You may be considering an open relationship or maybe you are already in one. But, how can you make an open relationship work while maintaining a healthy relationship with your partner.
An open relationship is a relationship where, rather than being exclusive, both partner agree to see other people. While it can satisfy the needs than otherwise be unfulfilled, it’s quite challenging to navigate an open relationship. To make it work, partners need to have understanding, very good communication and trust. As well as both wanting to see other people.
In this article you will learn everything that it is to know about having an open relationship, and how to prevent/solve common problems you may face.
What Is an Open Relationship?
Characteristics of an Open Relationship
An open relationship is a serious relationship with your partner plus casual relationships with others. In this relationship you will need:
- Good communication
- Mutual agreement (consent) to have this type of relationship.
- Each partner wanting to be in an open relationship with another person outside of their relationship.
- Being open minded
- Not limited to a specific person or a group of people.
What Does an Open Relationship Involve?
An open relationship involves a strong and healthy primary relationship where both partners understand each others needs and make a joined decision to see other people. It also involves both partners feeling comfortable sharing their experience with each other regardless of what it is. An open relationship requires a higher level of commitment to your current partner.
Types of Open Relationships
- Open casual – where you are seeing your partner as casually as you are seeing other people
- Open serious – you are in a serious relationship with your partner and you are casually seeing other people
An Example of an Open Relationship
You are in a serious long-term relationship with your partner but the sexual aspect of your relationship is getting boring. If this dissatisfaction continues, you may start feeling deprived and unfulfilled with your relationship. Therefore, you risk having lots of issues and potentially ending your relationship.
An open relationship can help you fulfil your sexual needs while maintaining a healthy serious relationship with your partner.
Open vs Exclusive Relationship
In an open relationship, everyone involved is free to see other people. Much like an exclusive relationship, an open relationship also has rules and boundaries. They are based on the agreement and serve as guidelines to help you navigate your relationship and manage your expectations.
An exclusive relationship is limited to a specific person or a group of people. You agree on the rules and boundaries for your relationship and everyone involved stays within this boundaries. In general, in an exclusive relationship you have less freedoms, less time to see your friends. You may also agree or not to flirt with others, and sleep with others.
Pros and Cons of an Open Relationship
Pros of an Open Relationship
- Variety (seeing different people)
- Feeling of freedom
- Less pressure of one person to fulfil all your needs
- Reviving your sex life
Cons of an Open Relationship
- Possibility of developing feelings for someone else and losing feelings for your current partner.
- Risk of breaking up your current relationship
- Likelihood of jealousy and insecurity
- Dealing with more than one relationship
- It can be more demanding financially
- It’s more time consuming
Is an Open Relationship Right for You?
An Open Relationship Is Right For You If:
- You both want to have an open relationship.
- You want to casually date other people.
- You want to have multiple partners at the same time.
- You are able to be open, honest and trust each other.
- You are in an LDR and cannot fulfil your sexual needs.
- Have sexual needs that cannot be fulfilled between the two of you.
- You want to stay with your partner but are curious about being physically with other people.
- Your current relationship has turn boring and and you want to bring excitement and spice it up.
An Open Relationship Is Not Right For You If:
- You or your partner are jealous.
- You have trust issues in your current relationship.
- You have unresolved problems in your current relationship.
- You or your partner won’t have enough time to work in the relationship between the two of you.
- You want to use your current relationship as a safety net while you look and try new sexual relationships.
- You or your partner are going along with the idea of an open relationship but one of you is not sure about it.
Starting an Open Relationship
How to Find an Open Relationship
If you choose to start an open relationship, you would be looking for a casual relationship with someone who is ok with you being seriously involved with someone else. When you look for an open relationship your intention is not to have a relationship long-term. You can look for an open relationship on dating websites and online chats.
Whether is filling a profile or talking to people online or face to face is important to be upfront and honest. Express your intentions, what you want and what you expect. To do that you first of all need to understand yourself, your needs and preferences, as well as your current circumstances.
