What is an open relationship? How different is it from polyamory? What are the types of open relationships? What are the merits and drawbacks of an open relationship? It is fair to understand that these questions would be in the minds of people who are exploring their sexuality and relationship styles.
Let’s now answer these questions and understand the variety of things to know about open relationships.
1) What is an Open Relationship?
Finding the answer to the question of what is an open relationship needs patience. Often people get confused between open relationships and polyamory, and they also think that cheating is a synonym for an open relationship, but that isn’t true.
Open relationships fall under consensual nonmonogamy. These relationships are ones in which one or both of the parties involved can have sex with other people, and also at times, pursue emotional intimacy with them.
2) How is an Open Relationship Different from Polyamory?
Another prong of understanding what is an open relationship is to distinguish between them and polyamorous relationships. Open relationships aren’t the same as polyamory, because, in polyamory, multiple committed relationships can be pursued. Open relationships are also different from swinging, where partners just have sex with others, without an emotional connection.
At times, an open relationship is considered to be the middle ground between polyamory and swinging.
3) How Prevalent are Open Relationships?
The research done on open relationships often holds a foreign view for people not residing in India. As of right now, a lot of research has been conducted in the States and Canada.
- 2.4% of people report being in an open relationship (Canada, 2019).
- 4% of people indicated that they were involved with other partners in an open relationship (USA, 2018).
- In total, 69% of young respondents reported preferring non-monogamy and open relationships. The reasons for this include curiosity and a comfortable feeling about the topic, along with lesser stigmatization of open relationships.
4) Types of Open Relationships
Couples that want to add a different angle to their marriage, couples who want to explore different love languages – the whole point of an open relationship is to give people the chance to experience different ways of intimacy. Couples that want to be in an open relationship can try:
- Casually date people outside their relationship
- Pursue another relationship outside their marriage
- Have a physical relationship revolving around sexual activities outside of their relationship.
5) The Benefits and Pitfalls of an Open Relationship
There are many reasons to pursue an open relationship. People often view open relationships as a ‘wrong’ thing, but it is just another form of ethical non-monogamy. Many non-monogamous couples can make the best of being in open relationships by ensuring open communication about secondary partners and healthy boundaries.
5.1) Content Accurate Benefits
5.1.1) Sexual Satisfaction
People who are in an open relationship get to try out new sexual encounters and experiences.
5.1.2) Great Communication Skills
People in open relationships often have a great set of communication skills and a reliable sense of trust and dependency. This also allows partners to communicate their needs and desires honestly.
5.1.3) Identity Expression
Open relationships allow non-monogamous people to express and experiment with their identities without fear. They can express their desires with honesty.
5.1.4) Less Pressure
There is less pressure on one partner to fulfill all the emotional and sexual needs of the other partner.
5.2) The Pitfalls of Open Relationships
You may face certain issues when it comes to open relationships or open marriages. These may stem from past romantic relationships, your issues, and your fear of sexual relationships and the problems they may conspire.
If you are a person who finds themselves feeling insecure in relationships, open relationships may lead you to experience a lot of jealousy. For people who are raised in environments where monogamy is common, jealousy can arise as they challenge these traditional norms. Jealousy is rooted in the feelings of being inferior. This is often based on the idea that your romantic partner should be more than enough for you, and you should be more than enough for them.
If you have low self-esteem, being in an open relationship may trigger it, since you may feel like your partner pursuing other relationships is a statement of your ability to romantically and sexually satisfy them. This may also lead to some emotional pain because of a lack of boundaries.
5.2.3) Sexually Transmitted Infections
Having multiple partners may increase the risk of these diseases. It is important, therefore, to have safe sex practices and get tested periodically.
5.2.4) Sexual Addiction
Sexual addiction may increase because of multiple sexual partners or romantic partners, so be aware of any changes in your sexual libido.
5.2.5) Negative Feelings Towards Your Partners
The increased vulnerability may also make you feel angry and anxious, and make you resent your partners more.
6) Are You Ready for an Open Relationship?
Since you’ve now learned so much about open relationships, you may be considering if they are right for you. This thought is a valid one to have; exploring different relationship styles is a way to understand your sexuality.
6.1) Questions to Ask
Here are a few questions to ponder if you consider an open relationship. If your answer to most of these questions is ‘yes’, then maybe an open relationship is right for you:
- Are both, you and your partner, really interested in non-monogamy?
- Do you and your partner lack consistency in your sexual needs and orientations?
- Do you trust your partner enough, and do they trust you?
- Is this consideration coming out of sheer trust and curiosity, and not infidelity?
- Can you communicate well and honestly with your partner?
- Is your relationship with your partner built on honesty, trust, and respect?
- Can you healthily deal with jealousy?
6.2) Signs of Unreadiness
Certain things can indicate your readiness to open relationships. Open relationships aren’t easy to maintain, and if your feelings are hurt or not taken care of in an open relationship, it can leave a huge impact on your perception of romantic relationships and romantic partners.
Look out for these signs of you not being ready for an open relationship:
- One partner isn’t up for it: If one of the partners isn’t a big fan of open relationships, then the chances of the couple surviving are slim.
