Updated: Oct 8, 2022
Discussions about open relationships have grown in popularity; many are curious but confused as to how to make them work. As with all aspects of fruitful, healthy relationships, the key to making open relationships work is communication. Open and honest communication with your partner about your desire and setting up the parameters of your agreement is of great importance to make it work. Agreements are as unique as individuals are. They set the boundaries of when, where, with whom, how long, and how much is communicated with the partner.
The following recommendations were adapted from Rick Miller’s (a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker) work:
1. Your relationship is your priority
Agree to make your intimate and sexual relationship a priority. Opening your relationship will not work as a Band-Aid to cure all relationship troubles. Whatever your agreement entails, make time to nurture your relationship.
Negotiate your terms and consider that the foundation of your relationship is solid enough to build on it. Opening your relationship may exacerbate existing problems. Partners should consider extensively if they are individually and as partners secured enough to open their relationship.
3. Long-term intimacy
Sexual experiences with a long-term partner are bound to be different than a hookup. Consider for example the novelty of a hookup, the settings it might take place in, and not knowing for certain what is coming your way (which can be arousing on its own). Another example is the infatuation at the beginning of your relationship, which most couples outlive by two years (often way sooner than that!). Additionally, we tend to put our best at the front and hold it, for as long as we can (in contrast, in a long-term relationship, you get to see many parts of your partner). This is normal and to be expected. Comparisons can be dangerous.
4. Kiss and tell or not?
Decide together how much you’ll share with each other. Some people find arousing knowing about all the details of their partner's encounters, others don’t want to know anything at all. Both, and anything in between, are OK! What’s important is that you discuss this beforehand.
5. Your bed is sacred
Where will it be OK to bring someone else into the space? For example, some people agree to not bring others into the house shared with the partner, only hookup while out-of-town, not going to a favorite restaurant or special place, and such.
Is the agreement only a one-time pass? Is it on the weekends only? Maybe it is only when your partner is traveling… Whatever it is, be as specific as possible.
7. Strangers or friends?
As mentioned above, make sure to discuss who it is OK to be with and if you prefer to leave a group of people off-limits. For some, keeping it outside of the people they know makes them more comfortable. Others may have a group of people they swing with and prefer to do it with people they trust.
8. Trial period
While you should always respect your agreement, it is not set in stone. If something is not working out, talk about it! This should be a pleasurable experience for both. If you are feeling uncomfortable about something you and your partner are doing you need to discuss it when them. Keeping quiet about something that is not feeling good will only hurt you and your relationship.
9. Follow safe sex guidelines
Out of respect for yourself, your partner, and others you might engage with, follow safe sex guidelines. You can find some suggestions for safer sex here.
Be open to challenges. Opening your relationship can bring up things you didn’t know were there. Keep your communication open and honest throughout the whole process. Remember that consent is an ongoing process, not a one-time “yes” or “no”.
Working with a counselor whether individually or as a couple can help you navigate this process as you explore what you want, why, and how; as well as work together to set the parameters of your agreement. Opening your relationship can be a wonderful thing, but it may also be painful. Carefully exploring your wants and needs and crafting an agreement that works for both is essential in making an open relationship a success.
Thaina Cordero is a Certified Sexologist and Care Coordinator at Cypress Wellness Center. She has an MS in Educational Psychology, is a trauma-informed yoga teacher, and doctoral student of Clinical Sexology at Modern Sex Therapy Institute. She has completed Levels 1 and 2 of Clinical Foundations in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. She helps individuals and couples explore their sexual expression, needs, fantasies, preferences, curiosities, and difficulties as they create more pleasurable, satisfying, and fulfilling sex life and relationships. Click here to request an appointment.