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We are surrounded by images of the ‘perfect relationship’ in the media – a man and woman in love, happy together forever.
But every relationship is unique, and what works best for you and your partner won’t necessarily fit this mold.
For some people, removing the pressure of a monogamous relationship helps them to feel more able to commit to their primary partner.
This freedom to be with other people when needed can provide a way of building a stronger and longer-lasting relationship.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to how people love. If you think an open relationship will help you and your partner to be happier together as a couple, then you should try what works for you.
But, in a society where open relationships aren’t always talked about, how do you know where to start?
Different couples will find different ways of making it work for them, but here are some rules regarding open relationships to think about before you take the leap:
1. Be sure of WHY you want an open relationship.
Before you start actively having an open relationship, make sure you take time to think about why one is right for the both of you.
For an open relationship to work without driving you and your partner apart, you have to both want it as much as the other.
If the idea is being driven by just one of you, then you’re already on the road to disaster.
Inviting other people into your relationship will ask a lot of both of you in terms of your trust, respect, and love for each other. It is not something to enter into for selfish reasons or just to please your partner.
If you’re doing this for them, then you are prioritizing their needs over yours. And in any relationship, putting your partner’s needs over your own means you aren’t valuing yourself enough in the partnership.
Throw another guy/girl or multiple guys/girls into the mix, and you’ll end up resentful, jealous, and in danger of losing your self-confidence.
Before you agree to an open relationship, take some time to really think about why you’re trying this and make sure the both of you are on the same page.
Your motivations need to be sincere in helping better your primary relationship, not living out a selfish fantasy.
2. Decide WHAT you want from an open relationship.
Before you enter into anything outside your primary relationship, spend some time discussing with your partner what it is the both of you want to gain from meeting other people.
Is it about sex or is it about experiencing new romantic connections? Is there any aspect of it that makes you uncomfortable?
It’s important to hear why you feel you each need to try this to make your relationship stronger and define any no-go areas.
Having these conversations might feel strange at first, but you need to get used to laying everything on the table in order to give you both a strong foundation of trust to work from.
3. Discuss your emotional boundaries.
Entering into an open relationship for the first time is going to take an emotional toll on you both as you get used to the idea of the person you love being with other people.
You might feel jealous, insecure, and possibly even a bit confused as you initially try to adapt to this new situation.
It might be difficult to talk about these feelings with other people who don’t understand why you’re trying an open relationship, so you need to be able to rely on your primary partner to share these emotions with.
You should decide on a few rules to stick by to help you both be as emotionally secure with the relationship as possible.
You might choose for external relationships to be only sexual with no dating. You may prefer to keep certain things sacred to just your primary partner.
So talk about what it is that would hurt you emotionally if they were to happen with other people and put in some clear boundaries to work with.
Delve deep into different scenarios to find your non-negotiables, and to help you both feel as comfortable and emotionally prepared as you can.
Revisit these rules as your open relationship progresses and keep adding or changing them in whatever way works best for you.
4. Set your physical boundaries.
Just as you need to discuss your emotional boundaries, physical boundaries are important too.
You’ll need to talk in detail about whether you’re comfortable with external relationships being sexual and what sexual boundaries to have with other partners.
If you choose to have an open sexual relationship with multiple partners, remember to always practice safe sex to protect you and your partner’s health.
How you meet new people is something you should talk about – do you actively go after new relationships or passively wait for an opportunity to arise? Are you happy for your partner to meet new people on their own?
Having an understanding of what you’re both comfortable with will help to keep that trust in your primary relationship secure.
Your physical safety should always be a top priority. Always make sure someone, if not your main partner, knows where you are if you meet someone new and try to keep dating to public places.
5. Decide your time limits.
As much as being in an open relationship will mean your attention is on other people, you need to be strict with when to cut off and focus on just one partner.
It will be a juggling act that not everyone is up to. No one likes the feeling of not being listened to or appreciated, especially if it’s because your partner is flirting with another person.
Set realistic time limits for all of your relationships so you are able to give your full attention to whoever you are with at that time.
You might reserve your primary relationship for certain days of the week, or decide no messaging other people when you’re with each other.
Whatever works for you, find a way to give each person the time they deserve.
