There are lots of healthy reasons couples choose to change the rules around monogamy in their relationship. Open relationships are not always 'pit stops to breakupsville’ as many people believe. It could be a matter of wanting to explore sexuality, or try something new. For some people, the idea of seeing people outside their partnership, and having their partner do the same is thrilling. Whatever the reason, an open relationship can be an exciting and fulfilling alternative to monogamy that can add to, and certainly doesn’t have to erode your relationship.
An open relationship is more of an umbrella term for couples that don’t follow traditional standards of monogamy. There are actually several different kinds of open relationships, and it’s important to know which one you want before you suggest it to your partner, and communicate in depth with your partner about what you’re both comfortable with.
Swinging is a very casual, fun foray into consensual non-monogamy. You know those ‘keys in the bowl’ parties? That’s swinging. It’s typically when committed couples ‘exchange’ partners for the night. But it can also be couples going to sex clubs and sex parties together. Swinging as a form of open relationship is more of a couples activity, and so a good way to explore the world of open relationships as a team.
‘Monogamish’ is a term fast gaining popularity. In ‘monogamish’ relationships, the primary relationship remains the priority and the relationship is mostly monogamous, but there is some room for sexual exploration outside the couple. It is typically defined by rules or boundaries, set by the couple in advance. It might be that only one night stands are allowed, only kissing is allowed, or it could be determined by location or time period. Whatever rules you decide on, the key is agreeing (and sticking) to them before acting upon them.
Polyamory is different again, and refers to having multiple relationships of equal (or similar) levels of commitment simultaneously. Polyamory typically extends beyond just sex and is defined by romantic attachment. It could mean you are dating two people (or more!) at once, who don’t know each other, or it could mean all three of you dating each other.
Relationship anarchy isn’t defined by specific rules but is more of a theoretical perspective on relationships. It rejects altogether the couple format and the cultural hierarchy of lovers above friends. It focuses more on an abundance of love, and connection.
Suggesting an open relationship to your partner is delicate, and should be treated as such. A common reaction to the suggestion of an open relationship is for your partner to treat it as a sign of their own inadequacy. Difficult conversations are always best handled with clear and direct communication, which is why first understanding your ideal relationship configuration is key.
It’s also important to understand why you want to open up your relationship. Before you sit down with your partner, you need to know yourself so that you can communicate it in a way that won’t hurt them unnecessarily. Is it because you want to explore your sexuality? Do you want to try BDSM and your partner doesn’t? Maybe your partner travels a lot or lives long distance and your sexual needs are unmet? Maybe monogamy just doesn’t work for you, or is too constraining? Sit down with yourself and really think about why you want to make this change to your relationship. Try to eliminate the possibility that you want to open up your relationship to avoid problems you might be facing within it. If done for the wrong reasons, an open relationship will not work. It requires trust, communication, and love, to work.
With that in mind, when you’re ready to bring it up with your partner, start by talking about what dedication means to you. You want to present the open relationship as something that doesn’t conflict with your current relationship. You need to be direct about what you want, i.e. I think I’m bisexual and I want to try sleeping with women, but reassuring, This is something I want to do for me, to help me understand my identity. It does not in any way diminish the love I feel for you.
If your partner is open to continuing the conversation, it’s time to discuss details. What boundaries do you and your partner need for this to work? Be specific and make a clear plan. How much time are you going to devote to finding and seeing new sexual partners? Will you be on dating apps, or will it be more situational? Can you go on dates, or is it solely hook-ups? Who is off limits? And most importantly, how much are you going to share with each other? It’s okay if your perspective on this differs, you might find security in hearing about their experiences and they might not want to hear about yours. The rules can be tailored to each of you, as long as you know and respect what the other needs.
Finally, it’s important to understand that this might be an evolving process for both of you. You might agree that dates with others are okay, and then reevaluate once you’ve tried it. Decide in the beginning how often you’re going to check in on this. Make a plan to talk about it again every month, every six months, whatever works for you. Accept that things might need to be a bit malleable in the beginning while you both feel your way through it. Open relationships can be a lot of fun, but like everything else in relationships, consent and communication need to be at the forefront.