3 Simple Rules That Make Our Open Relationship Work Seamlessly

The three best rules for making sure an open relationship lasts.

Last updated on Jan 02, 2024

two men kissing woman on cheek Petrenko Andriy / Shutterstock

One of the very first times I got up enough nerve to talk about my open relationship with a stranger, I was in Turkey, of all places, on a business trip.

I was doing research for a travel guide in the relatively modern town of Antalya, and I'd met a very kind local couple who had asked me out to dinner. They were both my age: late twenties, or early thirties. The guy — I don't remember his name, so let's call him Nazim — was Turkish. But his wife was an American from Los Angeles. She had creamy brown skin and dark hair, so the locals, she told me, always assumed she was Turkish. 


RELATED: Why People In Open Relationships Are Happier, According To Research

Someone on the street would ask her a question, for instance, but their words were indecipherable. She could only smile awkwardly, and shrug her shoulders. She had lived in Antalya for a year or two but wasn't the least bit embarrassed about the fact that she couldn't even string together a sentence in the local language. She had an incredibly attractive sense of innocence about her, especially for an expat who was making her home in such an obscure and unknown corner of the Muslim world.

During dinner, our conversation naturally turned to relationships. Which was perfectly fine with me: Just a few months earlier, I'd begun dating a girl who was involved in an open relationship. And so by default, I suppose, our relationship became open as well. This was still very much a novelty to me, and I had lately been catching myself inventing excuses to brag about it.


But here, in Turkey, it was different. Nazim, after all, was Muslim — not exactly a group known for its liberal beliefs. I can still remember what I was thinking in the moments before I blurted out that my new girlfriend was perfectly content in the knowledge that on occasion, I slept with other women. I was thinking: "This is not a good idea. Do not do this." 

But I simply love pushing the proverbial envelope.

I always have. I read a magazine interview with Drew Barrymore once, and she talked about how screwing with people had become something of a hobby for her because life was just so boring. And while I certainly couldn't relate to her lifestyle then, and still can't, I knew exactly what she meant, because that's so often how I feel: I love screwing with people. Especially people whose buttons are so easy to push. For instance, deeply religious people with little or no sense of humor. 

So I took a deep breath and started telling my story. Nazim's eyes got bigger and bigger. He was entranced. But his wife had a look on her face that I've probably seen a hundred times before, from a hundred different women. It said: "I thought you were different. But you're just like every other guy."


Eventually, I finished the story. Nazim glanced at his wife. And then he fixed his eyes on me, and he said this: "That sounds perfect! You can sleep with anyone?" The look on his face was priceless. He was like a small child in a toy store. It was as if he'd never before considered this concept of non-monogamy — as if it simply hadn't ever crossed his mind.

"No, no, no," said his wife, shaking her head back and forth, and looking at her husband with pursed lips. "We're not going to be doing anything like that." And then she shot me another look as if to say, "Thanks a lot, jerk." But Nazim was still smiling, and looking dreamily into space. This wasn't going the way I expected it to. I decided to backpedal.

"Well…" I said, looking straight ahead at Nazim. "It's not like I just run around sleeping with everyone. I mean, we have rules."

Nazim's forehead began to wrinkle. He didn't appear to be pleased with this turn of events. And so I pressed on: "For one thing," I said, "we're not allowed to fall in love. If we sleep with anyone else, it's just supposed to be a fling. Just a one-time thing. We can't get emotionally attached, and if we do, we have to cut it off immediately."


RELATED: 5 Myths About Open Marriages That Will Destroy Yours

Nazim was listening with rapt attention now, and his mouth was hanging open, ever so slightly.

"Also," I said, "there aren't allowed to be any secrets. If I'm planning a date, I have to tell her about it. And if the date ends up leading to intimacy, I have to tell her about that, too." Nazim nodded slowly. He was transfixed. I decided to go in for the kill. "And," I told him, "I always have to use protection. Always. Carrie told me that if I ever sleep with someone and I don't use protection, she'll never be with me again."

At this point, Nazim and his wife both seemed to be in a state of semi-shock.


Nazim changed the subject immediately, which was probably wise, seeing as his wife was digging her fork so hard into her dinner plate that I almost expected the tongs to snap off. And then Nazim said something that made me question the very nature of my open relationship, which up until then I had thought of as nothing less than revolutionary. "That doesn't sound like much of an open relationship," he said. "With all the rules and everything."

I was speechless.

