Open relationships—what are they really about? An ideal relationship doesn’t have one solid, bible-locked meaning. For some people, the ideal relationship is when the love is static but the sex is interchangeable between partners. When you separate the two realms, love and sex, as having a different set of rules in the relationship, you can make sense of how open relationships work.
Most people don’t understand it; monogamists might roll their judgy eyes, but in truth, there’s a rare logic to the art of openness. For anyone who’s been toying with the idea of an open relationship, or even if you’re just curious, here are some rules to make it work.
Rule #1: Open relationships aren’t a free-for-all.
Why not? An open relationship is still a relationship. It’s not an unlimited buffet of sexual spontaneity. This means that you’re still treating your relationship with trust, love, and respect. Without these basic values, the relationship doesn’t exist—open or not. Rules still apply.
The rules of your relationship are yours to make. Usually, however, you don’t want to neglect your partner by disappearing with random strangers and then return being sulky and rude because you’re asked to share the details of your whereabouts.
There always needs to be a mutual respect and sensitivity for your partner’s feelings. It’s not a free for all; there are rules, but you have to keep them clear. Otherwise, an open relationship doesn’t work.
Rule #2: Keep your jealousy in check.
We all get jealous; it’s human nature. Everyone, even those in happy open relationships, get jealous. It’s normal. The problems only occur when you can’t deal with jealousy in a healthy, mature way.
If you ever feel jealous in an open relationship, tell your partner. Discuss how you feel so you can both ease the anxiety together. It’s important to constantly remind each other that nobody else can replace the deep emotional connection you share. Being open helps lessen any insecurities you both may be feeling.
Rule #3: Set boundaries for intimacy.
Open relationships need sexual and emotional boundaries. Maybe sex with other people is off the table, but everything else is okay. Or maybe sex is allowed, but no dating. There are unlimited ways to set rules for an open relationship so you can both feel comfortable and respected.
A common rule is no sleepovers. Sharing a bed overnight with someone else might be too emotionally intimate and should only shared between you and your partner. Another rule might be no casual texting or calling other people for friendly chit-chat. Although it can seem innocent, these routines may lead to an emotional bond outside your relationship. Yet, maybe having these flirtations on the side are okay for you. Listen to your gut and create boundaries that feel right.
Rule #4: Don’t keep your relationship secret.
Why not? Never hide your open relationship from your other playmates. You might be tempted to conveniently “forget” to mention it because obviously this information may turn off your new fling, but it’s not right. If they’re looking for something meaningful, they probably won’t appreciate feeling like just another notch on your roster of sexual options.
Always consider the feelings of your flings. Make sure they know that although you appreciate their company, your main commitment is to your primary partner. This honesty shows respect for your partner and the feelings of the outsider.
When admitting your situation, be gentle in your approach and choose your words carefully. Emphasize that you value the person’s time and find them desirable, but don’t give them promises you can’t uphold. They may walk away and if so, wish them well. It’s not their responsibility to help diversify your open relationship, so stay gracious.
Rule #5: Keep date nights special.
Romance doesn’t die with an open relationship. You should both be constantly dedicated to keeping the spark alive by having special dates. When you’re committed to spending meaningful one-on-one time together, it reminds you both that your bond is a priority.
Making time for romance is extremely vital, especially in open relationships, because you’re sharing your attention and sexuality with other people. Dates help awaken your connection with your primary partner, reinforcing that they’re your first concern.
Plan dates that compliment your unique relationship. Any couple can simply go out for dinner; do something that focuses on your common passions. If you both love art, spend the day at a gallery, or if you both crave the outdoors, go on a camping trip in the woods.
You need to constantly make an effort to create quality experiences that separate your relationship from the side ones. Otherwise, what’s the difference?
Rule #6: Have constant communication about details.
Why? There’s a myth that people in open relationships keep their flings private. But open relationships don’t mean closed communication. Secrets mean you’re doing something without your partner’s knowledge. Are you doing something wrong? If not, your open relationship should be founded on open communication.
Relationships are grounded in communication; these rules don’t just disappear when it comes to having sex with others. The human imagination can be a toxic place. When dealing with the unknown, we can get terrible anxiety. But you can protect each other by discussing everything. If you love the person, show it with 100% bullet-proof honesty.
Open relationships are rare for a reason: they can be difficult to manage. It takes a very special couple with an incredibly cemented sense of security to welcome outsiders into their sex life. As long as you can handle the rules and manage your jealousy, you can enjoy yourself. All the while, be responsible about protecting your relationship and treat it as number one.