Do Open Relationships Really Work?

A couple in an open relationship cuddling in some grass.

You’re in a committed relationship. You’re in love. Still, like any long-term partnership, you suffer from ennui. Life together, particularly sex, has become a boring routine. So you can’t help but yearn for something, or someone… different. Someone new. Maybe even that cute cashier at Whole Foods. You find yourself wondering if variety truly is the spice of life. And with half of marriages ending in divorce, you start to think those “swingers” are onto something. That maybe being “open” to an open relationship will, in fact, save your current relationship.

Are you wrong?

Actually, it’s not so far-fetched. With some studies suggesting that between 30 to 60% of married individuals will engage in adultery at some point in their marriage (and not to mention that most marriages dissolve) it’s clear that we’re having trouble with this whole monogamous thing.

So is it better to be upfront about your affairs to your partner than sneaking around and cheating on them? Can fulfilling your needs outside of your committed relationship ultimately save it?

For any relationship to function, there are fundamental qualities and questions to be aware of. Here are some things to consider before deciding whether a consensual non-monogamous relationship, aka an open relationship, is right for you and your partner.

Decide on Your Arrangement
There are a number of non-monogamous arrangements out there, including attending sex parties together, swapping partners with another couple, dating other people, or entering a polyamorous relationship with multiple partners. It all depends on the needs and desires behind choosing a non-monogamous relationship that you and your partner have discussed together. You might even consider exploring a few different options until you find the one that suits your relationship. Above all, the arrangement must be consensual by both parties.

Always Be Honest
Being truthful is vital to any relationship, particularly one that’s open. Whatever sexual arrangement you’ve decided upon, it must always start from a place of absolute honesty. If you have an attraction for someone else, it’s best to tell your partner about your feelings before anything else escalates. Then, if you decide to act upon your feelings, continue to be upfront with your partner. Tell her where you’re going and what you’re doing. An open relationship without transparency only leads to feelings of mistrust and hurt feelings. After all, it’s called “open” for a reason.

It Can Deepen Intimacy
Having an open relationship can inject some much-needed fun and intimacy back into your relationship, while taking some of the pressure off. Respective needs can be met without demanding more than one partner can give or satisfy. “There can be a deep sense of relief in not having to be the sole source of sexual satisfaction, and this can lead to greater opportunities for intimacy and bonding,” sex therapist Dulcinea Pitagora told CNN. “Still others feel a sense of heightened sexual excitement hearing about their partners’ other sexual relationships.” An open relationship can also bring back that initial spark missing from your relationship, including novelty and excitement. Other couples report a deepening of communication since a non-monogamous relationship requires a lot of intimate sharing and discussion.

Feelings of Fear and Jealousy Could Still Arise
Even if your open relationship is consensual, people are people. Meaning there are feelings of attachment involved that run the risk of being damaged within a non-monogamous arrangement. Feelings of jealousy could come up when a partner hooks up with another person. Thoughts like, “Is she prettier/skinnier/smarter than me?” can easily turn into arguments, breeding an environment of mistrust and resentment, which won’t bode well for your existing relationship.

In addition, there could also be the fear of losing not only the relationship you have, but also the unique intimacy you once shared. Even still, perhaps a fear of intimacy is driving a partner’s desire to pursue an open relationship to begin with. If that is the case then it’s better to deal with those issues before pursuing something outside of your current relationship. It might be worth to ask if you are simply seeking sexual freedom or wanting to pull away from a more intimate relationship with your current partner. Dealing with old hurts and fears will ensure the sanctity of either your current or any future relationships.

Above all, an open relationship cannot save a bad relationship. If you’re struggling with communication and trust issues, then an open relationship will only exacerbate those problems. It might be best to simply pull the plug and move on. If monogamy is still your favorite flavor, your relationship can actually grow by taking a page from a non-monogamous one. By improving communication, trust and transparency, you won’t even bat an eye at the Whole Foods cashier.

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