After that evening, it was discernibly clear that none of us were eager to bring up the subject again. Then a few days later, Nazim's wife asked if I was interested in coming to their house at some point for drinks.

I couldn't help myself: For the next few days, I fantasized that Nazim wouldn't be home when I stopped by and that his wife had organized the whole thing because she was turned on by my open relationship story, and wanted me to seduce her. But of course that wasn't the case. She did feed me a half-dozen bottles of beer, but the three of us ended up passing the night around a dining room table, talking and looking at old photo albums.


I never did get a chance to talk about all the intricacies rules and regulations of my open relationship with Nazim.

I wasn't able to explain to him that if it weren't for the rules, and the willingness of two people to respect each other by following those rules, alternative relationships would simply self-destruct. It would be relationship anarchy. And for that matter, "rules" is probably not the most accurate descriptor of the guidelines that Carrie and I live by because they're certainly allowed to be bent, assuming the circumstances require that.

Occasionally, the rules are even broken. And sometimes that's okay, too. After all, every hook-up is different than the one that came before, and so with that in mind, all romantic and intimate encounters should probably be judged independently of one another.

And so Carrie and I have decided to share with you a number of our own rules. And by the way, if you've ever talked with your partner about opening up your relationship — or if you'd like to — the following pointers might make for a good excuse to bring it up.


Please keep in mind, though, that these are only a few of the open relationship rules that we've found to be most sensible in our relationship. Yours will probably be somewhat different. But no matter what you decide, it's exceedingly important to remember that without very serious mutual respect, your non-monogamous relationship is never, ever going to work.

RELATED: 6 Men Explain How They Asked Their Partners For An Open Relationship

"Everyone [in an open relationship] has at least one rule," says journalist and educator Tristan Taormino, during a phone interview. Taormino writes the Village Voice's "Pucker Up" column and is also the author of Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships.

Here are the 3 simple rules that make our open relationship work seamlessly:

1. Honesty is (usually) the best policy

This is quite possibly the most important of all our rules, and it's also the one that my fiancée, Carrie, has always taken pains to institute in her past alternative arrangements. It's the only rule you do need to keep in mind at all times, and what it means is this: Don't lie. Have open, honest conversations with your partner about anything that gives you a feeling of unease.




Tell your primary partner the things you are most afraid to tell him. Because if he can't respect the thoughts that take place in your mind — no matter how odd or socially deviant they may seem — there's no chance he'll be able to understand or tolerate your wayward behavior. And that's to say nothing of the fact that you shouldn't stay with someone who laughs at your fantasies.

"If your friends who are non-monogamous tell you they don't have rules," says Taormino, "they're full of garbage. They maybe haven't spoken them out loud, but they're there. That's the great thing about non-monogamy: All this stuff gets discussed, and it's out in the open. There are no assumptions."


2. Talk about any dates before they happen

This isn't a rule I would necessarily recommend for every open couple, but it does work well for us. The idea is that if one of us is planning a date, we don't keep that information secret. We talk about it first, preferably long before it happens.

The idea is to keep jealousy at bay. And of course, the more personal details you learn about your partner's one-night stand, the more you realize how similar that person probably is to everyone else — even you. Then again, sometimes this rule is impractical. Assuming you meet someone in a bar, and then choose to go home with them that same night, it would probably be inadvisable to send your girlfriend the details via text message.



Throughout Taormino's research for Opening Up, she met numerous couples with unusual rules. But no matter how unusual your behavior may seem, the important thing is communication. Taormino, for instance, met many couples who would not allow anyone else in their matrimonial bed. "Which is sort of symbolic and literal," she said. "It's their bed, and they're not going to be with other people in it. But then other people were like, 'Whatever. I'll sleep in the guest room.'"


3. It's always best when everyone meets each other

This is probably my favorite rule of all, even though it's nothing more than an extension of the previous rule. The general idea is to keep things friendly and to keep everyone in the loop about who's doing what with whom, and why. Carrie and I have practiced this rule in the past by meeting up for drinks with girls I'm interested in. And there's a hidden benefit: When three progressive people drink beer together, sparks can occasionally fly in unexpected directions, if you know what I mean.

RELATED: 7 Ways To Have An Open Relationship When You're Married

Dan Eldridge is a Lonely Planet guidebook writer, the author of Moon Handbooks Pittsburgh and the publisher of Young Pioneers, a magazine about creative entrepreneurs. His work has appeared in the Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, Toronto Sun, Paste, and Seattle Magazine.