Being in an open relationship

The Pros and Cons of an Open Relationship

  • Relationships
  • Love & Dating

Hint: Communication is key.


Stacey Laura Lloyd

Stacey Laura Lloyd

Stacey Laura Lloyd is an author with a passion for helping others find happiness and success in their dating lives as well as in their relationships.

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Updated on 03/24/21

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Relationships are like a great pair of vintage jeans: If they don't fit, they won't make you happy. One thing we know for sure is that, also like amazing denim, there are lots of different types of relationships. Love is definitely not one-size-fits-all. One type of relationship getting a lot of buzz lately is an open one, but what does that really mean?

What Is an Open Relationship?

An open relationship is one in which both parties aren't exclusively dating each other. In other words, both people are openly allowed to have other sexual and/or romantic partners.

Basically, if you're in an open relationship, you're okay with you and your partner having other love interests. Other than that, the rest of the "rules" are up to you and your partner. In a psychological study conducted by the University of Guelph, author Jessica Wood pointed out, "We found people in consensual, non-monogamous relationships experience the same levels of relationship satisfaction, psychological well-being and sexual satisfaction as those in monogamous relationships."

If this sounds interesting, but you aren't quite sure if an open relationship is right for you, keep reading to learn a little more about what being in this type of coupling entails. Here's what you should consider before opening up your relationship.

01 of 05

Say Goodbye to Monogamy

Look, all relationships are different, but the one thing that defines them is whether or not both parties are exclusively seeing each other or not. The whole point of being in a relationship is to enjoy yourself and your partner in whatever context works for you. If you both feel like your relationship would do better if you open it up, go for it.

If you've spent your whole life in monogamous relationships, an open one may feel a little strange, but don't worry, you'll get used to it (and might even wonder why you never tried this earlier!) You may feel a little guilty the first time you hook up with someone who isn't your main man or lady, but try to let those feelings go because you're not doing anything wrong.

Lawrence Josephs Ph.D., explains, "[Some] individuals may feel that monogamy is a prison that traps them in a permanent arrangement that is sexually frustrating and devoid of emotional intimacy." If you can relate, that doesn't make you a bad person incapable of love; it just means that you may need different things from different partners.

02 of 05

Honesty Really Is the Best Policy

The only way an open relationship will work is if you're both totally honest with each other. Like a monogamous relationship, you'll discuss what you're both comfortable with when you define the relationship. People who don't really understand the concept of open relationships may make you feel like you're just getting permission to cheat on your partner, but here's why they're wrong: Open relationships grant both of you the freedom to pursue other people in a way that's based on mutual respect, open communication, and total honesty. In other words, you fully trust each other.

While you still have strong feelings for your primary partner, you're still able to have different sexual needs met with different people, all while being completely truthful and open with one another. We truly believe that the hallmark of a successful relationship is being able to tell each other anything.

03 of 05

Clear Your Schedule

No matter how many or few partners you have, you'll need to be able to make time for all of them. Regardless of whether you're going out for a long and leisurely dinner or just heading to their apartment for a quick hookup, you will probably need to keep a few nights open every week. Just like any other relationship, an open one requires time and effort.

For some couples, it means one main partner and other less significant partners, and for other couples, it means that both parties can have other full-blown relationships. Take some time to figure out what works for you, but either way, open relationships are a time commitment.

04 of 05

Feel Your Feelings

Even if you're super open-minded, accepting, and trusting, you may still feel a pang of jealousy when your partner comes home after a night spent with one of their other lovers. Jealousy is a strong feeling that may be hard to ignore, so don't try to pretend you're fine if you're not.

Believe it or not, it's not uncommon for people in an open relationship to feel a bit threatened or intimidated by the different people their partner may pursue. "Some of us might aspire to be successful at consensual non-monogamy and that, too, requires certain personality dispositions and interpersonal skills like overcoming jealousy and insecurity about consensual partner sharing," Dr. Josephs explains.

If you are experiencing negative feelings about your partner, talk to him, your friends, or a therapist about it. Sometimes merely acknowledging the way you feel aloud to another person can help alleviate the negativity.

05 of 05

Don't Expect a Quick-Fix

Whether it was on television or in real life, we've all seen a couple have a baby in the hopes of repairing their relationship, but that never works. If a relationship is doomed to fail, nothing will be able to fix it because it's simply not meant to be.

Like a baby, an open relationship can't save a failing connection. In fact, opening up a weak relationship will probably destroy it. If you want an open relationship to have any chance of succeeding, you need to establish a strong and sturdy foundation first. Trust us, if you're already feeling pretty insecure about where your connection stands, hooking up with other people won't help.

