A Sex Guide: Should You Open Up Your Relationship?

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Have you heard about the “new monogamy”?  Or the idea of being “monogamish”?  These are only two of what will likely be more headline friendly terms for what seems to be a hot topic of discussion, at least in the mainstream press.  We are at a peak moment for public discussion about straight people choosing to change the relationship rules that have been handed down to them about monogamy

Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 It depends.

The decision to turn your closed or monogamous relationship into one that has a more open attitude toward intimacy and sex with others isn’t something to do lightly.  Of course people sometimes make this change without talking about it, without their fuck buddy consent, and without thinking it through.

That’s called cheating.

But there are options.  There always have been.  Only now they are making it into respectable mainstream conversations among heterosexuals.  So, if that’s you and like so many of your friends you are not satisfied with the monogamous rules you have been told to follow, and like so many of your friends you’d still like to have a long term relationship, here are some things to consider.

Is There an Open Relationship “Type of Person”?

The answer is no.  And yes.  The “no” is because any of us can learn the skills we need to be in an open relationship.  Any of us can learn to listen better, to talk about what we want and need without making it someone else’s responsibility to give it to us.

Any of us can learn to separate all the things we were raised to believe we should be from all the things we want to be.  None of this is easy, but it’s all possible.  In other words, theoretically anyone can be the kind of person who is in an open relationship.

And yet open relationships aren’t for everyone.

Part of it is preference.  You might be someone who prefers to avoid talking about anything until it’s a full blown emergency. You might not like people that much, but you like having one person who is your conduit to the world.  You might not be that interested in sex or intimacy, and having one partner is more than enough for you.   

If this is you, and you’re happy, then that’s great.  And you probably aren’t the kind of person who will find opening up your relationship to be an improvement.

Of course you might change.  We all do.  So even if you aren’t the type of person who wants an open relationship now, you may be that type of person later. 

Opening Up to What’s New and Uncomfortable

So many of us fall into monogamous relationships not because it’s exactly what we want but because it’s what we’ve always been told is available. It’s the default.  And because it’s always been around we come to think we know the rules of a monogamous relationship.  It’s familiar and can make us feel safe.

If you’re considering changing something about your relationship a good place to start is by getting very clear about what you each want and expect.  What does it mean to open up your relationship?  Are you talking about having sex with other people?  Flirting?  Developing intimate non-sexual relationships?  And if you are opening something up, what, if anything is staying closed?  

This can feel like a brave (and scary) new world.  Opening up your relationship is never just about sex or intimacy. It’s about opening yourself up to new ideas and challenges and some discomfort.  

Is It Right for You?

The “you” here is plural.  Whatever you do it has to work for both of you.  You might not know if it’s working until you change something.

No one can tell you if this is for you, but at a minimum, you need:

  • a relationship where you and your partner feel open to talk, bring up problems, challenge each other, without fearing that one wrong word means the end of the relationship.  
  • to be able to check in with yourself and be honest about how you’re feeling about what’s happening, and to be ready to talk about what isn’t working.

If you tend to bury your feelings for fear of disappointing or angering your partner, then you’ll find open relationships a whole lot harder.  If you think you are responsible for your partners feelings and happiness, you’ll find open relationships just as hard as closed ones.

The good news is that these are are things we can all learn to do.  Everyone can.  Whether a more open relationship is right for you, you shouldn’t think that you don’t have the capacity for it.  You do.  You may just not want it.

Which brings us back to the right fit question.  It is possible that opening up your relationship will work for one of you and not the other.  And this may lead to a realization that the relationship isn’t sustainable in the long term. It might not.  But it might.  This is a possibility you need to be aware of.

But What If We Ruin Everything?

Fear of losing your relationship is real.  Your feelings are valid and you aren’t being petty or clingy because you don’t want your relationship to end.  But the truth is that all relationships can end.  Around half of all marriages end in divorce.  So being monogamous isn’t a guarantee of success.  It just means you can avoid talking about it until it’s too late.  You get to pretend it “just happened” even though it was probably something one or both of you saw coming.

Are You Ready to Make Your Own Relationship?

The ironic thing is that we already do this.  When we decide to partner up with someone, even if we don’t talk about it, we find a way to bring our lives together.  And that doesn’t look exactly like any other two people.  The precise way you deal with balancing work and leisure, money, family responsibilities, chores, etc… isn’t like any one else.  

So why do we think that a one-size-fits-all approach will work with intimacy and sexuality?  

Even if you’re talking about a small change in your relationship rules or structure around sexuality and intimacy, you need to be ready to talk through all the things that may mean.  And once you try it out, you have to be ready to talk through everything that comes up.  

One size fits all never really fits. But it is an easier way to shop.  So one more question to ask yourself is, are you ready to let go of the ease of choice in favor of something that really fits for you and your partner?

Places to Start
If you’ve read through this and feel like this might be something you want to explore more, it’s a good idea to get some guidance.  There are several good books, a number of in person and online courses offered by therapists, and you try to find a couples therapist with experience working with couples who are exploring alternatives to compulsory monogamy.