‘Open relationship’ is a term that has seen a recent surge in popularity, google searches, and relationship workshops. 20 years ago we would have casually referred to people in this kind of arrangement as “swingers” or some other reductionist term – but it’s 2020. We know better.
It’s clear that the social construct of monogamy is not a one-size-fits-all plan. For some couples, it works beautifully. For others it feels restrictive, unnatural, and counterintuitive. And these are simply the opposite ends of the monogamy spectrum – if you don’t feel polarized by the idea, you likely fall somewhere in the middle! And this is where the majority of the research is being done in this space… in the nuance of open relationships.
Questions experts are researching now include:
- What boundaries feel constricting in monogamous relationships?
- What boundaries are requisite for a healthy open relationship?
- Where are the commonalities between traditional structures and open ones? Where are the distinctions?
As we explore these topics to populate this field with the same tools, studies, and support that monogamous couples currently enjoy, there are still many unanswered questions. But the fundamentals are universally true throughout successful open relationships, and 6 of those pillars are:
- Radical Honesty: Communicating with full transparency around topics like what you’re comfortable with, what you feel threatened by, what you need from your partners. Expectations have to be clear.
- Mandatory Consent: This is of course true for every type of relationship, but when there are more than two people involved, consent can get more complicated. The tricky part for many isn’t the physical consent – but the emotional consent. That ties back into the radical honesty.
- Healthy Jealousy: For many monogamous couples, this is the hangup. “Don’t you always feel jealous?” But by removing the secrecy, jealousy becomes a vestige of the past, and doesn’t play much of a role in healthy open relationships.
- Emotional Support: Expert Margaret Tonge says “It’s worth considering who you turn to for support: to the primary relationship partner or the lover?” Having this worked out beforehand, perhaps even creating an ‘emotional blueprint’ with your primary partner(s) can save you lots of grief in the long run.
- Physical Safety: This is one of the most important pillars: without it, nothing else can function. Practicing safe, responsible sex will allow you to explore the fullest potential of your open relationship.
- Long-Term Vision: Just like when monogamous people choose *one* person… they don’t just choose them once. They have to choose them everyday. To enjoy open relationships, you have to commit to choosing it everyday, for the long run. Allowing for growth and change is critical, of course, but it has to work in tandem with your long-term goals.
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