Before Starting an Open Relationship
Before starting an open relationship consider some dangers:
- Developing feelings for others while loosing feelings for each other.
- One person enjoying an open relationship, but the other one is not.
Before starting an open relationship consider:
- The dangers and benefits.
- Make sure you and your partner are willing and happy for both of you to see other people
- Discuss your boundaries and freedoms you both are OK with
What to Expect from an Open Relationship
- To be short term
- Both partners see other people outside of their main relationship
- Set specific rules and boundaries of what you and your partner are ok with in regards to the new partners
- It can be exclusive to specific people or open to more casual encounters with different people
How to Start an Open Relationship
- Identify your unfulfilled needs
- Find the way to spice up your relationship without involving other people
- Set the rules and boundaries for your open relationship
- Share your experience with each other openly and honestly
Having an Open Relationship
Reasons to Have an Open Relationship
Open relationships are not for everyone. Here is when to have an open relationship:
- Both partners must agree to it.
- You and your partner agree to it and want to have one.
- Get clear on your needs and reasons for an open relationship.
- You have really good trust, openness and understanding.
- Understand your reasons and expectations to have an open relationship.
- Want to save and improve your current relationship.
- Have fun and bring some more excitement into your life.
- Both partners must share the same values and beliefs on life and about their relationship.
- Then, if both of you decide to go ahead, do it! But, if either of you is not happy, find other ways to address your needs. You can consider having a break from your current relationship to catch up with your personal needs.
- You no longer want to be with your current partner, but you don’t want/know how to end your relationship. This is the wrong reason to start a an open relationship. If you no longer want to be with your current partner you need to end your current relationship before moving on to something or with someone else.
How to Talk About Having an Open Relationship
First of all make sure you have enough trust and understanding in your relationship where you can express your feelings and needs . Before you consider an open relationship, you need to make sure you have a healthy relationship with your partner.
When you start seeing other people is important you feel comfortable and unrestricted expressing your thoughts, doubts, feelings and concerns. While knowing you have been understood without the fear of being judged.
How to Maintain a Healthy Open Relationship
To maintain a healthy open relationship you need to:
- Know the reason you want to be with other people in the first place, what you are looking for and what do you expect.
- Talk to your partner about the needs you cannot satisfy with your current relationship.
- Get clear if you are looking for physical or emotional fulfilment. If you are lying and hiding – it is cheating; if you agree to see other people – it is an open relationship.
- Set clear boundaries.
- Respect those boundaries.
- Consider each other’s feelings at all times.
- Set a time limit.
- Decide how much time, effort and money you are going to invest into the relationship with someone else.
How to Handle Problems in an Open Relationship
If you are getting on well with your partner, but having some issues in your relationship. It may be the time to change the type of your relationship. However, if the problems you are having is with the person, perhaps it’s best to end your relationship.
A short-term open relationship can work well. Having a set time limit will help you manage an open relationship. By not allowing enough time to develop feelings while still having the benefits of excitement and sex exploration. Remember your original partner is your priority.
As a rule of thumb to handle problems in an open relationship, you must have complete openness with each other. It is only with full trust and understanding that you can make an open relationship work for you.
Rules and Boundaries for an Open Relationship
What Are Relationship Rules?
In a healthy relationship rules are made based on boundaries.
Rules in an Open Relationship
Both partners need to be involved with other people for it to work, otherwise you are just agreeing to be cheated on.
What to Do in an Open Relationship
- Both of you want and agree to see other people outside of your relationship.
- Be honest with yourself and your partner and keep your current relationship as your priority.
- Agree to have safe sex, birth control and STD testing.
- Consider an open relationship if you need variety to satisfy your sexual needs.
- You both need to be clear on the arrangement and feel comfortable talking about it.
- Above anything else, be honest with each other at all time about your thoughts, feelings and ideas.
- Keep checking throughout if it’s working for both of you.
- Be prepare for the open relationship to stop working for one of you.
- Agree with what’s to happen if the relationship becomes one-sided.
