Open Relationships: How to Make It Work

You believe that a healthy, interdependent relationship can greatly improve your life and happiness.  Yet you also know that your hormones don’t turn off just because you are in a relationship, that you will still be attracted to other people, and the idea of having sex with the same person for the REST OF YOUR LIFE seems a bit intimidating.  For these reasons, you like the idea of an open relationship.  But can an open relationship really work?

open relationship

What is an Open Relationship?  Each Couple Defines their Own Relationship

In simple terms, an open relationship means that each person in the relationship is free to date or sleep with other people.  In real life though, the definition of open relationship isn’t this simple.  Like with casual relationships, each open relationship has its own unique definition and set of rules.

For one couple, an open relationship might mean being able to sleep with strangers on business trips, but never anyone who lives in the same town.  For another couple, an open relationship might mean that the partners can go out on dates with other people and also sleep with them.   For yet another couple, open relationship might mean that flirting is okay, but sex is never okay.

As you can see from these examples, open relationships are based on a set of rules that each partner agrees to follow.

*By the way, an open relationship is NOT the same as a threesome or swinging!
threesome open relationship


What Open Relationships Need to Succeed

Open relationships can and do work. But you need to always respect these 3 things if you want your open relationship to succeed.

1) Your Partner Must Remain #1

Having your partner be #1 does not just mean that you like him or her best.  It means that the person on the side must never take away time, love, or affection from your partner.

For example, if you are having so much sex with your secretary on the side that you have nothing left for your wife, then the open relationship is not going to work.

Likewise, be cautious about how much of your time and money you give the other person.  You shouldn’t be buying presents or paying for fancy dinners for your person on the side! That type of attention should be reserved for your #1.


2) Having an Open Relationship Should IMPROVE Your Relationship!

This takes rule #1 a step further.  Not only must your person on the side not negatively affect your relationship, but it should actually improve your relationship.

For example, after being in a relationship with the same person for a long time, your sex life can become a bit stale and routine.  By having a fling on the side, you can add a bit of spark and learn some new tricks.  Then you take this vigor to the bedroom with your partner.  Hence why a lot of women say the best sex they have is after their husbands sleep with another woman!


3) Open Relationships Need Clear Rules

All healthy relationships are based on mutual trust and respect.  Open relationships are no different.  If you want an open relationship to succeed, then you’ve got to lay down some very clear ground rules.  You will also want to revisit these rules periodically.  Until you start down the open relationship road, you can’t know for certain what things will bother you, so the rules might have to change.


Setting the Rules of an Open Relationship

A lot of open relationships fail because they don’t take the time to set real ground rules to follow.  Remember, rules are just like boundaries in a relationship.  They are there to encourage respect, trust, communication, and growth in the relationship.  You can’t have an open relationship without setting rules first.

Examples of Open Relationship Rules

  • No “regulars”
  • No spending money on other people, aside from a drink or two
  • No sleeping over; must be home by a certain time
  • No sleeping or flirting with friends
  • No sleeping with people from the same city/community
  • No sleeping with other people within 1 hour of seeing each other
  • No sex with other people in your home or bed
  • Don’t ask, don’t tell
  • Full disclosure when asked
  • Take safe sex precautions


The Jealousy Issue

You might be the most liberal minded person in the world, but it is pretty hard to separate sex from emotion.  So, if your partner is sleeping with another person (with or without your consent), some degree of jealousy is only normal.  If you want an open relationship to work, then you damn well better be prepared to deal with the jealousy when it hits!

Karley Sciortino describes her experience with an open lesbian relationship really well at Vogue.  She says:

I will admit that in my fantasy world, I could sleep around without consequence, while my partner remained faithful only to me.

This is a common problem that people have when entering an open relationship.  They think they will be okay with it, because they are only picturing the sexual freedom and fun they will have.  They don’t think about how they will really react when they discover that their partner has had a fling with some hot checkout girl or a hookup with the pool boy.  And, even if you have a rule about “don't ask, don't tell”,  you will  probably figure out that your partner has had a fling.  Or at least suspect it. So there is no avoiding the jealousy issue completely.

Think you can handle the jealousy issue?  Then do this: picture your significant other sleeping with someone else.  Really think about it.  Think about how they kiss, touch, and are intimate together.  Then picture your partner coming home to you and giving you a kiss with the same mouth that kissed someone else.

Feel jealous yet?

You’ve got to be able to completely detach sex from love if you think that an open relationship can work.  But, when you take away the emotional part of sex, you’ve just got some dirty humping and cheap thrills.  Ask yourself whether it is really worth risking your relationship for a bit of fun and sexual freedom.


Insecurity Can Be Worse than the Jealousy

There are two definitions of jealousy. The first is:

“Feeling fiercely protective of one's rights or possessions.”

This sort of jealousy is exactly what open relationships are trying to overcome: You don’t own your partner, so your partner is free to sleep with other people.  If jealous emotions were as simple as this, then open relationships would be easy to navigate.

However, there is another definition of jealousy which you need to factor in before starting an open relationship:

“Feeling or showing an envious resentment of someone or their achievements, possessions, or perceived advantages.”

Let’s say that your husband of 30 years has a fling with a 22-year old. The other woman has perky breasts, no wrinkles, and a great body.  As a woman, that can make you feel pretty insecure about yourself.  You aren’t jealous because you feel your husband is “your property.”  You become jealous because the other woman has the advantage of youth.

To have a successful open relationship, you better be really secure with who you are. Otherwise, every time your significant other has a one-night stand or fling, those insecurities are going to eat you away. Is the other person better looking than me?  Is the other person better in bed? Has he/she lost interest in me?

But, then again, you can’t have any type of successful healthy relationship until you are secure with yourself.  Open relationships are only more challenging in that you are forced to address these insecurities head on.   If you are okay with that idea, then you should be ready for an open relationship and making it succeed.

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