There are many ways to create health and balance in relationships. What creates freedom and safety for one couple may be stultifying or harmful for another. Many people struggle with feeling like their relationship is not meeting all of their needs, or they are not able to be authentic with their partners. Some couples are exploring open relationship models as a way of finding more honesty and liberation within their partnerships. But open relationships are still a wild frontier, and can be very challenging to create and navigate in a way that is healthy for everyone involved. Opening a relationship might enable it to become a space for personal and collective evolution, or it could mean a quick and certain end for that couple.
First, lets talk about the dangers of open relationships:
This is one of the biggest challenges in any relationship, monogamous or not. Jealousy eats at us, making us compare ourselves to other people and creating stories in our heads of betrayal and inadequacy. Most people cannot stomach the idea of their partners or spouses being emotionally and sexually intimate with other people, and equate such desire with rejection. Social and religious conditioning, traumatic relationship histories, and neediness all combine to make it impossible for many people to even consider sharing their partners with others with generosity and joy.
Opening a relationship can trigger deep insecurity and self-worth issues. If either partner has abandonment wounds, and lets face it, nearly everyone does to some degree, the fear that the partner will leave if given a chance can be overwhelming. Even if both partners want to open the relationship, facing the reality of your partner actually spending a night or a weekend with someone else can make you feel betrayed and unwanted.
Sexual Health Issues
Having sex with multiple partners increases the likelihood of contracting and spreading sexually transmitted infections. Even with protection, the greater the number of people one connects with sexually, the greater the chance of being infected and potentially bringing that infection home to ones primary partner.
With our busy lives it can be hard enough to make time to give one partner all the attention, affection, and care that he or she needs. Opening a relationship requires impeccable time-management skills to ensure that everyone is being cared for properly, while still caring for yourself and your work responsibilities. This is one of the biggest challenges that polyamorous people face, managing their time in such a way that all of their partners feel appreciated and supported.
Glossing Over Relationship Problems
Opening a relationship is not an effective therapeutic strategy. Some people think that opening their relationship will make it easier to navigate, or provide an escape route from the challenges of their partnership. But if there are fundamental schisms in your partnership, opening it will not fix those. If you or your partner are working with a fear of commitment, or the core wounds of fear of abandonment and/or fear of engulfment, opening your relationship to the possibility of more lovers will only intensify those fears. If you want to open the relationship as a way out, you are probably better off either ending the relationship or going to couples counseling to heal the underlying issues.
Now well explore the benefits of open relationships:
The truth is that many people struggle and fail in monogamous relationships, and a high percentage of people in monogamous relationships cheat on their partners or spouses at some point. Even if it does not actually lead to cheating, having attractions to other people can create shame and alienation in monogamous relationships. But people in open relationships can connect with other people and maintain integrity in their relationships. They do not need to hide aspects of themselves or their desires. Whether it is a little crush on a neighbor or a full on love-relationship, everything is out in the open and no one is lying or hiding.
Until recently, marriage was a kind of ownership contract that turned women into property and men into providers. It was more about convenience and ownership than love and connection. Modern marriage in most countries is usually about love, but there is still some of that carry-over of constraint of freedom.
Open relationships encourage autonomy. Instead of two people tied together by duty, two sovereign beings get to choose to be together when they both desire that connection, for however long they actually want to be together.
The Power of Choice
This is one of the greatest gifts of open relationships. When your partner is free to choose when to be with you and when to be with other people, then you know beyond doubt that when he is with you, he wants to be with you. It frees relationships of obligation, heartless duty, and dullness. Many open couples end up choosing to be monogamous most of the time, but because they are choosing it their relationship retains freshness and joy. Even commitment becomes a choice that empowers both parties. Instead of just picking the default kind of togetherness, you are choosing to commit to working things out, be accountable to each other, listen to your own and each others needs, and show up from a place of freedom and curiosity.
Many couples choose to open their relationships to serve their spiritual and sexual evolution. The work required for a healthy open relationship like confronting jealousy, attachment, co-dependency, low self-worth, and core wounds feels exciting and empowering to them. They want to use their relationships as crucibles to help them grow spiritually and emotionally, and make them more mature and interdependent.
Opening a relationship can also help the relationship itself evolve. The communication and sexual skills that partners learn from other people can be brought home to serve the primary partnership.
Bring the Sexy Back Into Your Relationship
The ability to have sex with other people is one of the obvious draws of open relationships. And a benefit of this is how it can serve your primary partnership. Many people find that getting to choose when they are intimate with their partners makes their lovemaking more exciting and pleasurable. They learn things from other people that they can bring back to their partner. Having the option to be with other people reduces boredom and complacency, and makes the choice to be with your partner new and joyful. And many people find that getting to explore with new people makes them even more grateful for the familiarity and deep intimacy they share with their primary partners.
If you do choose to explore opening your relationship, there are some things to consider for it to be as healthy as possible:
Open relationships only work if both people authentically desire to open the relationship. If both people are excited, or at least curious, about exploring with other people, it can be wonderful, healthy, and joyful. But if there is any convincing or just going along with it to please the other partner, everyone will suffer in the long run.
Integrity and Accountability
Integrity is even more important in open relationships. When you are navigating uncharted waters, and potentially dealing with multiple hearts, your word is the most important thing you have. Open relationships require an incredible amount of trust. You have to trust yourself, to honor your needs and do the right thing by your partner(s). Your partners have to trust you, and everyone needs to trust the relationships. The only way to continue to create and protect this trust is by being fully in integrity. Follow through on your word. If you make a mistake or hurt someone, accept responsibility and apologize. Treat everyone, including yourself, with respect and honor.
This includes sexual health. Everyone in open relationships needs to have regular checkups and sexual health exams, follow agreed-upon safer sex practices, and protect themselves and their partners from infection.
Clear, transparent communication is key in open relationships. Nothing can be hidden, lied about, or kept secret, or eventually it will come out and people will suffer. This includes the details of other relationships, yes, but also your feelings, needs, desires, and wishes. Transparency is a key in any intimate relationship, and even more important in open ones.
You are playing outside the box in an open relationship, and cannot rely on default relationship models or other peoples rules and ideas. You need to develop clear guidelines and boundaries that work for everyone involved, based on the authentic needs of those people. Each partner needs to discover what he or she needs to feel healthy, emotionally and physically safe, appreciated, and respected. Then each partner must communicate those needs to the other partner(s) and come to agreements that respect everyones needs.
Your agreements may change as the relationship evolves and you face the myriad situations and growth opportunities being open provides. This is where transparency, deep listening, negotiation, and other refined communication skills come in handy.
Priority and Commitment
Open relationships rely on a different kind of commitment model than monogamous ones, but commitment is still a key factor in healthy relationships. Most open relationships use a priority model, where there is primary partnership that is the most important to the people involved, and there are various rules and agreements for other connections that keep it from interfering with the primary relationship.
Meet Challenges Face On
Lastly, there must a willingness from both partners to meet any challenges with courage, humor, and compassion. Open relationships are not for people who are afraid of confronting their personal demons or growing as individuals. Everyone in open relationships must be willing to do the work necessary to love themselves and meet each other from a place of respect, curiosity, patience, kindness, and love.
Opening a relationship can be a recipe for disaster, especially if you are using the idea of an open relationship as a way of running away from problems in the relationship. But if the relationship is healthy and stable, and both people authentically desire to explore intimacy with other people, it can be a joyful, evolutionary, and healing way to discover the full potential of love and relating.