Open relationships take many forms, but in essence, they’re based on non-monogamy. Often, they involve a primary couple who decide to separately engage in sexual relationships with other people. This arrangement works well for some, but for me, it was a disaster. Here’s why my ex and I didn’t survive the realities of being in an open relationship.
The jealousy is constant.
I don’t think of myself as the possessive type, but the moment we started an open relationship, I was consumed with self-doubt and jealousy whenever my partner and I were away from each other. Even when we’d been open for months, I still got twinges of insecurity whenever he left the house, wondering if he was off to see another woman. It made me paranoid and suspicious and ultimately led to our split.
It can get competitive.
It is unlikely that you and your partner will take equal advantage of your open relationship. One of you will probably have more dates or partners than the other, and unless you’re emotionally prepared for this, it can lead to destructive behavior. Go into it with realistic expectations and avoid seeking out sex just to put yourself on equal footing. Open relationships should give you freedom, not lock you into a toxic cold war where you use other people to work out your relationship insecurities.
You need to be honest with yourself about why you’re choosing it.
Many couples choose to be open because both people are happier with non-monogamy and don’t feel any less loving towards each other as a result. But for others, it could be a sign of underlying problems. Ask yourself if you’re feeling trapped or bored in the relationship, or whether you might be trying to keep your options open. Are you so afraid of being single that you want to have backups ready? Consider all of these questions before jumping into an open relationship. It could save you a lot of time and heartache.
You and your partner(s) need to be on the same page.
Before agreeing to a non-monogamous arrangement, you and your partner need to understand exactly what you are signing up for. You may think it’s obvious that an open relationship entails sexual freedom only, while your partner may think it entails having multiple relationships that include emotional as well as physical intimacy. You must define your arrangement explicitly because unfortunately, the term ‘open relationship’ means different things to different people.
It’s a lot less liberating than you’d think.
Many people think open relationships are synonymous with freedom. In reality, they’re just as limiting as monogamous relationships. You and your partner may not be exclusive, but the normal rules of respect and human communication remain. If anything, it’s even more difficult because you have more than one romantic relationship to navigate and honor at any given time.
Things can get messy very quickly.
Keeping sex and emotions separate is a lot easier said than done. I spent years telling myself that I enjoyed casual sex when really, I just couldn’t admit to anyone that I had feelings for them out of fear of rejection. Open relationships are minefields for people who struggle with separating sex and emotion. Unless you can enjoy non-monogamy without destabilizing your relationship with your primary partner, you’ll be headed towards a painful breakup.
It’s difficult to revert to monogamy with the same partner.
Even if you and your partner choose to be open for purely logistical, short-term reasons such as being long distance or having to travel for work, the fact that you were sleeping with other people will always be a reality of your relationship. It isn’t a switch that you can turn on and turn off. It’s a one-way street. If you go from non-monogamy to exclusivity with the same partner, you’ll be bringing baggage with you.
Ground rules are a must.
Without rules, your open relationship will fall apart before you can even hit ‘send’ on a mildly flirty text. For example, you’ll probably want to rule out sleeping with each other’s friends, decide how much transparency you want about each other’s relationships, and set guidelines for practicing safe sex. Like it or not, non-monogamy is complicated and you’ll need to agree on some parameters to avoid everything going off the rails due to poor communication.
It can easily take over your life.
As you may have figured out by now, open relationships are far from the carefree, low-maintenance arrangements that you might have thought. One of the main reasons I couldn’t handle mine was because it took up too much of my mental space. I realized that all I wanted was to either be single and not date or to have a boring, monogamous relationship where the rules are straightforward and the commitment is all or nothing.
It all comes down to personality.
There are many reasons that a couple might decide to start an open relationship, but whether or not they succeed depends entirely on their personalities. People who get bored easily, crave variety, and are turned on by their partner’s sexual dalliances are likely to thrive in these kinds of partnerships, while people who desire consistency, emotional intimacy, and are prone to jealousy or insecurity are likely to find these types of relationships challenging if not impossible.
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