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How to Know If An Open Relationship is Right For You and Your Partner

Three people thinking about trying an open relationship smiling as they take a selfie together.

Not everyone is a serial monogamist. In fact, a 2017 survey suggests that 1 in 5 Americans will engage in consensual nonmonogamy at some point in their lives. Nonmonogamy can appear in a lot of different ways, but one of the most common, or perhaps most mainstream, is the open relationship.

The open relationship can be a really great step into the world of nonmonogamy or polyamory. But it’s not for everyone. If you’ve been considering opening up your relationship, here’s few things to consider first.

Have you both expressed an interest?
An open relationship has to be something that both partners actively want. If one partner suggests it and the other partner is just shrugging and going along with it, it’s probably not going to go well. If either partner has reservations, they should be worked through before considering opening up a relationship. And if those reservations can’t be worked through, it’s best to keep this relationship closed.

Do you both feel polyamorous, monogamous, or something else?
It could show a fundamental difference in who you are as people if one of you is really wanting an open relationship but the other is very hesitant or very against it. Both of you need to address what nonmonogamy means to you and if it feels right to you.

It might be that one of you feels that you relate more to polyamory and the other is a very strict monogamous. It’s not impossible for someone who is polyamorous to be happy when they’re with someone who is monogamous, but it’s hard. It means one of you will have to compromise what you want in a relationship, to a pretty significant degree.

Someone who is poly not being able to practice polyamory can leave them feeling trapped. Someone who is monogamous dating someone who is dating other people can lead to trust issues and all around hurt and confused feelings. In any case you might need to sit down and talk through your core values and whether or not the relationship as it stands is able to make you both happy. Which leads into my next question…

How are your communication skills?
If you’re the kind of couple that doesn’t talk much and doesn’t like confrontation, open relationships are not going to work for you. Because open relationships require a learning curve and you can only learn by talking it out. Maybe you bring home a suitor that your partner does not like at all. But they don’t think they should tell you, so they let it fester and then animosity starts to grow every time they have to see this person. That’s not great for all three of you. In a situation like this, your partner should privately address their concerns, talk through how they feel, and let you talk through how you feel. But the key here is that somebody has to talk.

Are you hoping an open relationship might solve another problem?
Are you hoping it might liven up your sex life? Or maybe one of you feels the other is a little clingy so you hope adding more people will make it easier? Whatever the case is, open relationships are meant to make you feel less constrained by the bonds of monogamy. They can help make you feel happier if you’re not feeling like a strictly monogamous relationship is right for you. But they don’t solve your current relationship problems. Those problems will still be there, but now you have an excuse to not talk about them or work through them. Because you hope that these new people will make those problems go away and you ignore the problem to focus on your new partner. This thought process is a surefire way for you and your primary partner to grow apart.

The key to any relationship is communication, but for open relationships, this is even more true. There’s a whole new level of trust to the relationship that you can only develop by talking it through. You don’t have to tell your partner every detail, but you should be prepared to be open about your new partners, about what’s been working for you and what hasn’t. If you’re not prepared to talk about an open relationship, you’re not prepared to have one.

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