For most couples, an open relationship is hard to even consider, let alone setting open relationship rules. Most people envision a relationship as a monogamous partnership between two people and no one else. However, some couples give each other permission to explore intimacy outside of their main partner.
To people who prefer the monogamous way, an open relationship seems scary. How do people in these arrangements deal with jealousy? Isn’t it torturous to know your partner is open to loving other people? But there is research to suggest that open relationships can actually be healthy and fulfilling.
One study found that since monogamy is most common, other marriage studies have had a bias against other types of relationships, including open ones. As the researchers sought the truth about open relationships, they discovered that some aspects of open relationships work better than those in monogamous partnerships. To understand this in a deeper way, let’s look at some of the advantages of this non-traditional partnership style, and explore the rules that make it work.
The Benefits of an Open Relationship
Some may find it surprising that an open relationship can not only function well but can even potentially be healthier than a monogamous one. Here are some benefits of opening your relationship up:
It may prevent you from breaking up
If you’re at the end of your rope with your current relationship, don’t give up yet. Opening it up could actually save your marriage or partnership. As an alternative to separating, changing your monogamous arrangement into something else could create the distance you need. Sexual incompatibility is a relationship killer, and opening up your arrangement could solve this issue. When you open up your relationship, you no longer have to worry about getting bored with your partner. You’ll know you have the freedom to explore outside of them.
It could revive your sex life
In some cases, opening a relationship can add to the amount of sex you have with your main partner. In discovering intimacy with other people, it shows you the things that are unique about them. When you see these things in a clearer way, it can make you even more attracted to your partner, leading to more physical intimacy. If you want to improve your sex life, this is one potential way to do that.
You may feel less jealous over time
It sounds counter-intuitive that your partner being free to seeing others could mean less jealousy, but one study showed that this might be the case. The research of this study showed that the partners in open relationships experienced far less jealousy than the monogamous partners studied.
It makes sense that open couples would experience less jealousy about their partner seeing someone else. Over time, though, knowing that no matter what, they're coming back to you can help build a sense of security. Monogamous couples appeared to show more jealous behaviors, indicating that being monogamous doesn’t necessarily prevent jealousy. In fact, feeling like your partner can only be with you can make you feel less secure.
An open relationship will never work if you and your partner can’t communicate about boundaries, feelings, and hopes. Communication is key. When you decide that it’s okay to see other people, it makes other types of honesty easier to handle. You may notice that you and your partner have better communication than ever after deciding on an open relationship.
In monogamous partnerships, one person is expected to meet all of your needs. In an open relationship, on the other hand, you’re free to get your needs met by different partners. This freedom can take the pressure off your primary partner since they’ll no longer be expected to fulfill every desire you have.
More trust (potentially)
Some people believe that having a committed relationship with just one person is the epitome of trust. Yet, it turns out that trust levels may actually be even higher in open relationships. This higher trust might be the result of each having the freedom to do what you want to do while also being honest with each other.
It can be easy to lose your independence when you enter into a one-on-one partnership and become co-dependent. When you’re in an open relationship, conversely, you’re making decisions for you and not just your significant other. This freedom can lead to a stronger sense of self and a will to do things alone.
Less fear about marriage
The idea of marriage is scary to many of us. It can be intimidating to imagine having sex or emotional intimacy with only one person for the rest of your life. Having an open relationship can take some of this fear away. That's because you’ll know you still have a degree of sexual freedom. You’ll know that you and your partner are okay with exploring what works for you guys and not just doing what other people expect of you.
8 Open Relationship Rules to Establish Right Away
Now that you’re aware of some of the benefits of opening up your relationship, it’s time to discuss open relationship rules. These rules are about protecting your partner, yourself, and the bond the two of you share. Setting guidelines can help you with practical issues, too, such as preventing or reducing the spread of STDs.