6. Always put your primary relationship first.
Being in an open relationship doesn’t mean you care about your main partner any less; it’s just a different way of being with someone.
It’s easy to get swept up in something just because it’s new and exciting, but don’t lose sight of the person encouraging you to explore your own sexual freedom, while still loving you in a secure relationship.
A key rule to open relationships is that your main relationship should always be your top priority. Don’t let other flings get in the way of quality time with your partner.
You chose to do this together, so keep supporting, reassuring, and being there for each other, making sure that they know they take precedence above everyone else.
7. Decide how much you want to know.
Do you want to hear names, or see pictures? Do you want to hear about their dates or if they’ve had sex? This is another area of an open relationship where an agreed upon rule is beneficial.
However much you decide you want to know when your partner meets someone, be prepared for both of you to feel differently when it actually happens.
It might surprise you how jealous or hurt you feel when you start hearing about these new relationships. If this happens, try talking to your partner rather than reacting emotionally.
This will be a learning curve for both of you and you need to address these emotions and work through them together as you come up against them.
Discussing your other relationships with your partner might feel a bit alien at first. But you need to be prepared to be completely open if that’s what you need from each other in order to feel more secure.
The only way you’ll navigate this new and complicated relationship is together, so keep sharing and working at finding the right balance of what works best for you both.
8. Keep checking in with each other.
Much of what happens in an open relationship will be hard to predict and prepare for until it actually takes place.
You can talk and talk about how you will react in the moment, but until you’re actually there experiencing it, you won’t know what emotions you’re going to feel.
Be open and prepared to listen to how each other is feeling as new situations arise. Keep checking in to see if your partner is still happy with the arrangement, and most importantly, if you both feel that enough time is being spent with each other.
Try hard not to react if your partner doesn’t feel how they thought they would. It’s an emotionally tricky situation to navigate, so keeping a fluid approach and reassuring each other that whatever you feel is valid will help you work through this together.
9. Work on your own confidence.
However secure you feel in your current relationship, adding other people into the mix will almost certainly bring out a feeling of jealousy or insecurity over your partner’s affections.
Before agreeing to an open relationship, you need to not just be confident about how you and your primary partner feel about each other, but you need to be irrevocably confident in your love for yourself.
Whatever crops up, you need to be strong in your own sense of self-worth and self-respect, especially if you feel tempted to start comparing yourself to the ‘other’ partners.
You’ll also need to have the confidence to talk about things that might feel uncomfortable, and be more vulnerable with your emotions than you’ve ever been before.
The love and confidence you have in yourself needs to be sky high, so take some ‘me time’ to really understand and value yourself before you begin to think about sharing with anyone else.
10. Be prepared for your relationship to fail.
Open relationships are a complex juggling act of people’s time and emotions. Even the rules set out in this article are by no means foolproof, and sometimes you’ll get things wrong.
There is no ‘rewind’ button on an open relationship, once you’ve crossed the boundaries of seeing other people, you can’t take that back. You need to think about how you’ll feel if, when it comes to it, you realize it isn’t what you want.
Can you really move on knowing your partner has been with someone else?
Do you value your primary partner enough to walk away from someone else you care about if that’s what they ask of you?
Talk about scenarios before you start meeting other people, but most of all be open minded when you begin to share each other.
Be prepared to not be ok with the jealousy or miss your partner too much.
Be prepared for the arguments and disappointments you might face as you try to work through an intensely emotional and complex way of being together.
Be prepared to disagree and ultimately lose each other if things don’t work out how you planned.
It could be the best thing to ever happen to your relationship, but it could be the worst. You won’t know until you take that leap, so you need to take the time to consider if losing them after all of this is a risk you’re willing to take.
An open relationship isn’t just about being open to meeting new people, but being open to being vulnerable and honest about your emotions with your partner and to yourself.
For some couples it’s the perfect antidote to the pressure of a monogamous relationship; an opportunity to keep growing and developing themselves without losing each other.
There is no right or wrong way to do things. Just make sure you don’t lose sight of who or what is important to you or sacrifice your own happiness by trying to please too many others.
Still not sure whether an open relationship is right for you, or how to make it work? Chat online to a relationship expert from Relationship Hero who can help you figure things out. Simply click here to chat.
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