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Article Sources

Brides takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.

  1. University of Guelphi. Open Relationships Just as Satisfying as Monogamous Ones, U of G Study Reveals. Updated July 3, 2018.

I'm In an Open Relationship and Here Are 8 Things I Tell People

We’ve been sleeping with other people for four years.

I'm pretty sure monogamy was never for me. In fourth grade, I got in trouble with my boyfriend because he found out I had another boyfriend. Throughout high school and college, some of my relationships overlapped, and some were purely dishonest. But society told me I had to be with one person at a time, with the goal of choosing one person forever. I would often fall into a cycle of trying to make that work but eventually letting temptation get the best of me, and failing both parties of the relationship; especially my partner. I hurt people, and it felt so wrong. It was so wrong.

After a really great, long-term, successfully monogamous relationship ended, I was suddenly single in my late twenties and enjoying the freedom and the variety. That’s when I met my partner on OkCupid. He was fun and our chemistry was fantastic and rare, and though we kept it strictly physical, with those boundaries clearly defined throughout, spending time together was becoming the highlight. Eventually, the inevitable conversation came up naturally about what we were, and what we could be. We were both always aware of the existence of other lovers, but it was clear that we were each other's favorite. It occurred to us that we could keep the excitement and variety, and still let ourselves fall in love with each other.

In July of 2012, we began an open relationship. And since then I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how we make it work and why we would even do that in the first place. I get that it can be hard for a lot of people to understand. But it works for us, and it’s not as unusual as it seems. Here are some of the most common questions I get.

1. What does it mean to be in an “open relationship,” anyway?

An open relationship is a form of non-monogamy, which is an umbrella term for any physical or romantic partnership that is not predicated on exclusivity. There are tons of versions. In this article I’m focusing on what my partner and I are and do: a committed couple that takes lovers. Or as Dan Savage calls it, we are “monogamish.” Even that can look really different from relationship to relationship. One married couple I’m friends with has a couple of girlfriends between them, and they also have their own partners (she has both male and female partners, and he has female partners). I have a good friend who lives apart from her boyfriend; she has several regular male and female lovers, while he travels the world, finding spontaneous sexual encounters along the way. For another married couple I know, non-monogamy means one partner does things with lovers that his husband doesn't really enjoy doing, while the husband opts for trysts. My partner and I keep our lovers separate (more on that later).

The great thing is, once you’ve decided that you can include other people or lovers into your relationship, you can make it whatever you want. It's up to the couple to decide what levels of involvement with secondary partners feels comfortable. Generally, the one rule with non-monogamy is that all sluttery must be done ethically, safely, and with consent of all parties involved. Beyond that, each pair or group determines their own limits and guidelines.

And lest you think we’re a small subculture of free-love weirdos, research over the last several years estimates that 4-5 percent of relationships in the U.S are non-monogamous. Even more are interested in the concept. A study described in Psychology Today in 2014 found that between 23 and 40 percent of men and 11-22 percent of women are curious to try it.

2. Sounds fun. But why do you need this when you have a great S.O. at home?

Many people feel that having a relationship or sex with only one person for an indefinite amount of time is too difficult and unnatural. I have always been one of these people. For most of my life I was a serial monogamist and constantly cheating. In fact, I only had one successful monogamous relationship. It wasn’t until my partner and I created our arrangement that I realized I could actually have it all: commitment and freedom. And he gets to, too. Everybody wins. (And everybody gets laid.)

A lot of non-monogamous couples joke that they spend more time talking about it than they do getting any. That is the case with us.

3. Why are you so anti-monogamy?

I'm not saying monogamy is impossible, or improbable. I know lots of people who have very successful monogamous relationships and are really happy together. But a lot of people are challenging the conventional relationship style, and it’s working for them—just like it’s working for me.

We build and modify the relationship—and the rules—as we go. Yes, we have rules!

4. Oh, good. You have rules. What are your rules?

We started with very few, and now we have a few more that we’ve devised along the way. There have been instances where something has felt uncomfortable, or times we’ve felt hurt, so we've modified. We don’t get mad at each other if something happens that feels uncomfortable as long as it’s not a violation of an existing rule; we learn from it, and make a new rule.

Rule 1:

This was the first rule we made up: This is our primary relationship. We make a point not to spend too much time with secondary partners. We can, and sometimes do become friends with them, especially if they hang around for a couple years, but we have to cut it off if it becomes more than that.

Rule 2:

Honesty. Always. But that's something we've never really had to make an effort for.

Rule 3:

Always get consent from the person who’s getting involved. And of course, let each other know when we'll be seeing someone else.

