Just about everyone has known of someone who has tried an open relationship, and chances are it didn’t work out so well for them. The question is, do they ever work?
Open relationships are a form of a polyamorous relationship, where either partner is free to have relationships, emotional; physical; or both, with other people outside of the relationship with their current partner. In simple terms: you can be in a relationship and still see other people.
The exact design, rules, restrictions, and makeup of this arrangement are fluid, and there is no set or “correct” way to do this. But before we get into the details of how, first we need to answer the most important question: do open relationships work?
Will an open relationship save your relationship?
Almost all open relationships most people have heard of involve a couple in a struggling monogamous relationship opening their relationship up in an effort to save it.
While I’m not going to say this is impossible, I have never once seen this actually work out. If the relationship you are in is not working, opening it up isn’t going to fix the problems you have, and it is almost certain to create larger ones, which will drag the relationship down into the pit of despair.
If your relationship is not working, you need to either solve the problem, or you need to make the hard choice to end it, cut your losses, and move on. I have never, and will never, suggest a couple explore an open relationship as a fix. It’s almost certain to be a terrible mistake.
How to make an open relationship work
Despite the negative press you have heard about them, open relationships can and do work very well. I’m in a very happy one, and I know many people (married and not) in the same. A poly relationship is a completely different model than a monogamous relationship. It’s not better, it’s not worse, it’s just different. But because it’s an entirely different model, you need to start the relationship based on that model. The same way you won’t have much luck trying to convert a car into a pickup truck, they’re just not the same thing.
All relationships require work, and open relationships are no exception. In fact, an open relationship requires more work than a monogamous one. You need extreme amounts of trust, clear and consistent communication, and an endless amount of respect. Like I mentioned in my article “How to Date Multiple Girls at Once Without Being an Asshole”, an open relationship is not a ticket for you to get to do whatever you want.
Even though you may be spending intimate time with someone other than your partner, every choice you make needs to be made for the strength of the relationship. In a typical open relationship you will have a primary, your girlfriend. Often this is the person you choose to bring to family events, spend holidays with, and invest into sharing a life together. If this is your relationship model, you need to ensure every choice you make is with her, and your relationship’s, best intentions in mind.
This isn’t the only model, this is just the most common. Personally, I tend to avoid spending much time with any girls with whom my girlfriend doesn’t adore as well. I want her to be excited for me to see them, and I want them to be excited to hang out with her. For us, it’s about sharing. I know others whose relationships are structured in very different ways. There is no correct way to do this, the point is to figure out what is the correct way for you, and the ones you love, to exist together.
Cheating is always a mistake, but seeing other girls doesn’t have to be
The strength of a relationship is almost directly proportionate to the amount of trust between the two of you.
We have all seen, or experienced, a happy relationship where one (or both) of the people have been tempted to step off the reservation. Sometimes even the thought of being with another girl can be enough to shatter your girl’s trust in you. The problem is dilemma this situation creates. If honesty and communication are the most important elements of a relationship, but being honest about your feelings for another girl will ruin the relationship, you’re stuck in a no-win situation.
There is no easy way out of this situation once you’re in it. Some people just keep these feelings hidden, others act on them (cheating).
The only true solution to this problem is to avoid it entirely from the start. You need to structure your relationship in a way you can navigate this issue without causing damage. That doesn’t mean you need to have an open relationship, but it does mean you need the ability to be open and honest with your feelings.
Even the monogamous couples can learn from this
If you can’t talk about your most basic desires with your partner, then you do not have a relationship based on trust. Even in a happily strictly monogamous relationship there will be times when thoughts or actions occur which don’t align with your relationship model.
Just about every issue on every relationship you will see on TV is of this nature, and I fear this has the general public believing this is normal.
The typical arc is this: something happens (an old fling leans in and kisses you), you decide that since that was it, and you don’t plan on ever doing it again, it’s better just to keep it a secret. Later they find out, and all trust is gone causing huge drama.
In a healthy relationship, what should have happened is as soon as you got home you told your girlfriend “Today [your old fling] kissed me. I told her that it wasn’t okay and couldn’t happen again.”
There should be no fear in this, because if she trusts you she will know that she just got the whole story (because you have proven to be trustworthy, and have given her the whole story). This kiss should in no way change or invalidate the relationship you are in. Only lying about it has the power to do that.
We are animals, we make mistakes, we make choices. This is not an excuse, it’s an understanding that it’s our job to own up to our actions. It’s your job as a man to understand who you are, and to accurately represent yourself to the ones you love.
Lying is always a mistake. The only way you can be with a girl other than the one you are dating, is if you can do it with honest pride. If this freedom is something you need in a relationship, then you need to be clear about that long before your relationship ever begins.