When I talk about open relating, I am talking about non-monogamous relationships where two or more people are in agreement with this way of relating. I am not talking about cheating or having affairs. There are different names and ways to open relate:
- Polyamory usually refers to having one or more side by side relationships. These can be sexual or just romantic.
- Consensual Non-Monogamy (CNM) is a general term used for any relationship where everyone involved is in consent to engage in other sexual / intimate / romantic relationships with multiple people.
- Swinging refers to swapping partners, usually without forming long term, side by side relationships with others.
If you are deciding whether this is something which may be right for you and your relationship, below are some reasons why others choose to relate in this way, as well as benefits and drawbacks.
What Are the Benefits of Open Relating?
Here are some of the reasons why people prefer open relationships.
Being able to go on dates, fall in love with new people and feeling NRE (new relationship energy) can be exciting. And this doesn’t just refer to the person experiencing it, as their partners can feel compersion – a feeling of joy when seeing one’s partner having such a good time with another.
Overcoming Mismatched Sexual Desire
In some relationships one partner has more sexual desire than the other. This can be the case from the beginning or, frequently, can develop over time in long term relationships. This can lead to issues within the relationship, and open relating can be one way of addressing this to ensure that everyone’s needs are met. In many cases, it can also prevent an otherwise unnecessary break-up.
In some relationships, one or both partners are attracted to the same sex. If this is the case, open relating allows other connections to be explored, whilst still staying together.
You and Your Partner May End Up Having More Sex
Having other sexual partners can bring in fresh energy into the existing relationship, and sometimes new people and ideas too. Many couples and other relationship constellations benefit from having more than one sexual partner.
It Enhances Communication
The ability to communicate effectively with your partner about your hopes, fears, feelings, and boundaries is critical to making an open relationship work. That’s probably why, according to Blue, being in an open marriage “improves and encourages honest communication between partners.” This can benefit all areas of the relationship, not just those relating to sexuality or other partners. Developing good communication skills can help to alleviate tensions and strains in all areas of the relationship. Read 10 communication tips.
More of Your Needs Can Be Satisfied
One person cannot meet all of your needs all of the time. “An open marriage allows both primary partners to have most or all of their wants and needs met,” Christene Lozano, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in sex and relationships, explains. Each partner may feel less strain as a result. For example, if one partner is into BDSM and the other is not, open relating can allow for that aspect to be explored with another.
You’ll Have More Faith in One Another
Some studies, such as one conducted at the University of Michigan, found that people in open relationships were as happy as those in monogamous relationships, and actually more trusting of their partners.
Avoids the Pain of Cheating
Although open relating can be emotionally difficult, it can be less painful than finding out that your partner has been having affairs, which can destroy trust and the relationship itself.
Meet New People / Make New Friends
Your partner’s other partners (or metamours) can become wonderful, lifelong friends. At the end of the day, you already have something in common – you love the same person.
What Are the Difficulties of Open Relating?
Unexpected Emotional Difficulties
Just because you think you are ‘not a jealous person’ and are in agreement with your partner being with someone else, doesn’t mean you are immune to difficult emotions coming up. These can involve jealousy, anger, sadness and frustration. For many, our deepest fears of being abandoned or feeling that we are not worthy will come up, even if you are not expecting it. If this happens, it can be a good idea to get support from a qualified and poly-friendly professional.
Confidence in Yourself
When your partner has other partners, it may cause you to worry that they are better in bed, or more successful, more attractive etc. This can potentially impact on your self-esteem, especially if it is already low.
Having more than one partner means that elements of competition can creep in, with people arguing over who spends how much time with whom and where / when. If there is any disagreement between two people who are part of a wider network, it will often impact on the whole network.
Despite precautions, things that were not anticipated – such as unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases – can have an impact on everyone involved.
It Requires Time
Being in a single relationship can be difficult and time-consuming. Being in more than one relationship at the same time can be draining on time and energy.
Many people lead busy lives with full time jobs and children. Trying to schedule time with different partners, whilst also meeting work and parenting responsibilities (as well as spending time with friends, family, doing hobbies, and hopefully having some free time!) can be complicated.
It May Not Be As Freeing As You Believe
Although the initial idea of being able to date and do what you want with whomever you want can seem appealing, in reality this is not always so. If your partner (or number of partners) feel hurt, you may find that you are spending more time on talking through issues than actually dating.
Your Current Relationship May End
It is entirely possible that your current partner will find someone who is also a great match for them, or even a better match. Over time, even with the best intentions, they may start spending more time with the new partner as the bond grows and deepens. This can lead to difficulties in the original relationship, often causing it to break up.
It Is Not As Socially Acceptable As Monogamy
You may find friends, colleagues and family members judging your choices, or even you as a person as a result of choosing to open relate. Many poly people are not comfortable to talk about all of their partners in social settings, talking about just one to fit in with the norm. Leaving the others out in this way may feel uncomfortable, or lead to a sense of not being fully oneself.
Staying together in an open relationship can take a lot of love and trust. It can be fun and exciting, and equally it can be extremely challenging and bring up difficult emotions to work through.
If you are thinking of opening up, or are already relating in this way and are either experiencing difficulties or wanting to learn new ways of enhancing what you already have, it can be a good idea to get some support.
I can help with learning some practical tools of being able to feel into, and communicate your own boundaries, dealing with and resolving conflict as well as any difficult emotions which can come up.
In addition, it can be helpful to learn about the many different ways in which open relating can be done successfully: are you more suited to having a primary partner, are you a relationship anarchist or would you be most comfortable living as part of a polycule?
For more information