationship challenges. While for some couples it can support the relationship, it’s also likely to highlight your challenges. Ensure that you’re getting support, or working on the issues in your relationship/s also. Seeing a therapist familiar with open relationship can also help you make the transition to open relationship and deal with any challenges in your current relationship."