You may have heard of open relationships, and wondered whether it's the sort of thing you might enjoy. You may be vehemently opposed to the idea, but you're still curious about what the big deal is. The truth is that it's not for everybody. Many people will find themselves healthier and happier in a monogamous relationship. However, there are many who find monogamy dissatisfying and restricting. For the latter, an open relationship is much more fulfilling and allows them the freedom they so crave.The concept of monogamy is fairly simple and straightforward. "I'm only in an intimate relationship with one person at a time," is the rule, and within this relationship model it's a great rule which keeps everything working the way it should.
That said, what the “rules” are for polyamory, or an open/multiple partner relationship, is a much harder question to answer. There are many types of open relationships with different models to adopt. Before describing the different types of open relationship, it's important to consider whether one is possible and healthy for you. For a healthy open relationship, you will need to start by asking yourself these questions.Am I a jealous person?
Can I feel safe if I'm not the only one?
Am I comfortable trusting my partner to honor our agreements?
Can I talk openly about my needs and desires?
Jealousy is a human emotion which is perfectly normal to feel from time to time. Jealousy by itself is a natural (and even healthy!) fear of rivalry, unfaithfulness, or loss. If you occasionally feel a little jealous, that's to be expected, no matter how open or closed the relationship. However if you feel a strong, bitter jealous feeling whenever your partner talks to someone attractive, or when they do something without you, then an open relationship may not be healthy for you.
In comparison to open relationships, monogamy seems simple. "Don't sleep with anyone but me," sounds easy, right? Well, open relationships, as their name suggests, rarely have that as one of their tenets. This doesn't mean that jealousy and worries of safety don't exist. For the sake of health, happiness, and understanding, every open relationship will need to make it's own rules. You need to be able to trust that your partner will keep their word. In an open relationship, no rules are implied; if you don't agree on it, it isn't a rule. A trustworthy partner, clear agreements and open communication are all necessary for healthy open relationships.
Clear negotiations are also a core component of healthy open relationships. If you are uncomfortable with the thought of your partner having unprotected sex, negotiate to have them always use protection. If you feel the emotional need to have them home every night, then come out and ask them to be home at night. The ensuing dialogue will improve intimacy and help you understand each other better. Not every negotiation turns out perfectly for everyone involved, but in that way it's no different from healthy monogamy.
At times, you will need to work at negotiating winning solutions for everyone. For example, if you want your partner home every night and they want to sleep next to their girlfriend once a week, one idea is to invite her over. Even if you aren't sexually active with her, it can be a very fun experience to have a bed that's a little more full. At the same time, you may need to get used to sleeping without your partner one night a week, depending on whose needs are greatest. If it comes down to it, you can have someone else come over for the night.
If you aren't a very jealous person, are comfortable trusting others to keep agreements, and are open to communication and negotiation, then you may have all the tools you need to build a wonderful and healthy open relationship.
That's the easy part. The hard part is designing and negotiating your ideal relationship, and depending on where you live, finding people to share your lifestyle with. While the intricacies of each differ from case to case, many open relationships will fit into one or more of the following four categories.
A “Primary-style” paradigm is one in which the “primary” relationship is between two people, and their union is considered the most important relationship. Both partners have other relationships which are of lower priority but are still love/sexual relationships.
A “Triad” or “House” style relationship is one in which the group (which often lives together) generally all act as romantic partners of equal or near-equal level. Some partners may not be romantically involved, but this is usually due to sexual incompatibility (such as two straight men).
A “Mono-Poly” relationship is one in which one partner remains monogamous and the other partner has multiple love/sexual partners.
A “Swinger” relationship is one in which the core relationship is the only love relationship, but one or both partners are open to additional sexual partners.
There are other types of open relationships, and many that fall in between, or combine the types listed above. You're free to consider any of these, or try a little bit of everything until you find what fits for you and your partner(s). It takes a lot of inner strength, compassion, and honesty, and it isn't for everyone. A successful open relationship is an extremely rewarding and blissful experience that is well worth the effort for an ever-increasing number of people. There is no single right answer that is best for everyone, so you can have fun exploring what relationship style is best for you.