Open, committed relationships are becoming more and more popular. It’s difficult to say just how many people are in a non-monogamous relationship because most studies only track couples who are legally married. However, it’s worth nothing that a 2016 study found approximately 1 in 5 people have been involved in some form of consensual, non-monogamy or polyamory.
Open relationships are even becoming more mainstream on-screen; the dynamics and boundaries are being explored in many different ways. As a result, we’re all becoming aware of non-monogamous relationships. Even though they have been around for a long time, it’s a blessing that they’re being discussed and portrayed more openly.
Why? Because it gives people who haven’t had their first-hand experience with open relationships a better perspective. In the spirit of doing the same for you, I talked to many different people involved in different open relationship dynamics to understand how they make things work. It’s my hope their perspectives serve as guidance for those of you interested in giving open relationships a try.
Open and polyamorous relationships require boundaries and complete communication. How does that work?
This is one of the things that’s most difficult to understand about open relationships; the logic can be quite confusing from the outside looking in. What I’ve learned from my interview with these people is that it all works differently for every couple.
The boundaries open relationships set are the result of sitting down and having an honest talk about each other’s limits. Some couples may have many boundaries, while others have a couple of basic boundaries and they allow everything else to flow around them.
Some couples make it a rule not to text with lovers when they’re spending time together. The rule being, if you’re physically spending time with someone, your mind should also be present.
The distinction between primary and secondary partners also seems to be very important in an open relationship. Couples also share with each other who their secondary partners are and they’re open about their interest in other people. This is a huge part of what it means to communicate in a non-monogamous relationship; it’s essential to be honest about secondary partners.
Some couples keep their secondary partners strictly sexual and emotional attachments are reserved for the primary partner. That doesn’t mean dates are off the table, it just means there’s a very strict line between secondary partners and emotional intimacy.
It seems that in open relationships every couple finds their comfort and sets their limits however they see fit. One thing they all have in common is that they’re communicative, honest and forthcoming with one another. Otherwise, it wouldn’t work. There’s also a great amount of respect for what makes someone uncomfortable and individual limits.
Where do people in open relationships hook up with secondary partners?
I’m pretty sure we’ve all wondered about the logistics of hookups within open relationships. I’ve found it all depends on whether or not the couple is comfortable having the hookups take place in the home they share every day.
Some couples are not comfortable with that idea at all, so the house they share is off limits. Other couples would actually love to have a dedicated space for hookups in their home. But it seems the most common arrangement is to either go to a hotel or go to your secondary partner’s home.
How do people in open relationships control jealousy?
Whether jealousy is an issue in an open relationship or not will depend on the couple. For some people in open relationships jealousy is not an issue at all. They feel very confident in their arrangement and in the fact that their primary partner is on the same wavelength about the polyamory.
Other people have rules to prevent jealousy from becoming an issue. There are some things you reserve for your primary couple, so as long as boundaries are respected, jealousy can be controlled. There’s definitely a degree of emotional separation from secondary partners; it’s all about having fun. Your true, intimate, deep relationship is with your primary partner.
How do open relationships manage their schedules? What if there’s a conflict between a primary and secondary partner?
Organization is very important in open relationships and it’s all based on the fact that the primary relationship is the priority. Couples communicate in advance when they’re going to have a date and organize around that so there are no overlaps or conflicts. They also share details such as, who the date is with as well as the time and place so the partner is on the loop.
The golden rule seems to be to let your partner know about a date at least one day in advance so they can make other plans if they want to or express any opinions they may have.
Having a shared calendar seems to work for many couples, especially those with kids because it allows both parties to be on the loop not just on secondary dates, but also on work schedules, school schedules, appointments, etc.
The secret to a well balanced dating schedule is organization and communication. Otherwise, it simply won’t work. It’s also important for the primary relationship to be a priority above all. The last thing you want to do in an open relationship is neglect your time with your primary partner. There needs to be a balance, which is why so many open relationships are selective about the amount of secondary partners they choose to have.
How’s the switch from monogamy to non-monogamy?
This is a big question and it’s probably the first one on your mind if you’re thinking about engaging in an open or polyamorous relationship. There definitely seems to be a learning curve when you’re moving from one dynamic to another that’s very different. Many people are still figuring it out as they go.
What seems to be the most helpful in this transition is openness and honesty. Negotiating and setting boundaries is very important for the switch to be as smooth as it can possibly be. Not to mention, there are so many things to learn. You have to learn how to explain to people you’re interested in the kind of relationship you have with your primary partner and the kind of relationship you’re willing to have with them.
You have to learn to navigate dating sites in a different way, you have to get into dating again, which can be a challenge if you’ve been out of the game for a while. You also have to make a habit of checking with your primary partner and making sure this new dynamic is working for both of you.
A big part of consensual non-monogamy is having fun with other people and have new experiences, which is a great motivator. But that can’t be accomplished without some structure. However, experimentation plays a huge role in figuring out what works for both of you and how to adjust to the new normal of the relationship.
Open relationships are not as complicated as they may seem. Sure, there’s a lot to be learned in order to make them work, but people have found a way to do that through communication and honesty. That means you can do it too if that’s what you really want!