How To Have A Successful Open Relationship, Because Monogamy Isn't For Everyone
Monogamy isn't for everyone. Whether you have a nagging feeling in the back of your mind that one person alone can't satisfy you sexually or know for certain that multiple partners are a must, it can be tricky to figure out how have a successful open relationship.
More and more millennials are coming out as non-monogamous these days, so there's a greater need for real talk about navigating the shift from one-on-one to happy, healthy, and seeing other people. A successful non-monogamous relationship, like a monogamous one, looks different for every individual, but there are basic ground rules that are sure to give you a fighting chance when you embark down this complex, rewarding, (and stigma-riddled) road.
As someone who has been in non-monogamous relationships for the past decade, I can say for certain that there's no right way to follow said ground rules, but it can't hurt to hunker down with your partner(s) and try them out to the best of your abilities. It's also important to note that consensual non-monogamy (CNM) is not necessarily polyamory — but does share some structural similarities — and that open relationships generally tend to be defined as a relationship that allows for varying levels of sexual and/or romantic interaction outside the relationship.
For curious newcomers and seasoned pros alike, the following are five tips on how to have a successful open relationship:
1. Hit The Books
Pop culture doesn't provide much in the way of accurate depictions of CNM. Every film that dares dip a toe into open relationship waters ends up being a cautionary tale that only reaffirms the righteousness of monogamy (see: The Overnight, I Do...Until I Don't, etc.). This means we have to dig a little deeper to find our role models and to learn what an open relationship might entail.
The iconic book on the subject, The Ethical Slut, is a great place to start, but it's also worthwhile to check out Andre Shakti's I Am Poly site, Ev'Yan Whitney's "Sexually Liberated Woman" podcast, and the work of Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, who is one of the leading researchers on the subject. Knowledge is power, and it's empowering to be educated about the many ways folks do non-monogamy if you're following suit.
2. Set Ground Rules
Setting ground rules with a partner to prepare for an open relationship is imperative. (Trust me, just going HAM and making it up as you go can end up being painful for all parties.) First, you're going to want to discuss non-negotiable parameters which could include things like "don't have sex with any of your partner's close friends or family," "check in before or after you hook up with someone else," or "always use protection."
You're also going to want to make allowances for the non-negotiables to grow and change over time as you figure out what works and what doesn't for your relationship. Keep in mind that sometimes you won't know a non-negotiable until you experience it, especially if it's your first time trying out CNM. If it is your first time, starting super small like "only makeouts with other people are allowed" can be helpful if you're not sure how much you can handle. And if you're the organizational type, keeping an ongoing Google doc of your ground rules in addition to journaling about your feelings can't hurt!
3. Get Tested
Getting tested for STIs is vital if you're sexually active, and if you're opening up your relationship, you should definitely recommit yourself to the practice. Making regular trips to the clinic with your S.O. can even be a romantic affair, because nothing says "I love you" like giving a damn about your sexual health together.
4. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Once you're up and running with an open relationship, it's easy to forget that feelings and situations aren't constant. What was once a non-negotiable can suddenly become NBD, and what was once a non-issue can turn into a deal breaker. Basically, if you're not really into open and honest communication, a non-monogamous relationship is probably not for you. But if you're down to engage, process, and grow with a partner, then a successful CNM could be in the cards. So when in doubt: communicate.
5. Prepare To Put In The Hard Work
For some folks, an open relationship will immediately fit like a glove. They'll be able to handle jealousy when it pops up and move right through it and continually readjust their ground rules. For other folks, it's not as easy — but that doesn't necessarily mean it's not the right choice, either. There is still such powerful stigma against CNM in our culture it's convenient to blame all your relationship woes on your relationship style when there could be other issues at play. Plenty of monogamous couples have a hard time figuring out their rhythm, so it only makes sense that non-monogamous couples would, too.
That said, practice makes perfect, so the more time you dedicate to educating yourself and communicating with your partner, the more likely you are to have a successful open relationship. It might work, and it might not, but you definitely won't know until you try. And in the end, don't forget to have fun with it! That's what open relationships are really all about, imho: allowing yourself and your partner to have new and exciting experiences outside the relationship, thereby improving your union overall.