Setting up expectations can also help with providing you and your partner with emotional safety. If you choose carefully, your open relationship rules might even help you experience less jealousy. These guidelines will likely change as you and your partner progress as a couple. Here are some useful tips to keep in mind:
1. Talk about who you’ll date
For most couples, being open to dating other people doesn’t mean that you’re free to date any other person. Before you decide to open your relationship up, you and your partner should talk about who it’s okay to date or see on the side. For example, some people might prefer only to explore sex with strangers.
Other couples might only want to get involved with people they already know and trust. In some cases, it might be okay for your partner to date the same sex, but not the opposite sex. You may also want to talk about the relationship status of extra people you introduce to the mix. Will you only go after single people, for instance, or are other couples also fair game?
2. Decide on physical boundaries
One of the most important open relationship rules to establish early on is what type of physical intimacy is allowed. Talk to your partner about what type of sex it’s okay to be having with people. You might not be okay with your partner exploring sex outside of you, or might only be okay with them doing that with certain people.
Is it possible to have sex with someone else without it resulting in emotional intimacy? What will you do if your partner does have sex with someone else, and it makes you uncomfortable? It’s much better to talk about these things before they come up than after when one of you is disappointed or hurt.
3. Discuss safe sex practices
Another key guideline to set in place is how you and your partner will practice safe sex outside of each other. The more specific you can get about these precautions, the clearer your open relationship rules will be. Do you expect your partner’s new partner’s to get STI screenings before they get intimate? Will you always use a condom with your new partners? Define what you and your significant other need to each feel safe and set some rules accordingly.
4. Decide on emotional boundaries
We already talked about defining physical boundaries, but what about emotional? It’s crucial for each of you to know what emotional and social behaviors are okay and not okay. For instance, you might be alright with your partner hooking up with people in a one-night stand scenario, but not with them developing emotional bonds with others.
Or maybe you’re okay with them dating another person exclusively, but not multiple people. There is no right or wrong answer here, and it all depends on what makes each of you most comfortable. Dealing with emotional rules can be harder than physical ones, so get specific. Talking all of this over ahead of time will ensure a more satisfying relationship experience for both of you.
5. Don’t be afraid to rewrite rules
You and your loved one should revise your open relationship rules on a regular basis. You never know how you’ll react to being in an open relationship until you’re already in it. Because of this unpredictability factor, it’s essential to remain open to rewriting your open relationship rules as you go. Guidelines are very important, but feelings and situations can change. Stay fluid and open-minded when it comes to changing your guidelines to better suit your current situation. And don’t forget to continue communicating honestly!
6. Talk about quality time
One of the trickiest parts of setting open relationship rules is defining how much quality time is okay to devote to others. Talk to your significant other about how much time is okay to dedicate to the new interests in your life. Are you going to be actively pursuing dates with others, or will you only explore that idea if it falls into your lap? How much time do you need to dedicate to your primary significant other for them to feel secure?
How will you deal with canceling a date with your primary love to see someone else? You should discuss each of these points ahead of time.
8. Have regular check-ins
You can’t know how certain policies will function until you’ve tried them out together. You and your partner should have regular check-ins with each other. During these check-ins, you can talk about what aspects of the relationship make you feel good. You can also discuss what you would like to work on, get better at, or change. These talks will help you guys get closer and work on an arrangement that suits you both. If, at any time, you decide to change or rewrite the rules, you can do so with an understanding of where each other is coming from on these topics.
Ready to Dive In?
The main thing to talk about with open relationship rules is what your open relationship means to each of you. Every situation is different and there is no right or wrong way. An open relationship gives you permission to stumble upon or seek out new partners. Yet how do you and your partner define the arrangement you share?
Whether you’re completely new to having an open relationship or your marriage has lasted for 20 years, it’s uncharted territory. Certain situations might come up that trigger anger, insecurities, or jealousy. These feelings don’t mean the arrangement isn’t working. Instead, the emotions signify what you guys need to work on. And never forget that communication is key to any relationship, whether monogamous or non-monogamous.