Rule 4:

We don't date friends or anyone that we know—including anyone we are friends with on social media. Once, I saw a Facebook profile of someone he ended up sleeping with, and she was absolutely stunning. That was hard for me because I couldn’t help but compare myself to how I perceived her online (most of which was just illusions filled in by my very own brain, of course). But we got through it together. Just because he was the cause of my hurt, it didn’t mean I couldn’t wait to run into his arms and have him comfort me. We made a new rule then: No sleeping with Facebook friends, no friending lovers.

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Rule 5:

Two different lovers in one week is a little much, so we try to avoid that.

Rule 6:

ALWAYS use protection. Nobody wants chlamydia.

5. Do you get jealous?

Yes, of course! In monogamous relationships in the past, I was jealous all the time. Attractive women were a potential threat in my mind, and I was paranoid about my boyfriends’ connections with other people. Since our communication never allowed for a simple conversation about how beautiful some woman was, or how good looking a guy I saw was, any amount of flirting was catastrophic. With my current setup with my partner, he knows that yes, I am attracted to other people and am sleeping with some. And I know the same about him. Confirmed, moving on.

Besides, a little jealousy can be healthy, and it usually fades after a few hours to a few days. And there’s no confidence booster like remembering that it’s me whom he comes home to and loves deeply. My partner has made it clear what a catch I am. He knows all of my quirks, he knows what makes me tick and how to reason with me. Nobody knows me like he does, and nobody is going to know him like I do. When I really stop to think about it, I know that there’s very little chance that he’s seeing anyone who is going to be better for him than I am.

We’ve removed the ownership that can come with a conventional relationship. My partner and I enjoy variety, and we know firsthand that the presence of other lovers doesn’t diminish the feelings we have for each other. We talk to each other as friends, and nothing is restricted from conversation, which means sometimes I ask him dumb questions I already know the answer to—like, “Do you still love me?” and “Are you going to Mexico with her?” (obviously yes, and obviously no, in that order)—just to hear it come from him. I can also complain to him when lovers are uncool to me, and vice versa. Since we’re structured upon honesty, I know I'll get an honest answer or honest advice. We’ve benefited so much from open communication all-around. Openness is everything.

Plus, knowing our significant other is desired by other people is actually pretty sexy.

6. What do you do while he's out with another woman?

Sometimes I like seeing him leave for a date looking really sexy and kissing him before he goes out. We live together, so after he leaves I get alone time to watch whatever I want and I get the whole king size bed all to myself. If I’m in a jealous mood and need to talk to someone, I’ll call a friend for support and whine to them. My friends make me laugh and feel better. Occasionally we’ll have dates on the same night, but it happens rarely.

7. What if you fall in love with someone else?

We’ve worked really hard for a long time to build a loving, happy, fun and trusting relationship that we both feel is virtually unbreakable. We communicate so much that nothing major would go unnoticed and not talked about. We’ve agreed that if things are getting a little intense with someone, we’ll end it, but that hasn’t happened yet. Besides that, we've eliminated the temptation element, so sex isn’t a risky, adrenaline-driven sin. In my experience, adrenaline resulting from sneaking around with someone can become dependence—the act itself can bond people together, and can eventually be mistaken for love.

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Plus, there really isn’t anything inherent in monogamous relationships that protects committed people from falling in love with someone else. What about that cute guy at work? Can’t you fall in love with him? If anything, I would venture that there’s less of a risk that we’d leave each other for a hot new lover because we are exploring what’s out there—and we know it’s not better.

8. Thanks for briefing me. This actually sounds quite reasonable/logical/fun and pretty great, and I’m curious to try it…where do I start?

OK, maybe this isn’t verbatim a question I get all the time. But usually by the time I’m done with my pitch, I’ve persuaded people to recognize non-monogamy as a valid relationship type, and some want to give it a shot themselves. Here’s what I did to prepare myself to be in an open relationship.

In order gain the courage to try this, I had to start by realizing that the conventional relationships I’d known all of my life weren’t necessarily the only kind that was available to me. A book I read, called Sex At Dawn, examines the evolution of monogamy in humans; it wasn’t always the societal norm. Before agriculture and population growth, sexual promiscuity strengthened communities, rather than fueling jealousy. Applying that community structure to modern-day functionality was a bit more of a challenge, however. A friend recommended another book that’s a favorite read among a lot of non-monogamous people I know called The Ethical Slut, which is an introduction to different types of non-monogamy in today’s society. That book helped clarify a lot of questions that came up for me naturally about different approaches to open relationships, how to work through feelings of jealousy, how to feel supported by your partner and your friends, and, above all, the importance of love and honesty. I also listen regularly to Dan Savage’s podcast, Savage Lovecast, in which he takes calls and discusses relationships (including non-monogamous ones), and the importance of a healthy sex life, with a great deal of practical wisdom.

