The Blog

Seven Things You Should Know About Open Relationships

So you've thought about it, and you think you might want to try an open relationship. An open relationship means more sex, right? Well, maybe. But not before you've done a lot of talking.

So you've thought about it, and you think you might want to try an open relationship.

An open relationship means more sex, right?

Well, maybe. But not before you've done a lot of talking. And reading. And researching. And then some more talking. Whilst polyamorous authors Franklin Veaux & Eve Rickert work on their forthcoming 'how-to' book More Than Two, I asked them for a quick Cliffs Notes guide on the subject. Here are seven things to consider before you plunge into the world of non-monogamy.

I've talked to literally thousands of people involved in polyamory and other forms of nonmonogamy [says Franklin]. Some of them have always been nonmonogamous; others have come to nonmonogamy after years (or even decades) of conventional monogamous relationships.

The normal social rules of monogamy prepare us poorly for nonmonogamy. I've known many people who sat down, decided what they wanted and didn't want, spent hours talking about the particular form their non-monogamy would take...

...and then, when the rubber met the road, discovered that it was nothing like what they thought it would be. Things they thought would be problems turned out not to be. Things they didn't think of turned out to be problems. And invariably, no matter how carefully they considered what form they'd like their relationships to take, they ended up with something completely different.

Which means:

Imagine that you're monogamous, and you're looking for a partner. But not just any partner; you're looking for a wife. You already have a house, so you don't want to move; you've decided your new wife will move in with you. It's important to you that she understand what you want and need from her, so you've written down a list--a contract, if you will. Each time you go on a first date with someone, you whip out the contract and ask your date to sign.

Probably wouldn't work, right? In fact, it might end your dates pretty quickly. Some folks might even think you're crazy. The same is true in nonmonogamous relationships. We succeed most often when we don't try to script exactly what the relationship will look like, but rather when we meet people, get to know them, and see what direction things move in. Relationships aren't about finding people for the empty places in your life, they're about finding places for the people in your life.

Which brings us to:

Open relationships can be scary, especially if we're used to the conventions of monogamy. Having a partner who is in love with someone else is especially scary. In monogamy, we're given a path to follow: we meet someone, we fall in love, we settle down, we get married, we build a life with that person, forsaking all others.

So what does it mean if we fall in love with someone who is already in a relationship? Or we are in a relationship already, and our partner falls in love with someone else? That can bring up all kinds of fears: what if that other person is shinier than we are? What if our partner loves that person more?

Trying to place limits on feelings can seem like a way to protect ourselves from those fears. The heart, however, cares little for rules. A rule that prohibits certain feelings really just sets us up for lying about those feelings.

And while we're on the subject of things that don't work:

This is tricky, because we're conditioned to think of people in terms of what they can do for us. It's easy to say, "you know, I need more sex in my life, so I'm going to go find some more people to have sex with" or, "I need someone to snuggle with when I'm lonely, so I'll look for someone to fill that role."

It's one thing to know what qualities you like in a partner (sexual, romantic, or otherwise). It's something else to look at people in terms of what needs they can fulfill, without thinking about them as individual human beings in their own right. People are not lifestyle accessories.

One good way to do that is:

If you've ever been on a dating website, especially a site that's open to non-monogamy, after a while all the profiles start to look the same. A person, or a couple, writes a paragraph (or ten) about what they want: what the person they're looking for will do, act like, look like, be.

What seldom gets addressed is what we have to offer this hypothetical person. When someone does talk about it, it's usually in bland, generic terms like "this new person will get a good time" or "this new person will get all the love and affection I/we have to give."

I'm not saying to approach people as transactions, but I am saying that if you have a long and detailed list of what you want from other people, be prepared to talk about what those people will get from you, rather than from any of the other offers they might have. Don't be this guy.

While you're thinking about that:

One day, somebody will make a dictionary that can translate between "things newcomers to nonmonogamy say" and "things those of us with experience in nonmonogamous relationships hear." Until that day, it can be beneficial to try to think about what you're saying from the perspective of the sorts of folks you're interested in attracting.

For example, it's common for people who're accustomed to a monogamous relationship and are trying to open their relationship for the first time to say, "We want a partner who will be with both of us, so that way neither one of us ever feels lonely or left out." What someone who's been around nonmonogamous relationships hears is, "If you fall in love with one of us but not the other, we will kick you out and break your heart."

And finally:

We understand that monogamous relationships aren't 100% joy, 100% of the time. That's why the traditional wedding vows include language like "for better or for worse, in sickness and in health."

It would be nice to live in a world where all our relationships are filled with nothing but joy, and unicorns cavort with leprechauns along streams of flowing chocolate. In this world, sometimes we deal with feelings of loneliness, or insecurity, or jealousy. It happens.

Rather than trying to make relationship arrangements that protect us from these things, it's more effective to accept that sometimes we feel bad things and that's okay. We're not promised a life where we never feel anything unpleasant. Instead, we learn that these feelings don't have to rule us, that we can learn strategies to deal with and conquer them, and that other people have a role to play in our lives beyond simply making sure we never feel anything we don't want to feel.

Like what you've read? Support the crowdfunding campaign for the More Than Two book on polyamory by Franklin Veaux & Eve Rickert.

Cross posted at Multiple Match.

Before You Go