Open Relationships

Open Relationships

It’s impossible to deny that we are living in a time of rapid social change. The boundaries that had previously been set on what types of relationships are acceptable and the taboos that exist between people and their relationships are all shifting. There are some things that haven’t changed much, but our notions of what is “normal” have certainly moved.

One popular topic for discussion when it comes to relationships in the 21st century is that of the so-called “Open Relationship.” This concept isn’t new, of course, but it wasn’t so long ago that the term open relationship was simply code for swingers or, more negatively, those who had no respect or reverence for monogamy and fidelity between people in relationships and marriages.

In this new decade, the 2020s, many are beginning to reassess their opinions on open relationships, with many coming to the view that they shouldn’t be the subject of scorn and derision as they once were. In today’s blog, we’ll look at what is meant by an open relationship, why some people are against them, but also why more people have opened their minds to the idea.

What is an Open Relationship?

An open relationship refers to a romantic relationship in which both partners have agreed that the other is permitted to explore sexual and/or romantic contact with others outside of their partnership. These encounters may happen frequently or seldomly, and both partners are typically honest about their additional partners, what they do, and how they feel about them.

It is generally understood that these things happen with mutual consent while in an open relationship. Therefore, it is equally understood that one side cannot hold these outside relationships in contempt or use them against the other person.

Another common behavior seen with people in open relationships is the invitation of these other outside connections into a couple’s sex life. They may invite these others to participate in group sex activities, or even in some cases to become a third member of the long-term relationship. When it reaches these stages, some begin to call it a “polyamorous” relationship.

In the past, open relationships were derided as a kind of libertine and morally base lifestyle because of the apparent focus on sex and a seeming “lack of ability” to commit to another person. These more conservative viewpoints saw open relationships as a form of weakness. They saw these men and women as loose, and lacking in moral fiber, and that was the only way to explain their inability to contain these “urges.”

Of course, now there are differing views that are becoming more dominant when it comes to open relationships and what they mean to people. In the more modern context, an open relationship is seen as a more healthy expression of real love; a kind of relationship that plays more into our human nature, and helps keep things exciting in relationships that have been established for a long period of time. Supporters of open relationships also frequently refer to a kind of unwritten rulebook that exists, created by individuals who engage in an open relationship. We’ll deal with that in more detail in the next section.

What “Rules” are Commonly Established in an Open Relationship?

As we mentioned already, the rulebook when it comes to open relationships is largely an “unwritten” one in the sense that no common or official set of rules exists. That’s to be expected of something that has until recently been regarded as far outside of social norms. As open relationships become more common or at least more accepted, ideas for the rules are emerging and slowly becoming more standard in people’s minds. Below are some existing rules that some choose to implement.

Rule 1: Consent

Probably the most common rule between people in an open relationship is one of mutual consent. The act of engaging sexually with another person outside of the relationship has to be understood by both parties as an acceptable thing to do. Furthermore, both parties need to agree and consent to what kind of contact can happen (see rule 3 for examples).

To ensure consent is always there, it’s also important that members of an open relationship are aware of what is happening, and that includes the new people being brought in from outside. There may be some who don’t wish to be party to an open relationship, so ensuring others are comfortable with the situation up front is critical. Open relationships only tend to work and provide positives when everyone is sure that everyone else is fully on board.


Rule 2: Timing

Some couples may set rules on how much time can be spent pursuing these outside interests. It could be, for instance, that there’s one day a week that the two set aside specifically for these pursuits, and on the other days they promise to prioritize the “main” relationship. The timing rules are when it can get tricky, especially if a third member of the open relationship is feeling slighted or ignored, or if a member of the original couple is spending too much time with a third party, causing further resentment.

Resentment is the strongest poison there is for any relationship or marriage. Understanding and acceptance of timing and boundaries is therefore critical for any open relationship to really work.


Rule 3: Limits on Sexual Contact

This is another common area in which people establish rules or boundaries in their open relationships. In the most liberal cases, perhaps the couple consents to allow all things sexual to occur with other people bar 1 or 2 very specific things. In the more conservative cases, it could be that flirting, kissing, exchanging of sexual messages and whatnot is all permitted, but full penetrative sex is not allowed. Each couple can set their own limits.

Some of these limitations are emotional because perhaps it’s too much for one person to imagine another person having sex with their partner. Others can also be practical, such as not engaging in unprotected sex of any kind with a third party, and to disclose absolutely if and when it were to happen. This brings us neatly to the final rule.


Rule 4: Openness

Openness and honesty about all other parties in the open relationship, what goes on and for how long is important. We already discussed the importance of consent and all parties consenting to any action. Openness is very much a part of that consent process, but also in helping everyone stay safe and on the same page emotionally and physically.

Hiding the existence of certain lovers, for example, could cause resentment or worse if they were to be found out. Hiding sexual acts done with others that result in contracting sexually transmitted infections can also be very damaging to a couple physically.

Why Not Just Be Single?

In the end, what’s the difference between being in an open relationship and being single? When you’re single, you are “free to mingle” as they say, and can engage in as many sexual and romantic encounters as you want without any fear of anyone getting hurt or upset. Why bother with an open relationship?

An open relationship is just what it says — a relationship. People who defend open relationships are quick to point out that their openness to other sexual encounters in no way diminishes the very real love and affection they have for their partner. They just see the love and sex elements as perhaps separable in some way, and that sexual expression with others is a physical act of fun rather than anything else.

Therefore, in the minds of those who have open relationships, to be single is absolutely not the same, and it would be a much worse state of affairs since it would mean losing the core relationship that they so treasure.

Advice for Those Exploring Open Relationships

If you are seeking to be in an open relationship or are already in one but feel a bit lost, then here are some important things to remember.

First, consent and honesty are everything. If you can’t place your open relationship on these twin pillars of consensual acts and openness, then you can’t have much hope of living in a successful and healthy open relationship.

Next, don’t be deterred by conservative viewpoints. Those with a more traditional outlook on relationships and marriage are entitled to their views and beliefs, but you shouldn’t let their ramblings disrupt your open relationship. If you know that what you have is real, and that you are working on a system of mature consent and trust, then you have nothing to fear.

Build an open relationship that emphasizes positives. Things like sexual discovery, keeping your relationship exciting and fresh, and sharing interesting adventures together as an open couple are all positive aspects of open relationships. Opening yourself to exploring your inner desires is also healthy and helps to ensure that you control them and not the other way around.

Open Relationships: Friend or Foe?

The fact is that anyone who flat-out refuses to accept any positives in an open relationship is just as wrong as those who profess that there are no negatives in open relationships. It’s neither entirely one thing or the other. An open relationship in which one party is unaware of the open nature of it is clearly a violation of trust. An open relationship in which things happen with one party unilaterally deciding and one merely adhering is also not a healthy or productive connection.

On the other hand, a relationship or marriage that lasts longer because one party permits the other to explore purely sexual contact with others for gratification surely can’t be viewed as anything so bad, can it? If that type of relationship keeps people together longer and even brings them closer together, who are we to question it.

Therefore, the open relationship is nothing to fear, just so long as there is consent, understanding and respect between all those involved.