Can an open relationship work for you?

The following article on exploring open relationships was written by Sally Evans - a counsellor at The Palmeira Practice.

Open relationships

An open relationship is not on everyone's radar. However, many couples are either curious, interested or wanting to open their relationship.

Open relationships are indeed not a solution for a failing relationship. There is a lot to navigate when it comes to this expansive type of relationship.

The difference between polyamorous and open relationships

Firstly, it is essential to define an open relationship (also known as non-monogamy) as they are different from polyamorous relationships, which are situations where there are relationships (intimacy and emotional connection) with more than one partner, and with the knowledge of all partners involved.

Couples in open relationships, meanwhile, tend to just have sex with others and are not necessarily interested in pursuing other aspects of a relationship. There tends to be little discussion around these experiences within the primary partnership.

Polyamorous couples believe that one partner cannot meet all their needs. They therefore want to explore having an intimate relationship with others, in addition to sexual experiences.

 Polyamorous relationships are those where there is an emotional, intimate, and loving connection between multiple partners. Open relationships are monogamous relationships with lax rules around intimacy with others.

Polyamorous relationships are those where there is an emotional, intimate, and loving connection between multiple partners. Open relationships are monogamous relationships with lax rules around intimacy with others.

Polyamorous couples do not limit themselves to just one person when it comes to affection, romance, flirting, sex, connection, and love. Communication around these experiences may be open with a primary partner or may have been negotiated.

Different configurations can make up polyamorous relationships, but the most common has a primary relationship, with other relationships that are secondary, or not as important.

Considerations for opening your relationship

If you're considering opening your relationship, it's essential you sit down with your partner and communicate your thoughts around how the open relationship is going to work. This could be an opportunity to discuss boundaries and deal-breakers.

 Culturally, ideas of monogamy have been drilled into us from a young age, meaning that opening a relationship can sometimes be a challenging discussion point and is something of a negotiation in many senses.

Culturally, ideas of monogamy have been drilled into us from a young age, meaning that opening a relationship can sometimes be a challenging discussion point and is something of a negotiation in many senses.

Most couples who enter into some form of non-monogamy will have ground rules or boundaries to specify which sexual behaviours are okay and which sexual practices are not okay.

Some questions that might be helpful to discuss:

  • What are the ground rules around safer sex with multiple partners?
  • How do we talk about other sexual activities outside of the primary relationship?
  • Are there limits to who we can have sex?
  • Are there specific sexual activities that are exclusive to the primary relationship?
  • Are there places that are off-limits to have sex outside of the primary relationship?
  • Can we have regular sexual partners outside of the primary relationship?

There are plenty of choices and sometimes challenging discussion to be had when it comes to the topic of opening a relationship, and sometimes it helps to have these discussions in the presence of a trained counsellor who can understand the issues at the root of the decision and support with 'negotiating' the boundaries of the open relationship.

If you would like support around such issues please do not hesitate to be in touch. You can book a counselling session with Sally Evans to discuss these issues in detail.