Navigating Non-Monogamy: What You Should Know
Couples everywhere have been haunted by images of what the traditional, monogamous relationship should look like. You know, boy meets girl, they fall in love, stay together forever and have babies; The End.
While this idea reflects the majority of relationships out there, it isn’t the only option. An alternative, known as an open relationship, has existed alongside monogamous relationships for quite some time now.
They are a unique type of relationship that wasn’t always as visible as today. And they’re slowly but surely making their way into the mainstream.
Ten years ago, this type of partnership would have seemed taboo. But more and more people are becoming interested in non-monogamy. A 2015 YouGov/ Huffington Post survey of 1000 adults found that 13% have been in an open relationship and 14% would consider being in one.
So, what is an open relationship?
“Open relationship” is an umbrella term for physical and romantic relationships that aren’t exclusive. The two people within this type of partnership are committed to one another, but agree to have sex and/or relationships with other people, as well. But no two open relationships are the same.
Of course there are plenty of different types of open relationships, all with their own set of characteristics and guidelines. But these are the three most common categories that you should be familiar with.
Monogam-ish: Popularized by Dan Savage, monogam-ish relationships are based around a couple that is primarily monogamous, but will occasionally engage in consensual sexual activity with people outside the relationship. The degree of sexual activity varies from couple to couple, based on rules they set together.
Partnered Non-monogamy: This type of relationship focuses on a primary couple who are open to have sex with individuals outside the relationship. They may invite someone to be their third partner, or take separate lovers. Swingers would also fall into this category, although they are generally only non-monogamous at specific social events.
Polyamory: Intimate relationships where individuals may have more than one sexual and/or romantic partner, with the consent and knowledge of all other partners involved. The main qualifier for a polyamorous relationships is that it involves an emotional connection, rather than just physical.
Now that you have a better idea of what open relationships are, let’s talk about how they work. Whether you’re thinking of exploring the waters of non-monogamy or are just fascinated with the idea of non-traditional love, here are a few important things to know about open relationships:
Open Relationships Are Like Snowflakes
We mentioned that each open relationship is unique, and we’re emphasizing this point again, because it’s such an important concept to understand. Every relationship has its own set of rules and labels.
These relationships are beautifully complex because they’re all about finding a balance and making compromises that work for you—which is why you should probably avoid trying to compare your relationship to anyone else’s (good advice for everyone, if you ask me.) Figure out what you and your partners need, align your expectations and go from there! All that matters at the end of the day is that you feel happy and safe with the person or people you’re with.
Emotional Stability is Recommended
Before you and your partner even begin to consider opening up the relationship, you need to check your current stability. Has it been smooth sailing for you and your partner, or more like skidding on a rocky road? Exploring non-monogamy can reinforce a healthy relationship, but it could also definitely wound a troubled one. Adding another person into the mix is a HUGE decision to make, so review your pros and cons and be honest about the state of your relationship as is. If there are any cracks now, work on patching those up together. Then you can focus on building something new.
Boundaries Are Necessary
Some relationships see boundaries as mere suggestions while others use them as formal guidelines. If you’re in an open relationship, you need to set some ground rules to keep things under control. Each partner must establish what they want, how often they want it and with whom.
The boundaries you agree on will keep each partner accountable to their word, and help to build and maintain trust. It’s important to remain flexible and not keep score on each other, unless it’s a rule of the relationship.
Open Communication is Key
You know how Emily is always touting the benefits of open, honest communication for couples, singles and everyone in between? Well, for people opening up their relationship, honesty is not just important—it’s an integral part of the arrangement. It is called an OPEN relationship after all, so total honesty has to be your main policy. Whether it’s something you want but aren’t getting, or something you’re getting that you don’t want, it’s important for partners to regularly check in with one another and speak up as soon as any issues arise. Even if it’s a less-than-convenient truth, it hurts a lot less than broken rules and broken trust. Create a safe space for sharing and you’ll have the ability to tackle anything that comes your way.
Jealousy Will Happen
You can check your emotional stability, respect the boundaries and be completely honest with your partners, but you cannot avoid jealousy. It’s in the nature of open relationships; they create space for jealousy, because you’re literally sharing your loved on—possibly the love of your life—with other people.
It’s human nature to feel that tingle of resentment or anxiety from time to time. The true test lies in how you handle it. Do you let the green-eyed monster take over and start doubting your primary partner? Or do you come to them with your feelings right away and work out a solution together? Instead of letting it build into a bigger deal, address it and work through it for the greater good.
Safe Sex is a Must
While most of our list has been somewhat negotiable (to be decided for each couple), this one is not—practicing safe sex should be a top priority for any and all relationships. The second you bring anyone else into the mix, protection should immediately be discussed and agreed upon. Do you have a “must wear condom” mandate for all casual partners? If you’re bring in a recurring third, are you comfortable with regular group STD testing? Non-monogamy is meant to open you up to new, exciting experiences, but there’s nothing exciting about putting yourself and your partners at risk of contracting an STI. Always keep condoms on hand, get tested regularly and BE HONEST about any mistakes or slip-ups. It all comes down to trust: can you handle it?
People tend to look at open relationships as the perfect middle ground between settling down with someone special and living the single life, but as you can see, there’s a lot more to it than having your relationship and casual sex, too. They’re not for everyone, and they’re certainly not ideal for a person who struggles with intimacy, or just wants an excuse to get some strange from time to time. Do your research, open up the conversation, and figure out what’s right for you!