7 Things to Consider Before Opening Your Relationship

Couple holding hands at table on coffee datePeople choose to open their relationships for many reasons, and there are many ways to do it. From swinging to polyamory and everything in between, each couple venturing outside the bounds of monogamy must navigate the arrangement that works best for them. The books referenced at the bottom of this article contain a wealth of information about open relationship styles. Before leaping into the unknown, it’s important to consider whether nonmonogamy is right for you. Consider the following questions—and then read up.

1. Is your mental and emotional health well-managed?

An open relationship can work wonderfully for many couples, but it may not be a good idea if you or your partner have unmanaged mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, mood conditions, posttraumatic stress (PTSD), or bipolar. The complexities of an open relationship style may exacerbate untreated mental health issues.

If you struggle with your mental health, as many people do, consider seeing a therapist and/or psychiatrist to address your needs and to discuss the potential mental health implications of opening your relationship.

2. What is your attachment style?

Your attachment style determines how secure you feel in romantic relationships, and it is typically established in childhood based on your relationship with parents or caregivers. If you are anxiously attached and often fear that your partner will leave you, an open relationship may trigger those fears and lead to problems. This doesn’t mean an open relationship is not for you—rather, it means you should be honest with yourself about what it will take for you to feel secure.

Also, know that attachment styles can become more secure with time and healing. The book Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love has good information about attachment styles. There are also online resources and quizzes, including this one, that can help you learn about your attachment style and that of your partner.

This page contains at least one affiliate link for the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, which means GoodTherapy.org receives financial compensation if you make a purchase using an Amazon link.

3. Does your relationship have significant unaddressed problems or issues?

Don’t expect an open relationship to fix a relationship that is on the rocks. It’s wise to go to couples therapy and address any issues between you and your partner before considering an open relationship.

Every relationship, open or not, has its issues. You don’t have to be a “perfect” couple to open your relationship, but you will likely be better able to handle any challenges that arise if you feel confident that your relationship is on strong footing.

4. How well do you communicate with each other?

Having a successful open relationship requires a LOT of communication. If you and your partner struggle being open and honest with each other, communication practices such as active/reflective listening, using I-statements, and focusing on feelings and needs are an excellent place to start.

Couples therapy is a great place to learn and practice healthy communication and to talk through any concerns you might have about opening your relationship.

Couples therapy is a great place to learn and practice healthy communication and to talk through any concerns you might have about opening your relationship.

5. How busy are you?

If you struggle to make time for your partner as it is, adding another partner isn’t going to help.

Having an open relationship takes a lot of time—time openly communicating, time spent coordinating, time spent checking in on each other’s needs and feelings, and, of course, one-on-one time with each partner. Take an honest look at your calendar and make sure you have time for all of it. Make sure opening your relationship won’t have an unexpected domino effect of taking time away from other priorities in your life.

6. How do you feel about your partner having sex with another person?

Some people are turned on and excited by this, while others have a knee-jerk reaction against it. If you are in the second group, this is an opportunity for personal exploration. Ask yourself why. What concerns does it bring up? What are you afraid of?

Keep asking questions until you uncover the underlying fear. For instance, beneath jealousy may be a part of you that fears abandonment. Fears often contain some component of irrationality, as they represent unconscious beliefs that can be traced to previous experiences. Try to understand that fearful part of yourself and find out what it needs to feel safe. Remember there are different ways to get your needs met. Be candid with yourself, keep an open mind, and most importantly, be gentle with yourself and with your partner, as these are vulnerable topics.

7. How well do you identify and communicate your needs to your partner?

People who have healthy relationships, open or otherwise, are able to identify their feelings and needs, take responsibility for them, and communicate them to their partners in productive ways. Being in an open relationship provides many opportunities to practice this, which may make you a stronger and better communicator.

Consider this hypothetical example: Brenda and Aaron decided to open their marriage three months ago. They’ve both been on a few dates, and Brenda has been struggling with jealousy and insecurity. Brenda could say to Aaron, “I’m feeling nervous and worried about your date tonight (identifying and verbalizing feelings). I fear you will like her more than me and will pull away from me or possibly leave (identifying the underlying fear). I need to know you are committed to us (making a specific request).” Aaron could then say, “Brenda, I understand your fear; I have felt similarly when you go out (validating her feelings). I think you are beautiful. I love you, and I am so happy in our relationship (affirming Brenda and the relationship). I am 100% committed to us (reaffirming his commitment).” Brenda may still have feelings of fear, nervousness, and jealousy, but if she feels anchored by Aaron’s validation and reassurance, she may be better able to manage those feelings.

No one is perfect, and conversations don’t always flow this easily. However, having a relationship grounded in trust, good communication skills, and the ability to identify and share feelings will go a long way.

Conclusion

Although many couples are exploring nonmonogamy, it doesn’t work for everyone. It’s important to be honest with yourself and your partner about any concerns you might have. If you decide to try an open relationship, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and not to “fix” any existing problems.

It’s also important to consider the risks. Nonmonogamy remains stigmatized in many cultures and work environments, which can present complications. Educating yourself about the possible benefits and drawbacks, as well as safe sex practices, is essential, and a therapist can help you unpack any concerns you and your partner might have. Many therapists work specifically with nonmonogamous individuals and couples.

If you are curious about open relationships, consider the questions above before opening up rather than after. If you determine that an open relationship may work for you and your partner, check out the books below for helpful guidance on navigating nonmonogamy in an ethical and sustainable way.

References:

  1. Easton, D., & Hardy, J. W. (2009). The ethical slut: A practical guide to polyamory, open relationships, and other freedoms in sex and love. Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
  2. Taormino, T. (2008). Opening up: A guide to creating and sustaining open relationships. Jersey City, NJ: Cleis Press.
  3. Veaux, F., & Rickert, E. (2014). More than two: A practical guide to ethical polyamory. Portland, OR: Thorntree Press.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Rachel Keller, LCSW-C, therapist in Silver Spring, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Carrie

    Carrie

    May 2nd, 2018 at 8:12 AM

    Thank you for writing this article. As a woman who has happily been practicing polyamory for almost 15 years, I am always heartened to see articles that help to destigmatize my lifestyle choice. I find that most people who criticize poly are the least educated about it. They jump to conclusions based on their own upbringing and religious and cultural influences. It’s amazing how much love is out there, if only we are open to giving and receiving it freely. Will you be posting more on this topic?

  • Rachel Keller, LCSW-C, CST

    Rachel Keller, LCSW-C, CST

    May 2nd, 2018 at 8:56 AM

    Carrie – Thank you for the comment! I totally agree – there is a lot of miss-information about poly and open relationships. It can be a wonderful thing in the right context. I may write more on this topic, given the need for it.

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