What Is An Open Relationship? 7 Tips For Couples To Have Fun With Ethical Non-Monogamy

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What Is An Open Relationship? 7 Tips For Couples To Have Fun With Ethical Non-Monogamy
Sex

Monogamy dominates the American social culture as the reigning form of romantic relationship. But many more options abound, and many types of relationships can be made.

For example, about 4 percent of Americans currently are involved in consensual non-monogamy, or open relationships, and 20 percent have engaged in consensual non-monogamy at some point.

Perhaps an open relationship might work well for you, too.

RELATED: 6 Ways Breaking All Relationship Rules Can Make Yours Stronger

What's a successful open relationship?

"Success" depends on your expectations of the relationship.

Achieving a successful open relationship requires certain characteristics and skills:

  • A high degree of emotional intelligence and emotional regulation to handle strong feelings that might emerge, such as jealousy and insecurity
  • Self-awareness about your feelings, wants, and needs — in other words, your boundaries
  • Strong ability to clearly, effectively communicate
  • Basic respect for each other
  • Commitment to each other and the relationship
  • Ability to advocate for yourself

Here are 7 tips for having a successful open relationship with your partner.

1. Understand the different forms of open relationships.

An open relationship essentially is a relationship arrangement with an open agreement between the partners to have more than one sexual or romantic relationship.

That definition leaves a lot of wiggle room subject to interpretation.

In practice, consensual non-monogamy typically takes one of these general forms:

  • Occasional sexual play with others (sex clubs, "hall pass" sex, or allowances in long-distance relationships)
  • Partner swapping (threesomes, swinging)
  • Emotional commitments with multiple partners (polyamory, long-distance relationships)

In most forms of open relationships, the primary couple remains a priority, whether that couple takes on a third partner with whom they engage sexually either individually or together, or the couple each has independent relationships with different secondary partners.

The structure of external sexual contacts vary from couple to couple, as each couple decides upon the particular rules that will work for them.

For example, a couple in a long-distance relationship might allow sexual contact with others only when one partner is away in another city.

Some couples allow only one-night stands, some limit the kind of sexual contact (no kissing, or no penetration), and some restrict outside sex to certain nights of the week.

2. Understand your reasons for having an open relationship.

Reasons for opening a relationship vary, of course.

For some, it's philosophical: "I believe love is abundant and should be shared."

For others, it's situational: "I'm moving across the country and don't want the relationship with my girlfriend to end."

Or, it's experimental: "I won't know if it's for me until I try it."

Those reasons aren't intrinsically right or wrong; they're just reasons.

There are a few reasons, though, that almost certainly will lead to dissatisfaction in the relationship and likely dissolution, ultimately.

If the reason for opening the relationship is to fix a broken relationship or to keep the other person from leaving, then reconsider.

Opening a damaged relationship will not repair what is broken. Not only will the problems that existed before opening the relationship remain once it's open, the additional stresses and high-intensity emotions almost certainly will exacerbate the problems.

Sometimes, a couple opens the relationship because one partner pressures the other into going along with the idea. This non-monogamy mismatch almost certainly will result in resentment and unhappiness.

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3. Keep open communication.

The absolute most essential requirement for a successful open relationship is honest communication, with yourself and with your partner.

If you can't talk openly, then chances are you won't open your relationship successfully, either.

Science supports this as common sense, with research concluding: "We know that communication is helpful to all couples. However, it is critical for couples in non-monogamous relationships as they navigate the extra challenges of maintaining a non-traditional relationship in a monogamy-dominated culture."

Secrecy — the opposite of open communication — can easily become toxic. Secrecy about sex with others can lead to feelings of jealousy, rejection, neglect, and insecurity.

4. Establish boundaries.

Experts say that strong open relationships tend to have a mutually agreed-upon set of ground rules.

These boundaries help define what is and isn't OK with the partners. Boundaries help keep the couple feeling physically and emotionally safe.

5. Be explicit about these boundaries.

Before opening your relationship, discuss your expectations and limitations with each other.

Go into explicit detail about what is and is not acceptable when it comes to sexual activity, social and emotional behaviors, chosen partners, and amount of time dedicated to others.

Questions to consider include:

  • How much disclosure is required? Do you need to know about an encounter before it happens? Do you need to be told after? How much detail do you want shared?
  • Where can encounters with others take place? Can they only happen when your partner is out of town? Are sleepovers okay?
  • Is anyone off limits? Do you have veto power over partners?
  • Can your partner date others or only have sex with them?

6. Respect your partner's limits.

In the case of open relationships, rules are not meant to be broken. Violating any of the agreed upon rules generates distrust and can feel like betrayal.

Revisit the boundaries when it's appropriate.

Consent is not only negotiated, but it can also be renegotiated. As requirements and experiences change, boundaries might need to shift. Regularly check in about how well the boundaries are working and whether any need to be re-drawn.

7. Seek neutral advice.

Changing established relationship patterns can be challenging to negotiate, especially when intense emotions are involved.

Getting an outside perspective can be helpful sometimes, whether that comes from friends, social networks, or a professional.

Counseling and therapy provide you with support in a confidential, neutral setting where you benefit from an experienced professional helping you think about scenarios and sort through feelings.

Like people and the connections they create, open relationships take many forms.

There is no one "right" way; there only is what's right for you and your partner.

RELATED: 9 Critical Facts To Know Before You Consider Non-Monogamy

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Dr. Stacy Friedman is a sex coach who specializes in helping people empower themselves. For more information about how she can help with your sex life, visit her website here.

This article was originally published at Dr. Stacy Friedman. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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