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Everything You Need to Know About an Open Relationship

There’s an alternative to feeling stuck with the same person for the rest of your life. See if opening up to other partners can help you out. By Eli Walton

Everything You Need to Know About an Open Relationship

What does it really mean to be unfaithful? To most people, the answer is to have an intimate encounter with someone outside of your relationship. But if your partner knows, and gives you the consent to do it, you’re not being unfaithful to anyone. Eliminate the lie, and you eliminate the cheating.

But of course, it’s not so easy. Almost nobody wants to think about the person they love in bed being with someone else. Open relationships are fraught with issues of jealousy, possessiveness and potential feelings of inadequacy. But then, so is any relationship. Hard is different from impossible, and for some people, putting in the effort to make an open relationship work is well worth the time. Many people will find their relationships strengthened by opening up to outside partners.

Let’s face it, spending the rest of your life sleeping with only one person can be, frankly, boring. Add to that the fact that in lots of relationships, one partner’s sex drive will decrease faster than the other person’s, and the imbalance can leave them feeling unsatisfied. By opening up the possibility of getting sex outside of the relationship, some couples are able to strengthen the love in the relationship. [Read: What is the definition of an open relationship?]

The key to a successful open relationship is trust and honesty. The couples that do it best set firm ground rules, and they stick to them. But before they even do that, they have to make the decision to give an open relationship a go. You won’t be surprised to learn that it’s not an easy step to take for anyone.

Leap of faith

In a committed relationship, most people don’t want to see others intimately during the initial newly-in-love stage. During that time, you’re usually so smitten that you don’t want or need to look elsewhere to meet any physical needs. It’s the longer term where couples might want to think about opening up the relationship.

But just because you won’t want to start the open relationship in the early days, doesn’t mean it’s a bad time to discuss it. If you’re someone who thinks opening up will strengthen your relationship, it’s better to bring it up early. People already in long term relationships can still approach their partner about it, but it’s easier in the beginning as it’s not such a shock.

Many people won’t take the idea well at first, or possibly at all. But open relationships are something that millions of people have done successfully. You may even know some of them, you just don’t know their secret. There are numerous books and articles about the topic now as it begins to go mainstream.

If you approach your partner about opening up your relationship, it can be a good idea to arm yourself with a few of these books or articles, as most people don’t realize how “normal” it can actually be.

Setting boundaries

As with any part of a relationship, it’s important to establish ground rules for yourselves before you begin having an open relationship. All couples will be different, and there are some things you will have to decide together. There are a few things that are almost always best avoided too.

In general, you should never sleep with someone your partner knows or will meet. You should absolutely avoid your mutual friends. If your partner will attend social functions from your job, then you should stay away from co-workers as well, as this is often a pretty good idea even when you’re single.

Another potential stumble that you’ll have to discuss is location, in other words, where you will sleep with any other people. In almost all cases, your own home should be off limits. You’ve both got to respect the sanctity of your own home and bed. If you can afford hotels, then there’s little to worry about, but you should never let your outside activities strain the finances of your primary relationship. [Read: 10 rules of a casual relationship]


There will be other areas that call for rules, but those will have to be set by individual couples for individual circumstances. A very common one involves how much you want to know. While some people will be turned on by hearing about their partner’s other sexual liaisons, most just don’t want to know.

It’s absolutely crucial that you don’t lie, so there will probably be times when you have to let each other know you’re going to meet someone. Don’t make up cover stories – honesty is the whole point of an open relationship. But as far as sharing details about who the other person is, what you do together, where you go and whatever else transpires, it’s usually best to keep the specifics vague.

The other huge issue for couples entering an open relationship is that of frequency. How often is it okay to take a new lover, and how often can you meet that person. At one extreme of this, there are couples where one or both partners will have multiple lovers at any given time, and will meet them multiple times per week. At the other end are couples practicing what the American sex advice columnist Dan Savage calls “monogam-ish“ – basically a monogamous relationship with a very small amount of wiggle room. [Read: How to fantasize about someone else with your partner]

What will the neighbors think?

One of the major reasons most people are initially so put off by the idea of open relationships, is that we, as humans, are always worried about what others will think about us. And it’s true, most of your friends and family would probably judge you negatively, if they knew you were in an open relationship. But then, there’s probably already plenty of things they’d look down on you for if they knew, and that’s why you don’t tell them.

Open relationships can be the same. There’s no reason to tell people because it’s none of their business. There are probably people you already know who do it, they just don’t tell you about it. Again, this is another thing you’ll have to discuss together about who to tell.

It’s entirely up to you, but it’s probably best to tell only your closest open-minded friends, if you tell anyone at all. The bottom line is, if you think an open relationship could work for you, don’t worry about what other people will think. It’s your happiness, not theirs.

Give it a go

If you decide to try it, you’ll bring it up, you’ll discuss it, you’ll set the ground rules, but you won’t really know if it’s something that can work for you until you try it. Dealing with imaginary jealousy is very different from feeling the searing pain and anger that can come with actually feeling it. But if you really love each other, and are truly committed to one another, then an open relationship can absolutely work. [Read: How to successfully deal with jealousy in a relationship]

You’ve got to be honest no matter what else happens. You might know your partner is fulfilling some need with someone else, but when they say that they love you, you know they mean it. What constitutes as cheating is all the lying. Stop lying, and you’re not cheating. The world is changing, more and more people are finding love and happiness in open relationships. If you think it’s right for you, why not join them?
[Read: 15 open relationship rules for a better love life]

It’s not easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. And opening things up by having an open relationship could potentially breathe new life into your relationship.

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Eli Walton
I'm a freelance writer dividing my time between the beaches of Thailand and my hometown of Chicago....