What defines an open relationship in modern times? That’s actually a more complicated question than most would think. There are many different types of open relationships—from swingers (committed partners who engage in sexual activities recreationally or socially), to hybrid relationships (one partner is monogamous and the other is not), and multi-partner (3 or more relationships that may or may not be involved with the others).
We live in a society filled with judgment and criticism for decisions we make in our lives. Maybe you’ve contemplated an open relationship before, but are unsure of what it entails, how it will affect you and your partner, or what your friends and family will think. Some couples have opened their minds to such relationships for reasons that can be damaging to themselves and/or their partner.
Many men (and plenty of women) want to have their cake and eat it too; thinking it would be amazing to have all the sex they want, with as many different women (or men) as possible. Many of these people, though, want to explore other lovers, but can’t handle their partner with someone else. Jealousy, insecurity, and neglect can be negative side effects from polyamory (meaning “many loves”, a broader term than polygamy, which more often refers to multiple marriages). However, there are many people, including counselors, life coaches, and celebrities championing for these types of relationships. Miami rapper, Pitbull gloats about his open relationship, while people, like Robyn Trask, the director of the polyamory not-for-profit organization, LoveMore.com, have turned their lifestyles into work.
Author Dan Savage, who calls his marriage to his husband “monogamish” (predominantly monogamous, but without restrictions), raves about his and other happy, freeing relationships.Skeptics call polyamorists immoral, sexaholics, and liars. There is no possible way an open relationship won’t end in disaster, they say. Leon Feingold from OpenLoveNY.com says his open relationships are non-competitive, and are all about making yourself, and your partners, happy. Robyn Trask (LoveMore.com) says being open has made her self-aware, less jealous and more communicative in her three relationships.
Now that we’ve established the history and existence of successful open relationships, how do you know if it’s the right road for you? This is a very personal decision that should be discussed honestly and in detail with your partner. There are many reasons an open relationship might be an option for you. As many felt during the free love movement that dates back to the 19th century, and boomed in the 1960s, a committed relationship can feel suffocating and like slavery to some. Traditional marriages are generally based on being with one person for the rest of your life, regardless of desire and need. For many people, monogamy is unattainable. Statistics show fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, mostly due to infidelity, which gives polyamorists just cause for their lifestyle choice.
When you consider how people vary, and how much a person can change over time, it can be frustrating as a couple to grow together, and hope your wants and needs stay in sync with one another. Open relationships allow couples to explore companionship, intellectual and sexual variety, without expecting their partner to change or forcing them to stay the same. By the way, yes, I did say intellectual variety. For most open relationships, it isn’t just about sex; it’s about connecting with other individuals and having the freedom to do so.
If you and your partner agree you would like to try an open relationship, there are some lengthy discussions that should happen first. Communication, trust, and honesty, as in
any relationship, are key.Establishing boundaries is probably the most important step. How far are each of you allowed to go with another person? Kissing? Sex? Casual dates? Vacations together? Is your partner allowed to have sex with someone else in the bed you share together? Should you only get involved with strangers, or are mutual acquaintances acceptable?
Another topic of discussion should be discretion. Do you want to know the dirty details? Maybe that’s a fetish of yours. Or maybe, you prefer not to know any details at all. A trickier topic is; what happens if you develop feelings for another person? Are you both able to handle that possibility? Would youbbe able to share with someone else? How do you feel about your partner willing to share you? These are all things one might say they are initially comfortable with, but in reality, can’t handle them.
When deciding if an open relationship is right for you, you must consider your partner’s feelings at all times, respect the boundaries set, and make sure you make time for one another. Nurturing your relationship together, while spending time with other people, will be what makes your open relationship a successful one.
Obviously, polyamory is not for everyone. If you know someone in an open relationship, though, try not to pass judgment on something that might work really well for them. It doesn’t have to be seen as sleazy or promiscuous; it’s just a different lifestyle that doesn’t affect anyone, but the people involved.
Published in the Fall 2014 issue of RUNWAY