Through a combination of resources and my own experiences, I’ve learned that a successful non-monogamous relationship must prioritize communication, honesty, openness, collaboration, and respect—the same things that are important in any relationship, by the way. When those elements are practiced in the daily and long-term functioning of a relationship, the outcome is extraordinarily empowering. Feelings of apprehension, jealousy, and even sometimes anger, are all normal emotions that everyone experiences at some point in open relationships. It's healthy when you can identify them and recognize that they're not roadblocks; even seemingly negative emotions are useful because you can work through and overcome them with reason and logic, both individually and as a couple. It gives your mind incredible power, and your relationship incredible validity. If you’re feeling insecure, just ask your partner how much they love you and how perfect you are for them. They will let you know.

Update: This story was edited after publication.

SELF does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.


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Open relationships - what is their essence, who suits them, pros and cons

Some people cringe at the mere phrase "open relationship". Free - from what? From love, from mutual obligations, from supporting each other? But for many, this is quite a convenient form of personal life. Whether you can feel great without being the only woman of the only man is up to you. But first, find out what those who decide to live like this will have to face.

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Interesting Facts

Relations between the sexes

open relationship

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So, let's try to figure out what an open relationship is, what are their pros and cons, who is suitable for them and who is not.

Open relationships: what is their essence

The term "open relationship" means a relationship that, in addition to communicating with one regular partner, does not prohibit freedom of action with members of the opposite sex. In an open relationship, partners do not report to each other, do not coordinate their actions in relation to other men or women, and are not justified. A couple, where a free relationship between a man and a woman is implied, itself sets the boundaries of what is permissible.

An open relationship between a man and a woman can be partial. In such cases, the couple arranges joint trips to the cinema, to a restaurant. At the same time, each of them can invite someone else with them. A man and a woman exchange messages with other people, give them or accept gifts from them. However, such a couple does not let anyone into an intimate relationship - sex happens only between them and with no one else.

But in some cases, open relationships are not limited to this. The essence of free relations can be reduced to the fact that partners by agreement have the right not only to communicate with the opposite sex, but also to flirt and even to intimate contact.

The psychology of a man and a woman, when their relationship is recognized as free, requires an unbiased attitude towards the partner. It is impossible to demand from him that he be constantly near, swear eternal love, maintain sexual contacts only with you and with no one else.

How to find an open relationship? First of all, remember that if you choose this way of life, then it does not imply any obligations. To maintain an open relationship without obligation, you need to close your eyes and not react to many things that happen. For example, your partner may go on a date with another girl, and you should not be jealous of him. Your friends and colleagues will constantly say that they saw your partner with someone else.

First, make sure that you are ready to say to yourself: “Yes, I want just such an open relationship.”

Open relationship list of rules to follow

1. Make sure that you are self-sufficient and everything is stable in your life

You probably have friends of the opposite sex for open relationships in your life. They do not gravitate towards marriage, and welcome frequent meetings and sexual contacts, not counting on anything more. From an emotional point of view, an open relationship is the same as walking on a narrow bridge over an abyss. In both cases, you will want someone to hold your hand tightly. If you have a serious relationship, it must be strong. If you start something new, you yourself must be strong. Better not try if you have a black streak of life.

2. Get ready to be jealous

If a girl expects an open relationship, then she must understand that partners should not be jealous of each other. A feeling of jealousy can gnaw at a person even under better circumstances. You can admit it to yourself, you can discuss it with a partner, but you cannot avoid it. If you find it difficult to deal with jealousy, an open relationship is not for you.

3. Consider the views of everyone involved in the relationship

If an open relationship has arisen between a guy and a girl, it is desirable that the closest friends know about it. Explain to them the essence of friendship, which does not carry any obligations. Whether you're going to turn an existing monogamous relationship into a free one, or you're starting something new, you need to talk to everyone involved about it.

Things like non-committal relationships need clarity, so be honest about what you want and even more honestly about what you DON'T want. Is it just sex? Do you want to meet others at the same time? Do you expect that for your main partner you will remain in the foreground?


Discuss everything in detail.

An open relationship is not only sex without commitment. You will have to come up with your own rules: what each of you can do and with whom. Do not forget to discuss what each of you wants to know about the adventures of the second, and what you categorically do not want to know. And if you know - then in advance or after an already accomplished fact. These rules can even be written down so that later you don’t say: “We didn’t agree on that!”

