5 things to consider if you're planning to open up your relationship
With one in six Americans practicing ethical non-monogamy, it’s hard not to wonder if an open relationship might be for you. After all, it’s better than cheating or having your desires go unfulfilled. But it’s not for everyone, and if it’s for you, it takes work. Here are some things to think about before deciding to be polyamorous.
1. Are you trying to solve your relationship’s problems?
Opening a relationship won’t fix it. You’ll be dealing with the same challenges and more. Jessica Graham, relationship expert and author of Good Sex: Getting Off Without Checking Out, recommends working on your issues first so that you have a foundation to deal with whatever challenges opening your relationship brings up.
“The ability to self-soothe is wildly important when opening your relationship,” she says. “Are you a well-differentiated couple? Do you both have tools to work through challenging emotions? Another thing to consider is: are you are opening your relationship to try to save your relationship? If so, you may want to hold off including other people in the dynamic until you've sorted yourselves out first. It's only polite to your future paramours.”
2. How much do you want to know about each other’s other relationships?
Some open relationships are “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Others prefer to know everything about their partner’s other encounters. Similarly, some want their partner to consult them before hooking up with anyone else, while others give their partners free reign. Violating these ground rules is a form of infidelity, so be clear about what the rules are to avoid hurting each other.
Regardless of what you choose, “remember that the other people you engage with are people,” says Graham. “Treat them and each other with respect.”
3. What tends to make you jealous?
Polyamory provides a lot of opportunities for jealousy — and a lot of opportunities to overcome it. “Yes, there are the few who don't tussle with the green-eyed monster, but most of us get jealous,” says Graham.
The trick is getting to the root of your jealousy. Does it stem from insecurity? Then, your partner should make an effort to compliment you. Are you scared they’ll leave you? Then, you need reassurance that your other relationships won’t replace your main one. Jealousy is pretty much inevitable, but you don’t have to let it control you, and getting to the root of it can be healing.
4. What can and can’t you each do?
People define polyamory differently. Some are OK with their partners having casual sex with others but couldn’t deal with them dating someone else. For some, it’s the opposite. You need to know where you both stand on each type of sexual and romantic interaction. Once again, communication.
5. Are you willing to put in the work?
Open relationships sound great on the surface, but one downside is that they’re typically more work than monogamous ones. You’re juggling not just one relationship but several, and you have to be clear on all ends about what you’re doing with who. For some people, despite the benefits, this just seems like too much work.
“You will need a Black belt in communication to succeed in non-monogamy,” says Graham. “If you don't much like having ‘relationship talks,’ this way of life may not be for you. However, if you want to achieve a whole new level of honesty and intimate communication, open that relationship up!”
No matter how much you prepare, unexpected challenges will keep coming up, so keep talking about it with each other and with friends who are in open relationships themselves. It’s OK to get frustrated, mess up, or change your mind. It’s also OK to decide it was a failed experiment. At least you tried.