As you may have seen in my video blog, there are many ways to have an open relationship; there is not one “right” way to do it. The main idea that brings non-monogamous persons together is a consensual agreement that one, both, or all persons involved in a romantic or intimate relationship may also have other romantic and/ or sexual partners.
How do you know if this is right for you?
First, it is key to figure out why you want to open up or expand your relationship. There are many legitimate and understandable reasons for this step, but one I would caution you against is opening up because you are unhappy or unsatisfied with your current partner. If you are looking for a third or even a fourth person, or any outside source to fix what is going on internally in your partnership, it may not lay the groundwork for a healthy and consensually non-monogamous relationship.
In theory, non-monogamy can sound easier or more fun, and perhaps it is for some people, but to do it in a healthy way and give yourself the best chance of success, you need to communicate, prepare, and plan. If you are currently in a monogamous relationship, this means having a conversation with your partner about your desire to open up. This can be a difficult topic to bring up, but if opening up is that important to you, then it is worth it and hopefully better than living a lie in a relational setup that is no longer working for you.
So, if you choose to venture on this journey, do some personal reflection and homework. In Tristan Taormino’s book Opening Up, you can find a great inventory of the kinds of questions to ask yourself and how to explore these considerations with your support system before you decide on non-monogamy. The next important thing to consider if you are currently in a relationship is if your partner is open to the idea as well. This may be a difficult conversation to have, but it is a necessary one. Another way to support yourself and do your homework if you are considering opening up your relationship is to find other like-minded folk. For example, Swingtowns, the largest dating network for open relationships, also features an in depth blog where you can get additional information, interviews, and resources on non-monogamy, kink, and sexuality. And, if and when you are ready, you can meet prospective partners and friends through their open dating network.
Here’s an example of some of their many helpful tips for opening up your relationship:
As you can gather from the links above, this prep work also means figuring out and discussing you and your partner’s rules, guidelines, and boundaries. For example, how much do you want to know about your partner’s other relationships or sexual forays? Are there any off-limits potential partners? Remember, just because you are non-monogamous, does not mean you can’t cheat. In most cases, it is not a free for all, and boundaries must be communicated, respected, and often discussed and re-discussed at length.
What about jealousy?
The idea that consensually non-monogamous relationships can be functional and quality is still controversial, both in popular culture and in some research (Conley, Matsick, Moors, & Ziegler, 2017). Yet findings, such as a study by Conley et al from this year demonstrate, however, that consensual non-monogamous relationships are found to be just as functional as monogamous relationships (Conley et al., 2017). They have also found that there is little difference in relationship satisfaction between monogamous and non-monogamous relationships and that monogamous persons actually scored much higher on levels of anticipated jealousy (i.e. when considering hypothetical relationship situations) (Conley et al., 2017, p. 210).
Below, I will list some of the many examples of consensually non-monogamous relationships. Remember that some people might define these differently, and that is ok; these examples and definitions are somewhat general to get you started.
Monogamish: Where a couple is mostly monogamous, but they allow some degree of play or interactions with other folks under certain circumstances
Swinging: Some swinging groups or cultures have different rules or ideas, but in general swinging includes a committed couple that plays, dates, or sexually engages with other couples or partners.
Polyamory: When you maintain multiple significant or intimate relationships at one time
Polyfidelity: A multi-partner group relationship where all involved have made commitments to each other
Partnered non-monogamy: This is a relationship where a primarily committed couple has decided to be sexually or erotically non-monogamous, for example engaging in BDSM with other folks.
Remember, if you feel that you are non-monogamous as a person, or want to explore some open options, this does not inherently mean there is something wrong with you, your relationship, or your levels of commitment. It is key, however, to do some soul searching, insight work, and homework to ensure that you can find the most fulfilling and healthy path as you discover your relationship potential.
References Conley, T., Matsick, J., Moors, A., & Ziegler, A. (2017). Investigation of consensually non-monogamous relationships. Perspectoves on Psychological Science, 12, 205-232. doi: 10.1177/1745691616667925
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