Monogamy is lovely, isn’t it? There’s something really valuable and highly intimate about a one-on-one bond between two individuals building up their sexual, romantic, and emotional lives together.
That being said, it’s not for everyone.
Although monogamy certainly has a place and value in society, we often neglect the remember that it’s not the only method via which people can interact with each other in a relationship framework. In fact, when anthropologists looked at over 166 different cultures and societies they found that only 88 of them maintained a sense of romantic love, let alone the paired ‘mating for life’ attitude that modern monogamy often promotes.
By all attempts, humans are actually rather bad at monogamy. Marriage statistics are high, most of us have had more than a single partner in our lifetime and, even among those who are married, marriage contentment is another thing altogether.
What, then might be the options for someone interested in being in a happy relationship with a familiar partner but with the option to look at alternatives to monogamy?
An open relationship would be one such avenue.
What Is An Open Relationship?
In its simplest terms, an open relationship is just that – a situation wherein you are in a relationship with someone, and there is some form of strong emotional, physical, or social bond involved, but you keep the relationship open to exchanges with other individuals.
The clear distinction that keeps an open relationship different from infidelity is that everyone involved in such a relationship (yes, everyone) knows about it and consents in an informed, happy, and non-coerced manner.
Open relationships can be purely sexual, or a combination of sexual, romantic, and emotional. Whatever is agreed upon and explored by those involved.
For many, the notion of an open relationship is more daunting when thinking about it as opposed to when you are actually engaging in it. Think about it: You would never, in any circumstance, restrict yourself to a single friend (even if some are closer than others) and you are perfectly capable of managing multiple friends and relationships can be much the same.
As with having multiple friends, however, most people in open relationships find that one of their biggest concerns is ongoing maintenance and the distribution of time for those involved. So do keep this in mind.
How Do I Initiate An Open Relationship?
This will vary depending on if you’re currently in a monogamous relationship or not.
If both yourself and your partner have always engaged in monogamy then it’s time to self-reflect, consider, and then write out the reasons why you might want to explore something different. This is just a frame of reference for yourself because you’ll want to be as clear and self aware as possible when then approaching your partner.
From there it’s serious talk time. You have reasons to discuss, how you feel about it, how your partner might feel about it (they have every right to be apprehensive and/or decline), and where you go from there.
At some point you will need to sit down and strongly discuss all of the things that are acceptable and unacceptable in your new relationship dynamic and the level of transparency and accountability expected. These need to be clear because they will be the foundation for everything moving forward for everyone involved. This is how trust is maintained while keeping things open.
If you are looking to go into a pre-existing open relationship (or are planning to open things up with someone who you are dating but who has previously been non-monogamous) then you’ll still need to take the above initial communication step but everyone involved will be in much better stead to approach any difficulties that might emerge.
In all circumstances, the backbone of your success will then be dictated by adherence to the pre-determined boundaries, a strong sense of continued communication, and a reasonable amount of time and attendance management between each other. Nobody likes to feel neglected, after all.
The Big Do’s and Don’ts
Most of the initial steps to starting an open relationship have been discussed. The rest will be personal, as open relationships can be incredibly diverse. However here are a few final Do’s and Don’ts to help get you through any emergency situations should you decide open relationships are for you:
- Set up a group schedule planner via an app, a doc, or a home calendar system. Trust us, this will be a life saver.
- Have regular check-ins about how things are going as a group, even if you have been talking one-on-one to each partner. Things can easily get lost in a cross-wire if not.
- Take time to check in regularly with yourself and see how you’re feeling about things and if your current boundaries and terms are still accurate. We must always take care of ourselves before we can effectively take care of others.
- Bring ex partners in to the fold without discussion, especially if things ended messy or if you don’t disclose they’re an ex. That will never go well.
- Try to monitor every aspect of what your partners are doing when not with you or when together without you. Seriously, this goes in to “I don’t trust you” territory and, if that’s the case, then you need to reassess if you’re truly okay with being open.
- Neglect spending time or doing other important activities with one partner over the other. This is especially the case when cohabiting with one partner (or more). Things such as household chores count, by the way, so don’t allow yourself to fall behind on general maintenance while only thinking of relationship maintenance.