Mary and Antoine have been married for ten years with two kids.
Two years ago they almost stopped having sex. They were told that they can solve the issue by improving communication and trust. Yet, the more time they spent in figuring out what’s wrong with their relationship, the more they were certain that all of their issues come down to sex. They no longer felt sexually compatible with each other.
While they still deeply cared about each other, the sexual energy just wasn’t there despite their efforts to revive it. It is then that they started to consider an open relationship.
As for most couples, for Mary and Antoine this was an exciting, yet intimidating idea.
They had many dilemmas and doubts about it.
“Are we doing this to get a guilt-free cheating pass, or are we putting the effort to make things better?”
“Are we doing this to avoid the divorce or improve what we have?”
“Will this bring us closer or tear us apart?”
They wanted to know that their decision to have an open relationship was for made for the right reasons.
How To Know If an Open Relationship Is Right For You?
There’s no pre-defined rule that can clearly and with no mistake tell who an open relationship is for. After all, an “open relationship” is an umbrella term that refers to a spectrum of non-monogamous or non-exclusive relationships, some of which are “monogamish” relationships, swinging or polyamory.
The thing is – monogamy is no longer assumed. It’s negotiated.
The idea of having one partner for life, to be a best friend, confidant, lover and sometimes even a business partner, can strain the relationship with plenty of expectations.
Not so long ago, the roles in the relationships were clearly defined. Each partner was fully aware of what was expected of them. Now, with liberty and freedom to choose our own rules, our expectations get higher, but so does our anxiety around making the right decisions. We are free to choose what we want our relationships to be like, yet we are afraid of making a bad choice.
For Mary and Antoine, it was defeating to think they are not sufficient for each other and that they needed more. Opening their relationship to others was a choice that they wanted to base on healthy reasons.
Unfortunately, open relationships still have a bad reputation among those couples who consider themselves as monogamous or strive to fit into that category.
Open relationships are often seen either as a way to save a failing relationship (we start seeing other people to avoid splitting up) or a transitional stage towards commitment or a breakup (we are in an open relationship so that we can freely decide where to go with it). This narrow-minded point of view, however, neglects all the healthy reasons for which a couple may be in an open relationship.
It can be a fruitful playground for exploring sexuality, experiencing pleasure and reaching a better understanding of individual and relational needs.
What Makes Our Reasons Healthy?
There are ways to assess whether the reasons for choosing an open relationship are healthy for individuals and couples.
One of them is to consider whether an open relationship is an opportunity for growth, as opposed to it being an exit or avoidance strategy. What it implies is that other people’s involvement is not a way to avoid working on problems or to provide yourself a chance to meet someone before you officially split up, but to enhance, improve or ease the strain you’ve put on your relationship.
A healthy reason is the one that is based on mutual consensus. Both partners need to be comfortable with it. If there is no agreement on the reasons, and if the rules and boundaries of the arrangement are not clearly defined or are one-sided, the chances are that the relationship will crumble upon the pressure of other people’s involvement. Both partners need to equally participate in decision-making.
Healthy reasons are honest and transparent. To say that there’s no commitment in open relationship would imply ignorance. At a core of an open relationship is still – a relationship. Both partners need to commit to communicating the reasons that stand behind their choices. Hiding reasons or blurring the expectations makes it difficult for a partner to make an informed choice on whether they are willing to stay in a relationship. Without transparency, the chances are that someone will get hurt.
To agree upon a decision to open their relationship, both partners need to carefully consider the implications of it. That means that the decision is not a result of a temporary urge, but a thought-through decision. This means that each partner needs to reflect on their understanding of an open relationship and its effect on them, and on the relationship.
Healthy reasons do not put mental and physical health at danger. Quite the contrary – they have a positive effect on it. The healthy reasons behind the decision ensure that the decision will push both partners and their relationship forward instead of causing hurt, pain, disappointment or stagnation.
Common Reasons to Choose Open Relationship
- Bisexuality or Pansexuality
An open relationship can be a way to stay in a committed and loving relationship and allow the partner(s) to fully explore their sexuality. Bisexual or pansexual partners can be very happy in their monogamous relationships and still crave sexual experiences that involve other sexes or genders. Open relationships can provide opportunities for experiences which partners could otherwise not have in their primary relationships. What they share can still remain exclusive – an open relationship would just add to it.
- A Couple Wants to Spice Things Up
Opening a relationship to other people allows the couple to push the boundaries of sexual play and turn some of their hottest fantasies into reality. Wanting to spice things up with swinging is a very natural desire. This is a common reason people start swinging. As innovative as a couple may be, after a certain time people may find themselves repeating the same old. An open relationship can be brought up as a next level experience for a couple wishing to enhance and improve their relationship.
- Sexual Incompatibility
Partners may find that one partner has a consistently higher sex driver than the other. A couple may enjoy having sex with each other and still have mismatched libidos. The pressure to engage sexually even when someone doesn’t feel like it can reduce the quality of relationship overall. The lack of reciprocity in sex can strain the relationships even when a couple is compatible in other areas of life, which is why some couples choose to have a sexually non-exclusive relationship.
- Long Distance Relationship
Partners can trust, care, love and crave each other, yet still feel the urge to be physically intimate with others. For some, virtual can be satisfying only up to a certain point. When they are not having a chance to see each other, a growing impatience can frustrate a couple. It is often that the very permission to be with others changes the dynamics of sexual play and increases the desire partners feel for each other.
- Losing Sexual Freedom Is Daunting for Both
Though a couple may be connected on all levels, including sexual, the notion of exclusivity may seem daunting for both. It is up to a couple to explore why it is so. Yet, if the agreement is that the relationship is better off with each partner keeping sexual freedom, then the open relationship can be the right choice.
A couple agrees that there is too much love around and within to limit it to having a single soulmate. They are curious about exploring what’s out there with no constraints or inhibitions. When they are together, they are open to growing and expanding a relationship, while remaining open to seeing other people and inviting connection on multiple fronts. Polyamory isn’t the right match for everyone but it definitely works for some people.
If you are considering an open relationship, don’t take this choice easily or someone will get hurt along the way. They are not a cure for FOMO (fear of missing out), a way to avoid connection, a permission for guilt-free experimentations or a way to save a failing relationship.
Contrary to their reputation, open relationships demand a strong connection, trust and care if they are to survive. They are a bold choice, not an easy way out.
A few useful suggestions to keep in mind:
- Do not assume your partner will know what your intentions are. Instead – communicate and negotiate! Ensure that you are on the same page.
- Challenge the reasons upon which you are making decisions. Write down your pros and cons.
- Discuss expectations, challenges and benefits of being in an open relationship.
- Check in with yourself and your partner. It’s important that you are both feeling comfortable and enjoying the choices you make together.
And, of course:
- Work on your relationship. An open relationship is not a step towards neglect, but towards enhancement.