If you have ever had an unfaithful partner or if you have problems with trust, the simple phrase “open relationship” may make ants run over your bones. Or, if you’ve only had a ‘blissful’ monogamous relationship, an open relationship could involve you with carefree hippies, swingers, or people who can’t stop themselves from cheating.
While interest in open relationships has grown over time, researchers at the University of Michigan have found that people tend to stick to negative stereotypes about unanimous non-monogamous relationships and the people who engage in them. However, they are not as rare as they may seem. According to a study published in the journal Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 4.3 to 10.5 percent of ratios are not monogamous.
” People tend to think that an open relationship is a solution to building a commitment phobia, or that it’s a way to develop relationship skills, but nothing could be further from the truth,” says Darcy Sterling, Ph.D., LCSW, Tinder dating, and relationship trend expert and co-owner of Alternatives Counseling.
Whether you have an open relationship in your mind or vice versa, experts agree on one thing: for an open relationship to work, you need unparalleled relationship skills, and the same skills are just as useful in a monogamous relationship. Here are some guidelines worth taking from successful open relationship partners.
Set clear boundaries
“In an open relationship, you need to be very clear about the type of agreement you are making and what each partner expects,” says Jesse Zimmerman, a Seattle sex and relationship therapist and author of Sex Without Stress. (Because, of course, not all open relationships are the same.)
The same goes for traditional monogamous relationships: although it may sound very direct, monogamy does not mean one particular thing. “In a monogamous relationship, you probably don’t have the same assumptions,” says Zimmerman. ” It’s very important to be clear about what monogamy means to each of you, what you each expect, and that you agree on that .”
For example: is flirting a scam? What about kissing? Having sex with the opposite sex? What about same-sex partners? ” Many couples don’t know they have different expectations until they get into trouble,” she says.
” Relationship structures and boundaries need to be very clear, whether your relationship is open-ended or not,” says Catherine Smerling, Ph.D., LCSW, relationship psychotherapist. This means sitting down and defining your relationship with your partner. Even if you already seem to know the other person’s position. It is important to define exactly what it means to “cross the line”.
Try to cling to it from a really positive point of view. Emphasize that you want the relationship to be as strong as possible, and make sure you are on the same page. ” If you approach it with an ‘I want to understand you, my partner’ position, you will probably be very well received ,” she says.
First, get to know yourself
You may have heard the phrase “You must learn to love yourself before you can love someone else.” While loving yourself is very important, you also need to know yourself.
“ People who are in an open relationship need to be much aware of their desires and needs and boundaries; with whom they are at peace and with whom they are not; what their emotions will be and what they have done in the past , ”says Zimmerman. ” This kind of self-confidence is also incredibly useful in monogamous relationships. The ability to understand your emotions and express them, to understand what you want and need, to know where you need to set boundaries – this kind of attention is very important for yourself. “
Maintain direct communication
” For people to succeed in an open relationship, the amount of communication partners need is epic,” says Sterling. This means being able to express your wishes, needs, and emotions so that you can deal with everything together, as opposed to completely avoiding talking about complex topics. Because inevitably, such things will sooner or later float.
” Great relationships are not about non-conflict partners. They are about partners who know how to navigate the conflict, ”says Sterling. ” And it becomes interesting when you have the ability to manage conflicts: you and your partner get even closer, you deepen the bond and increase intimacy .”
But beware of over-communication: ” It’s very important to know what to share and what to refrain from disclosing,” says Sterling. For example, in an open relationship, you may not want to tell your partner how great someone else is in bed, because it can be jealous. In a monogamous relationship, you probably don’t want to tell your other half about the person who hit you at the bar.
Show evaluation regularly
” Everyone is so busy developing their careers and performing their daily responsibilities that we can forget that our relationship deserves and demands attention,” says Sterling. ” It’s so easy to fall into the choreographic model, forgetting that our partners agreed to become our partners because we appreciated them in the beginning. We tried to make things exciting. ” Even when you have trusted each other in a monogamous relationship, the same effort must be made as the relationship continues. ” Relationships need attention and pleasant excitement to continue to flourish,” she says.
You are not trapped in an open relationship. Instead, ” you have the attitude that you choose to be in this relationship every day and make sure that your partner wants to choose you every day,” says Zimmerman. This often means that you probably don’t take each other for granted.
Think of your relationship as a succulent in your apartment. It doesn’t take much, but you still have to hear it and change the soil from time to time. “ You need to value your relationship; how it works for you and your partner, you need to assess how happy they are and who works for them, and adjust if necessary, ”says Zimmerman.
Be aware that one person cannot meet all your needs
There is so much joy in a romantic culture that one “true and only” is found. You should find your lobster. Your other half.
But to be honest, it’s not realistic to think that you can get all your complex human interaction needs from one person.
Open relationships allow you to meet sexual and intimate needs with different people. Of course, this is not likely to apply to a monogamous relationship – ” but you will face problems if you think your partner will meet all your needs,” says Zimmerman.
Instead of treating your other half as the number one trustee, source of intimacy, best friend, lover, and counselor, you should use friends, hobbies, social groups, therapy, and other things to support yourself. ” Get rid of the idea that there is only one soulmate who is your other half. It is good to do things separately so that there are separate lives and separate interests, ”says Zimmerman.
Learn the art of compression
Meet your new favorite name: compression. In essence, it is the opposite of jealousy – it is the joy you feel for your partner’s joy and growth. In a non-monogamous relationship, we talk about finding joy, knowing that your partner is having sexual and emotional pleasure, even if it is outside of your relationship. However, even in a monogamous relationship, you may feel compression against your partner. ” Look at your partner’s growth and change from the sidelines, even if it seems scary,” says Zimmerman. ” Evaluate their desire and happiness separately from your own. You don’t have to slow down your partner. “
Sounds easier said than done? Honestly. You can improve compression by changing thinking and emotional self-awareness.
” Much of it is awareness and the ability to manage all your worries and insecurities that may arise,” says Zimmerman. Move your mindset to a place where you can recognize that your partner’s growth matters and his or her happiness matters, even if it drives them away from you.