What to Avoid in an Open Relationship
- Using an open relationship to run away from the problems in your current problems.
- Using an open relationship as an excuse to hook up with someone else.
- Spending more time with other people than what you spend with your partner.
- Don’t agree half-heartedly and don’t go along with it just because of your partner. You must want it yourself as much as your partner. Both, you and your partner must have a need to be romantically involved with others
What Are Relationship Boundaries?
Boundaries are based on preferences with the limits showing how far these preferences extend.
The limit of the boundary is the extend of your willingness to do something.
What Boundaries Should You Have in an Open Relationship
- When having an open relationship consider:
- Establish the boundary for your relationship with others.
- Agree on how much or how little you share about your outside relationship.
- Be open and honest about other partners.
- Decide where and when you are ok to see the other partner.
- Agree if you are to meet each other’s partners.
- Agree on how much time will you spend with other people.
- Decide if you are looking for a pure physical relationship with another person or if you also need emotional connection with someone else.
- Set up the boundaries related to the time it will last, the people that will be involved, the places where it can happen and the activities that you are ok with.
How to Set Boundaries in an Open Relationship
In an open relationship is necessary to maintain an ongoing trust and openness to share thoughts and feelings as the open relationship progresses. Consent to have an open relationship within specific boundaries to fulfil particular needs.
The agreement to see other people is underpinned by the right to stop an open relationship at any point by either partner.
Common Problems in an Open Relationship
- Developing feelings for someone else
- Losing feelings for your main partner
- One person enjoying an open relationship while the other one does not
1. Developing feelings for someone else
When you become physically intimate with another person you should expect the possibility of developing some sort of emotional intimacy as well. If you are going into an open relationship with the sole purpose of a sexual relationship, or a one night stand, developing emotional connection becomes less of an issue. But, even then, you cannot rule it out.
In essence an open relationship will challenge the emotional connection with your current partner.
Be mindful about this possibility and aware of your feelings and how they change. This is where trust with your partner is essential for you to express these feelings.
2. Losing feelings for your main partner
If you start developing feelings for someone new, you may start loosing feelings for your partner. It’s neither good or bad, but you do need to consider this and agree how you will handle it if this happens.
Unless you have complete trust with your partner or you are afraid of sharing your feelings, you may be tempted to with held them from your partner. Try to avoid this as it will compromise the trust in your relationship, and a healthy relationship without trust can become toxic.
3. One person enjoying an open relationship while the other one does not
Some people go along with an open relationship in order to please their partner. This type of compromise is unhealthy and you should avoid an open relationship if you don’t feel like seeing other people yourself.
There’s a clear line between an open relationship and cheating. The former is based and trust and understanding while the other one isn’t. Hence, the difference between an open relationship and cheating is the openness, trust and consent.
Openness about certain unfulfilled needs.
Trust that you can express your feelings and needs without the fear of being judged or misunderstood. Trust that you will use an open relationship within the boundaries of pursuing specific needs. “I trust that you will see other people to fulfil specific needs that you share with me and that we talk about and we agree on as a reason to try an open relationship”
If jealousy is an issue in your current relationship it will become more of a problem in an open relationship. Before starting an open relationship express and address any jealousy and insecurities you may have.
If you start developing jealousy while already start an open relationship express it asap so it does not grow into a bigger issue.
Signs and Red Flags in an Open Relationship
Signs of a Healthy Open Relationship
- You are having a good balance between your partner and your open partner
- You have strong feelings, good communication, understanding, a deep bond with your partner, so you can discuss anything related to your open partner if needed.
- You enjoy your time with your open partner/ people.
- Your open partner does not get on the way with your main relationship and your partner.
- You have open and honest communication
Red Flags in an Open Relationship
- You are developing feelings for your open partner.
- You are making plans with your open partner.
- You are loosing feelings for your main partner.
- You are loosing interest for your main partner.
- You are drifting apart from your main partner.
- You or your partner no longer wants to see others.