5. Make a list of people you shouldn't change with

If in a couple someone proposed an open relationship, this means that sex can happen on the side. But with whom? Discuss in advance possible applicants for intimate contact with your partner. And think about why these people are on this list. For example, your friends, colleagues, relatives can enter it - which is quite understandable. And Olya I. Just because you can't stand Olya I. and you feel sick at the mere thought that your boyfriend will even touch her.

6. Be fair

What one of you is allowed to do, the other can do. It's a relationship without obligation.

7. Warn your friends

If you have an open relationship with a man, it is advisable to inform your relatives and friends about it. This does not mean that you need to gather everyone and make an official statement. There is no need to make a fuss about your new way of life, but it is better if others are aware of it. So that a friend does not call you in a panic in the middle of the night with a sensational message when she meets your lover with another in a club.

8. This is not a "last chance"

Many people think that an open relationship is the last desperate attempt to save what is going to hell. This is not true. It is important to understand: such a move will not hold together the union that is falling apart before our eyes, but will only completely destroy it. An open relationship, or rather their psychology, is based on the fact that such a couple does not have strong mutual feelings. Everything can be built on sex and spending time together.

9. For your part, be honest and don't play with other people's hearts

If someone likes you and you like him, tell him that you are in an open relationship before you wake up in the same bed. A relationship without obligations still requires respect for a partner - both the one with whom you are in a relationship and the one with whom you are ready for one-time sex.

If you feel uncomfortable talking about it, it means that you feel uncomfortable living like this, and open relationships are not for you.

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What is an open relationship?

An open relationship between a man and a woman is a relationship that, in addition to communicating with a regular partner, implies freedom in contacts with other members of the opposite sex, when there is no need to coordinate something with a partner, report or justify.

Does each couple set limits on what is acceptable? Are there any variations of open relationships?

An open relationship can be partial: when partners agree that it is possible to go to the cinema, cafe, bar, restaurant with someone else. Plus call up, correspond, receive and give gifts. But intimate relationships can only be in a pair and no one else!

A shot from the film "Friends with Benefits"

Also, open relationships can be complete. When partners agree that for all the depth of their relationship (sometimes even living together and having a common budget), they have every right not only to communicate with people of the opposite sex, but also to have sex with them.

Is it normal to be in an open relationship but jealous of your partner?

Being in an officially recognized open relationship and being jealous is nonsense! This means that someone misunderstands the meaning of the words or people have not clearly defined the format of the relationship. Just the main difference between free relationships and classic love relationships is that partners are forbidden to be jealous; plus, formally being in a couple, they can legally and without hiding consider some other options for a life partner or partner for sex. In ordinary relationships, people proceed from the fact that their partner is not a temporary transit companion, but a life partner, a “second half” forever; hence they are jealous, demand from their partner to refrain from personal contacts with persons of the opposite sex, strive to exercise complete control.

A shot from the movie "More Than Sex"

Why then do we need an open relationship?

The very essence of free relationships in any form is simple: people want to satisfy their needs (in whole or in part) in sex, communication, everyday life, material and financial part, but do not take on full reciprocal obligations. Or there is a desire to take on obligations, but there is no time or money yet: you need to study, work, there is no housing. And since the unconscious biological needs for communication and sex do not care about these reasonable social deficits, the format of an open relationship helps to hold out for at least some time with sex and communication, but at the same time not to spend all the money and time on relationships.

When can an open relationship work, and when does it not?

If this suits both partners at once, it can last a long time and usually ends in a calm parting. If this suits only one of the partners, it does not last long and usually ends in a scandal. After that, people either change the format of the relationship to a more serious one, or break up. If this does not suit either of the partners, they talk seriously and increase the degree of seriousness of the relationship.

A scene from Sex and the City TV series

Can an open relationship save a marriage or just a long-term union of people?

Falling back into a partial open relationship simply makes it technically more legally and morally comfortable to try and develop another relationship. Up to leaving in a completely free relationship with sex with another partner.

Most often, falling back into an open relationship kills relationships in general. If in other respects everything turned out to be worse than in the previous ones, partners can reset them, shake them up, talk and raise their status up to completely serious ones. But there is a problem: jealousy due to personal or sexual contacts that have occurred, usually like sulfuric acid, begins to corrode even formally strengthened relationships and necessarily worsens everything in the present or future. In general, if a reverse rollback into an open relationship still helps to save a couple from parting right away, unfortunately, a man and a woman can part already in marriage. Then, because of their jealousy and resentment, the born children may already suffer ... So, to be honest, a rollback to freedom usually either does not work at all, or only prolongs the relationship for a while.

A frame from the film Mr.

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