- If there are unresolved communication problems: Any form of non-monogamy can trigger certain negative feelings. If you already have communication problems with your partner, it may make them feel like you are trying to avoid them and are looking for other partners.
- Fear of Getting Tested: An important part of the health of the parties involved is to be regularly tested. If your partner isn’t a fan of getting tested regularly, maybe you shouldn’t bring up the topic.
- Insecurities with other Intimate relationships: If you feel that you need to work through your insecurities, and aren’t comfortable even imagining your partner with someone else, open relationships aren’t for you. They will just trigger this response further.
- You don’t want to be a Secondary partner: Being in open relationships doesn’t always mean yours will continue being the primary relationship. You may see that your partner may find happiness in someone else, and that could lead to a lot of negative feelings for you.
- You are in it to Fix It: An open relationship won’t fix your problems, just like a baby won’t fix your marriage. If you think that opening your relationship to others will cause you and your partner to revive the lost romance, or to reconnect, please don’t join open relationships.
Open relationships are just one of the multiple relationship styles out there. If they network out for you, that’s fine. If you are willing to try out an open relationship, make sure you have a support system to help you through it: a couples therapist, a personal counsellor, and a supportive friend system.
7) Open Relationship Rules
Some general rules to keep in mind can help ensure open relationships are conducted safely and with keeping boundaries in mind.
7.1) Discuss Sexual Boundaries
Boundaries related to sexual relationships should be negotiated and talked about. How often can sex occur? How many parties agree to have sex? What kind of sexual relationships are okay (BDSM, oral, and more) And would you prefer your partner to have sex with strangers or is it okay if they do it with someone you both know? These kinds of questions should be discussed openly to avoid any misunderstandings later.
7.2) Discuss Emotional Boundaries
Emotional boundaries are really important to be discussed. Make sure your partners know how you feel about their actions, and be honest about your actions, too.
7.3) Practice Safe Sex
When you switch your relationship status to exclusive, you may be very excited to try out new things. But, make sure that all these new things are safe for you, especially sex. Discuss with your partners about their comfort with sex, and if they would also be okay practicing safe sex.
7.4) Practice Honesty
Open relationships are based on honesty. You can’t hide things from your partners, be they sexual or not. Couples should specify their sexual desires, their safe words, and their kinks – open communication can help deal with issues in open relationships.
7.5) Have Scheduled Check-Ins With Your Partners
Transparency is really important. Knowing how your partner is feeling, not just about the relationship, but also in general, gives them a safe space to make negotiations, process emotions, and assess the relationship status.
8) How to Talk About Wanting an Open Relationship with Your Partner
Discussing the want for a non-monogamous relationship is very tricky. You should think twice before using any word, the context you speak in, and how you deal with your partner’s reaction.
8.1) Have a Future in Mind
When bringing up this topic with your romantic or sexual partner, have at least a rough idea of what you want your future to look like. Do you want to be able to date other partners? Do you want to be able to have sex with other people? Get some general idea of what exactly your future as a person in an open relationship would look like.
8.2) Talk to Them at a Good Time
Have this conversation in private. Don’t just bring it up while your partner is working or in a public space. Make sure you select a good time, a good place, and a good ambiance for them to react appropriately, without feeling judged.
8.3) Tell Them What is in Your Mind
Be straightforward and slow. Just tell them about the fact that you would like to be non-monogamous. Don’t blabber on or defend yourself. Give them some time to process.
8.4) Be Ready for a Freak Out
Society views open relationships with many stigmas, so it may take some time to process the fact that you want to see other partners while having them as your primary partner. This reaction may not always come across in a calm conversation. They may lash out, and that is valid.
8.5) Stand Up for Yourself
When you discuss this, you may feel like you are asking of your partner. But, don’t let that change your beliefs and wants. It’s not the thing. It’s your right to express your feelings.
8.6) Listen to Them
Let them ask you questions and let them express what they are thinking. Give them time and compassion, but make sure you remember that you are worthy of a response and reaction.
8.7) Discuss Baby Steps
Go slow. Maybe your partner is willing to enter the open relationship area slowly. Maybe they are okay with you flirting with someone else on Tinder. Don’t expect there to be a massive step, it will always take some time. So, process your emotions, and do something new, but don’t jump right into it.
A last thing to remember here is that you are your partner may not always be on the same page. You need to then make an important decision – do you want to pursue non-monogamy with them, or without them? This is probably one of the most difficult things about being in an open relationship, but sometimes difficult decisions lead to brighter roads.
This article answers a lot of questions. What is an open relationship? What are some things to know about and respect in open relationships? All these questions are really important, and after reading this article, you may feel ready to try out this venture, and that is great! But if you are still unsure, feel free to take your time. There’s no hurry in deciding which relationship style you are comfortable with.
Sarah Fernandes is an avid reader and writer. She loves researching and writing about topics that interest her. As of recently, she has been working on lifestyle and mental health-related topics. She aspires to be a counselor soon.
On ICY Tales, she writes on topics that are related to every human but are not thought about in daily life. She helps and gives her readers the content that is needed in life for good mental health and also for a healthy lifestyle. Apart from relatability, she also gives a glimpse of some unheard stories that are interesting to know about. She has written topics on different categories like- addiction, relationships, unexplained theories or stories, and many more.
MSc in Counseling Psychology.