Open relationships: things to think about

16 June 2020

Relate counsellors called up by Huffington Post have been giving their thoughts on open relationships – where both partners in a relationship or marriage agree they are permitted to have sexual relationships with other people.

Proponents of open relationships say they have found the answer to differing sex drives, and satiating a desire to have a variety of sexual experiences, but others just see it as glorified cheating without consequences.

So what should you be asking yourself if you’re considering taking your relationship down this route?

Define what an open relationship involves

Relate counsellor Barbara Honey told HuffPost UK that people can have very different ideas about what an open relationship means, both logistically and in terms of scope, and the biggest mistake would be to make assumptions that it means the same for both parties. “Does it [just] mean having sex with other people? If you’re going to embark on an open relationship, it’s important to make sure you are both totally happy about it,” she says.

How will it work? 

Once you’ve decided on the definition for you and your partner, you need to work out how much you want to know about it – do you want full transparency or minimal information? Relate counsellor Rachel Davies says: “Try to cover the who, what, when, where questions when discussing what the open relationship would look like. For example, is bringing someone home ok or does any encounter need to be happening elsewhere?”

Are you really communicating with your partner?

While you may pass the first hurdles, do you really feel like you’re being open with your partner about your feelings and expectations? Margaret Tonge, counsellor and sex therapist, says: “Two people getting together will inevitably come from different backgrounds with differing expectations.  If two people are considering an open relationship there needs to be communication, with neither partner feeling coerced into accepting what the other wants.”

Are you likely to compare yourself to the other person?

Think about whether you’d compare yourself to the other person in your partner’s life. Might you see other parties as competition? “Be prepared that there may be a point where you feel in competition with the other person,” says Margaret. “Comparing one partner with another is unavoidable and this can raise issues of dissatisfaction and confusion about which way to go.”

How will you be supported in this relationship?

Even if your relationship with outsiders is just sexual, this could infringe on how you feel emotionally connected with your primary partner. “It’s worth considering who you turn to for support,” says Margaret. “The issue of how needs will be met should be carefully thought through. One way to test whether people are able to sustain an open relationship is to imagine how easy or difficult it would be to make more than one person feel special and unique all the time.”

How will you react if your feelings change over time?

If an open relationship is for both of you, bear in mind that your feelings might change over time, so you need to check in regularly and be mindful that your partner could be thinking differently from you. “If the situation changes over time and one partner no longer wants an open relationship, confusion, anger and jealousy can surface,” says Margaret. “So it’s best to consider the very real possibility of this happening sooner rather than later.  In any relationship there will always be one partner who struggles more than the other with insecurity and jealously and this creates a difficult balancing act between insecurity and allowing freedom. There should always be regular review points where couples are prepared to redraw the boundaries and agree to do it differently in the light of each partner’s needs and wishes.”

If you’d like to talk about this or any other issue in your relationship with one of our counsellors give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.

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