6 Rules for a Successful Open Relationship
Can open relationships ever work? Of course they can, if they are consensual. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t come with their own set of complications. Unfortunately, many people stumble into this territory with feelings of betrayal and lost trust. Open relationships are the opposite of cheating.
These types of relationships are becoming more common. We think of milleneals being more open to this style of relationship. However, there are many middle aged and older couples who are curious about more open relationship styles as well.
For many of the couples I see who are struggling with this issue in their relationship, there are three common issues that they contend with. The first is betrayal. There has been a breech in the contract of the relationship. That leads to the second issue, which is poor initial communication. The contract is never talked about. For those who are married, the contract is rarely talked about after the actual marriage. For those who are unmarried, there may have been no discussion about this at all. The final issue is a lack of boundaries. Many people who walk into this territory haven’t identified or anticipated what they are and are not fine with. They only know what they aren’t OK with when it happens.
In order to increase the odds of having a more successful relationship, these key rules should be taken into consideration, before heading into this territory.
- Transparency: The first part is sharing your hopes and desires, as well as your relationship intentions. Many people will stumble into more open relationship styles because they are engaging in relationships or sex with others, without being open about this. This sets up unnecessary hurt and pain. Shame keeps many people from having these conversations. Sure, it can be painful to hear that your partner is thinking about sex with others (when you aren’t expecting that). However, it is much more painful to find out that your partner made decisions about monogamy without you.
- Identified Boundaries: What is OK with you? What is not OK with you? It sounds simple, but it’s really not easy to identify. This means that you have to be open with yourself and you have to know yourself. I have worked with many individuals who will say they are fine with things, when they aren’t, and vice versa. This inevitably leads to resentment. Instead, know what boundaries you’re willing to negotiate, versus those that are rigid. Understand where these come from for you. This will help you communicate it with your partner.
- Anticipating New Relationship Energy: Even if there is no intention of “dating” others, there can still be an energy associated with new encounters that you don’t have in your primary relationship. How will you contend with this? Having a plan can help you cut jealousy off at the pass, and work with your partner.
- Knowing What You Want: Another common reason that people “stumble” into open relationships is because they aren’t clear on what they want. Stumbling is a problem. It doesn’t reflect self-awareness of what you want. Without knowing this, you can’t communicate this. This stumble is most often reflective of reacting out of fear of losing a partner. In order to make this work you have to be clear on what you want. You have to be willing to take that risk of sharing this.
- Solidifying Your Primary Relationship: Many people become so busy that they lose touch of their primary relationship. This can’t be taken for granted. No matter what type of relationship you are in, you have to make time for your primary relationship. This means building dreams together and developing your shared goals.
- Good Communication Skills: No open relationship can be very sustainable without good communication. This means being able to hear and listen to each other, while also regulating yourselves. If there is a lot of chaos in your relationship communication, opening your relationship is likely to add another complication. Learning how to talk about issues and negotiate is key to making this work.
Open relationship styles can be challenging, but they can also be rewarding. Many people who are in consensually open relationships report increased levels of happiness. This isn’t for everyone, however. The goal is to know what is most appropriate for you, and why. Then you can take that knowledge and share it with your partner. These key rules can help set a foundation that can keep you grounded while you’re on your journey.
If you find that you’re struggling with these rules other issues, finding a polyamorous affirming therapist can be helpful. This therapist won’t judge you for your relationship goals.