The basic rules of an open relationship
Approaching the subject of starting an open relationship with your significant other is unknown water, whether you’re just starting to get serious or have been together for years.
As the definition of love expands more and more, having an open relationship is not a taboo anymore. Open relationships, polyamory and so on are no longer unheard of. Many people are coming to the realization that monogamy is not for them, and are instead turning to an open relationship to scrath and itch that a monogamous relationship just can’t manage to.
As open relationships are becoming more mainstream, many couples are becoming curious if this arrangement could be right for them. Even if it’s becoming more common, however, the society still lacks a social script for how exactly talk about these things. And – most importantly – even the most fluid open relationship needs basic ground rules to avoid causing unnecessary pain and misunderstanding among the people involved.
Let’s try to find out how an open relationship works and the basic rules that lie behind it to work.
While the exact definition of an open relationship depends on the parameters set by the people involved, it can generally be defined as a relationship in which both partners have the freedom to explore sexual and/or romantic relationships with other people. In practice, open relationships can involve casual sexual relationships in addition to your primary relationship, or long-term, more romantic sexual relationships.
Open relationships are not like affairs, a common misconception. It’s quite the opposite: while the core ingredient of an affair is the secrecy of it, in open relationships partners are open in their sexual activity with others and supportive of it.
Boundaries regarding sex should be explicitly set in advance. This includes how often sex can occur (weekly, monthly, etc.), with how many partners at a time, where and whatever additional physical or logistical dimensions a couple wishes to define in their relationship.
This, of course, includes the type of sex as well. For example, is penetrative sex OK or just oral? And what about BDSM? Moreover, do you prefer your partner to only have sex with strangers who they will never see again or rather with someone you already know and trust? You’ll want to figure all this stuff out before you open the gates to an open relationship.
For many people it can be very hard to completely separate physical intimacy from emotional intimacy. When you have your discussion about sexual boundaries, make sure you discuss what emotional boundaries you need to set as well. Emotional boundaries can be harder to define and set, but they should definitely be discussed, with each partner being honest about what they can manage for themselves and their partner.
Honesty is the best policy when you are going for an open relationship. If you have one partner whom you consider your emotional significant other, don’t hide that fact that you have other partners. Similarly, if you have multiple sexual partners, it would be wise to ensure they are aware of one another.
When you switch your relationship from exclusive to open, you might be super excited to get started with your new ventures, but don’t let all those safe sex practices fly out the window. Discuss with your partner what you’re both comfortable with and how you’ll actually practice safe sex. Are condoms required? What about dental dams?
Will you both be routinely screening for STIs? Will you require your sexual partners to screen for STIs? Discussing protection will make sure that you and your partner both feel safe about exploring your sexuality. When you increase the number of people in your sexual circle you are statistically more likely to encounter STIs, counteract this fact by practicing safe sex with all your patners!
It’s hard enough in a single-partner relationship, but when there are multiple bodies (and hearts) involved, that creeping, unhealthy jealousy is bound to come into the picture. And no, one of the rules for an open relationship can’t be, “You can’t be jealous.” Everyone gets jealous.
Proponents and practitioners of polyamory get just as jealous as everyone else. The trick to handling jealousy is talking about it, not sitting with it. The minute you say “I’m jealous,” it stops being this negative, ugly thing. It becomes what it is: a sign that you need some attention and reinforcement. Because you’re human.
When you open your relationship up and embrace polyamory, you’re inviting a significant amount of change into your relationship. It’s important to frequently check in with your partner to make sure that they’re still comfortable in and enjoying the arrangement. It’s crucial to create clear guidelines at the start of the relationship, but make sure to still leave space for the arrangement to change or for your partner to change their mind.