I could never quite get the hang of being completely single and unattached. I’ve spent most of my adult life in relationships. I’ve always enjoyed the perks of long-term couple-hood – having someone around to go out to dinner with on a regular basis, take as a party date, share my life with. However, while the security and stability of a long-term relationship are fantastic, once the shiny glint of New Relationship Energy wears off (usually by about two years into a relationship), it can be easy to get into a rut. Even though I’ve been generally happy and fulfilled with partners, I find that I easily connect with other people emotionally and have been prone to having really close friendships that often look inappropriate to outsiders (even when I’m being sexually monogamous). Having an open relationship can allow you to have the best of both worlds. It takes a lot of work to get the hang of it, but you can experience the excitement of dating new people and having new emotional connections and sexual experiences but without many of the downsides of being single.
Why Are You Opening Your Relationship?
One of the most important steps when opening up a preexisting closed relationship is to figure out why you want to open your relationship and also why your partner wants to open up your relationship. Sometimes this is the same reason – but not always. Do you have unmet sexual, social, or personal wants or needs in your current relationship that you’d like to explore with others? For example, at the time I first opened up a previously closed marriage, I had never dated another writer before or even someone who liked to express themselves through words. In my past relationships, I was always the person writing long love letters and romantic odes to my partners. This was something I deeply longed to be on the other side of, for once. As such, one thing that I was looking forward to was dating someone who could express their feelings for me in words and having the opportunity to write epic love letters back and forth. Others have found that there are items on their sexual or kinky bucket list that they’d like to tackle. They might have kinks that their current partner doesn’t share, but that other people might be raring to tackle with them Others may realize that they’re not strictly heterosexual or homosexual many years into a monogamous relationship and may want to explore sexual or romantic relationships with people of another gender.There’s an awful lot of pressure sometimes to fulfill your partner’s every emotional, sexual, and intellectual need, but the reality of long-term relationships is often very different. Many times, in even the most compatible relationship, there are a few things here and there that you can’t do for one another. At that point, you’re faced with a few different options: Accept compromises and living without those needs or seek them elsewhere.Where some people might choose to sneakily stray and cheat on their partners, people in open relationships have opted to meet their needs openly and honestly.No matter what your reason is for opening your relationship, it’s important to talk it over with your partner and make sure you’re both on the same page.
What Are You Opening It To?
An open relationship is a very broad umbrella term that covers a wide variety of arrangements. If you and your partner decide to have an open relationship, it’s very important to make sure you understand what you’re agreeing to. Some open relationships are only sexually open. Partners are permitted to be physical with others outside of the relationship but are forbidden from pursuing emotional or romantic connections. This kind of arrangement is sometimes referred to as “go have fun, but don’t fall in love.”These kinds of arrangements can get a little murky sometimes, although many have success with them. The trouble with being physical with people is that even if you have your mind made up not to get too attached to someone else our neurochemistry can have other notions. Ever so occasionally, the act of being physical can cause a person to “catch feels.” Sexual activity can spur on bonding hormones. Some couples, who are only sexually open, bypass this by defining the formation of emotional bonds not by the feelings experienced, but by the way that they are expressed or acted upon.
In an arrangement like this, there might be rules like the following:
• It’s forbidden to say, “I love you.”
• You’re not be allowed to call your other people you’re seeing your girlfriend/boyfriend/datefriend/partner.
• Certain activities that are considered too romantic are off-limits. For example, taking your other partner as a date to an event where people who know you both would be attending, etc.
Only Emotionally Open
Some open relationships are only emotionally open. In arrangements like these, there’s often a hard physical limit of what you can do with other people (depending on your relationship, perhaps it’s cuddling/hugging, kissing/making out, or you could be allowed only to do non-sexual kink). However, in a relationship that’s emotionally open, you can develop a lot of romantic intimacy with others, and it’s not considered taboo. I had one open relationship very much like this, where I essentially ended up with a boyfriend who I made out with occasionally, but we spent a ton of time together, wrote each other love letters, constantly told one another that we loved each other.