- One of you start to feel left out.
- You or your partner may start preferring the open partner better.
- You are spending more time with your open partner than with your main partner.
- You or your partner start getting jealous (you or your partner stop trusting each other).
Ending an Open Relationship
When to End an Open Relationship
Feel free to end an open relationship once your needs are fulfilled or you no longer want to continue for some reason. Don’t expect both of you want to end an open relationship at the same time. So, allow a little bit of time where only one of you is ready to become exclusive while the other person is still seeing someone else. In this case specify in the exact amount of time that you allocate for this transition.
You may decide to end your open relationship when:
- Your needs for being in an open relationship have been satisfied
- You want to dedicate your full attention to your primary relationship
- You find that an open relationship is causing you more problems than benefits
- You start losing emotional connection with your primary partner but you want to stay with your partner
- You start developing feelings for someone else but don’t want to separate from your partner
How to End an Open Relationship
- Recognise that you have fulfilled the needs that you expected to fulfill with an open relationship.
- Tell your partner that you want to become exclusive again.
- See if your partner is also ready to end an open relationship.
How to Move On After an Open Relationship
After you end an open relationship and get back to become exclusive the dynamic in your relationship may become different to what it was before. Try to get on top of this change by talking about your experiences and sharing your feelings.
To make an open relationship work you need to have enough trust, understanding and good communication.
When getting into an open relationship make sure you are not doing it to run away from your problems. But, because you are fulfilling certain needs that create these problems when they are unfulfilled.
It’s an unrealistic expectation than both partners have the same need that is unfulfilled by this relationship. For example, one partner may have sexual needs and the other partner has emotional needs therefore unfulfilled. It may be that one partner is happy and satisfied with this relationship while the other partner is not.
In the case where one partner needs to have an open relationship to fulfil their sexual needs, it does not mean that the other partner have to sleep with other people just because their partner needs it.
Only unfulfilled needs for a certain person need to be fulfilled for that person. It’s like seeing a relationship as a whole having unfulfilled needs rather than distinguishing between the people who make up this relationship. One unfulfilled need can eat away the rest of your relationship.
An unfulfilled need of one person should not be the reason for another person to act on it. Each person needs to focus on their own needs rather than trying to do the same thing as the person who has that need.
Each partner needs to focus on fulfilling their own needs and not doing something because their partner does it when they try to fulfil their own needs.
When you have unfulfilled needs in your relationship you may choose cheating or an open relationship. An open relationship is a healthy way to manage unfulfilled needs whereas cheating is not.
Be mindful that an open relationship can be the end of your exclusive relationship, so proceed with caution. Also, if an open relationship lasts a long time, it becomes more of a lifestyle than an open relationship.
Help and Advice for an Open Relationship
Tips for an Open Relationship
- Be honest
- Keep your partner and your current relationship as your priority
- Agree to have safe sex, birth control and STD testing
- Be clear on the arrangement about an open relationship and feel comfortable talking about it with your partner
- Agree with what’s to happen if the relationship becomes one-sided
If you need professional help and advice, get in touch and we’ll be happy to help!
Frequently Asked Questions
What is an open relationship like?
It’s exciting, adventurous and you will have lots of sex.
Is an open relationship normal?
An open relationship can bring diversity and excitement into your life and break up the monotony of a boring relationship.
Is it OK to be in an open relationship?
It’s OK to be in an open relationship as long as both of you have the desire to see other people and are capable of maintaining a healthy relationship.
Can an open relationship help?
An open relationship can be an opportunity to fulfil sexual needs that cannot be fulfilled in your current relationship. It can work fine, provided you are interested in your main relationship, have a strong emotional connection and trust.
Is polyamory the same as an open relationship?
No, a polyamorous relationships involves more than 2 people who can be either exclusive or open with their intimacy. An open relationship means that you are not exclusive with anyone.
Do open relationships work?
Open relationships can work provided you understand what they are and can manage their expectations. But, an open relationship can easily end your current relationship, so keep that in mind.