Open relationships, like any relationship, require a core set of values and boundaries that all participating parties honor and feel comfortable with. They are essential in any dynamic, but in open relationships, they become even more critical. Whether you are navigating a new open relationship or your current situation just needs a check-in... these are the 6 relationship tenets that must be present for everyone to feel safe, heard, and loved.
Being honest isn’t a luxury in an open relationship - it is absolutely critical to a relationship being successful. Both parties have to work harder at being open, truthful, and vulnerable in order to navigate the (relatively uncharted) terrain of open relationships. Remember that while there are strict parameters you and your partner will set around your relationship, there are also individual parameters you both need to be aware of: what you’re comfortable with, what makes you feel threatened, and what is okay. Although there are typically more rules at the beginning of an open relationship that will fall away, the honesty has to be present at every step.
Consent is essential, and not just in the most basic form of the word. Of course, verbal consent has to be present before any physical activity - but also emotional consent. Each partner in the open relationship has an obligation to inform every outside partner about their relationship’s unique structure. Honest communication has to flow between each participant: whether it’s a one-night stand, ongoing affair, or third party who engages with the couple.
A typical hang-up for monogamous couples when considering open relationships is “don’t you just get jealous all the time?” But in truth, many open couples report less jealousy than “traditional partnerships.” Why? As one couple put it: “the adrenaline-fueled secrecy” is out of the picture. Instead of wondering if your partner finds other people attractive, open couples would talk about it - well - openly. Plus, a little jealousy is healthy every once in a while.
Being honest isn’t a luxury in an open relationship - it is absolutely critical to a relationship being successful.
Sex therapist Margaret Tonge says this is a critical issue. “It’s worth considering who you turn to for support- to the primary relationship partner or to the lover? The issue of how needs will be met needs to be very carefully thought through.” Just as you set parameters for consent, partners, frequency, and more - you’ll have to decide how close your personal relationships with outside partners is allowed to go. As long as you and your partner are on the same page, there is no wrong answer.
Emotional safety and support are essential for a happy open couple, but both have to be built on the foundation of physical safety. Without it, nothing else can exist. Practicing safe sex - whether it’s a spontaneous encounter or a planned event - is mandatory to keeping both partners - and all their respective partners - safe. However, research shows most open couples already respect this pillar: monogamous couples are less likely to use protection when they cheat (likely because they’re doing it in secret), while non-monogamous partners are far less likely to make this simple error.
Choosing an open relationship isn’t something that happens once in a couple’s lifespan. It has to happen over and over again, something that both partners continue to want. Just as people grow and change in their lives, either party could outgrow the benefits they were receiving from their open relationship. If, at some point, one partner wants out and the other wants to keep it open - jealousy, anger, and conflict could arise. The antidote is to keep open lines of communication and engage in regular check-ins.
Although these aren't the only pillars necessary for a healthy, thriving relationship: all 6 are essential. If you feel one or more of the above needs work, bring it to your partners' attention and talk about the changes you'll implement to bring these core principles into focus in a balanced way.