Sexually and Emotionally Open
In addition to relationships that are only sexually open or are only emotionally open, some people agree to have relationships that are open to both. One popular style of this form of non-monogamy is known as polyamory, which means many loves. Decide together what you open your relationship to as a couple is a highly personal decision and one that’s important to agree on. For some, just keeping things on a physical level only seems like a more straightforward and simpler option. Others find that they can’t be sexual with others without an emotional bond present (for example, demisexuals) so they will require emotional openness. There are others who are mostly emotional with romantic partners and find sex to be a much smaller part of a relationship or not present at all (they could have low libido or be gray-asexual or asexual etc.).What’s most important, however, is that you come to an agreement. Typically, when both parties have differing needs, a relationship might be open to both sexual and emotional connection, and partners will process through and work on any discomfort one or both of them might experience.
It’s definitely worth noting that the options for connections in an open relationship can be limitless:
• It can run the gamut from no-strings-attached sex,
• friends with benefits,
• serious ongoing romantic relationships,
• and even additional domestic partners or co-parents.
When opening up a relationship, some people agree to date separately, while others decide they will only date a third party together, an arrangement made possible when one or both partners is bisexual or pansexual.
Types of Consensually Non-Monogamous (Open) Relationships
As I mentioned before, “open relationship” is an umbrella term for consensually non-monogamous relationships in general. A lot of different relationship styles fall under this umbrella, including the following:
One partner is given permission by the other to sleep with someone else. Rather than being an ongoing agreement, typically a hall pass needs to be issued for each encounter (or at least for each new person). Sometimes the permission in general, and you’re told, “You can have a one-night stand with someone else, no questions asked.” Other times it might be more specific, and you’re told something like, “I know you’re attracted to David. You can have sex with him, get it out of your system.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
You’re both allowed to pursue sexual relationships outside of your relationship, but you don’t tell each other about it. You’re also not allowed to tell your partner about what happened. You have blanket permission to be sexual with others, but neither of you wants to hear about it.
You both engage in recreational sex with others, typically at clubs or events intended for that purpose (although some informal ongoing swinging arrangements do happen in private homes either between parties who meet on Internet forums or by friends who make such arrangements). Some swingers do form friendships with people that they frequently swap partners with, but in general, most swingers do not desire a deeper emotional or romantic connection to form.
You are open to having multiple romantic or sexual relationships with people at the same time with the consent of everyone involved. Polyamorists, who are lucky in love, will frequently end up in complicated social networks and relationship systems made up of not only their partners but their partners’ other partners (known as metamours) and sometimes their partners’ partners’ other partner (known as telemours).
Relationships Might Be Open Sometimes and Other Times Not
It’s important to note that a relationship may be open at certain times and other times not. For example, hall pass relationships can be very limited in their scope. They might have a firm expiration date (for example, “You can have a one-night stand tonight with someone else, no questions asked.”). Other times, a couple might attempt to open their relationship and find that it goes so poorly that they need to stop seeing others, close it up, and recuperate (possibly even seeking therapy in the interim). Rather than non-monogamy and monogamy existing in strictly binary terms, and people being solely suited for one or the other, emerging research has proposed that it’s more of a spectrum and that it can be a great deal more fluid than that. There are even people who consider themselves amibamorous. Rather than having strong preferences or requirements that their relationships be either monogamous or polyamorous, people who are ambiamorous are happy being in either kind of relationship system. Whether they’re monogamous or polyamorous tends to more revolve around who they’re dating and what else is going on in their life.
Changing your relationship from open to closed can be a very drastically different proposition depending on whether there are ongoing partnerships in the picture or not at the time of that change. If you decide to be closed while neither of you is seeing anyone on an ongoing basis, it’s a fairly simple matter. You just stop actively dating or looking for new partners. Things can be a lot trickier and potentially hurtful to others, however, if in order to close the relationship, other relationships have to end, and people have to be broken up with. It’s definitely something to keep in mind because while flexibility can be great, the last thing you want to be doing is to hurt a lot of people in the process.