My wife and I have been in an open relationship for the past two years. At times it’s been so awful that we’ve talked about divorce, and other times it’s been so good I’ve wondered where this option had been my whole life.
There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to open relationships, so I decided to address the most popular, in hopes that you come away with a better understanding, and so I can send this article to my friends if I don’t have time to explain it all.
1. Everyone does open relationships differently.
For the most part, everyone does monogamy the same. Hugging with other people is ok, oral sex is not. Peck on the cheek is cool, french kissing is not. Lunch to catch up with a friend? Ok. Fancy dinner with your ex? Not ok. There is a generally accepted standard of what monogamy is. This is not the case with open relationships.
If I told you I’m in an open relationship or polyamorous, your first thought might be to compare me to your other friend who says he’s in an open relationship and assume we have the same lifestyle. That would be a mistake, because of the many different ways people in open relationships do things.
It’s because of this that I often describe myself as “non-monogamous”, but even that isn’t accurate because open relationships include monogamy. It may seem like a contradiction to include monogamy in an open relationship spectrum, but that’s precisely why we use the term “open”. Open to all possibilities for relationship styles. There are plenty of times when my wife and I choose to relate in a monogamous way.
2. There is no relationship style that “works”.
People often ask me if polyamory works. The answer is “yes and no”. The same question could be asked about monogamy. Some monogamous couples are happy and some aren’t. There is no relationship style that “works” because it’s the people in it that make it work, not the doctrine.
Living in San Diego, I had the chance to get to know a lot of poly couples, and a lot of monogamous couples. Some of the poly couples (or triads, or pods) worked extremely well, and some had massive struggles. What I’ve discovered is the percentage of relationships that work is relatively constant across the spectrum. That means if we determined that 50% of monogamous relationships “worked” (that number is made up and the standard is completely arbitrary), the same would apply for polyamorous couples. There really is no difference, because the people make the difference, not the relationship style.
3. We don’t do anything that the other person is uncomfortable with.
I can only speak for my relationship, and some others in my community, but this is one of our most important rules. Does it get broken by accident? Yes it does, and our commitment is to check-in to make sure our partner is a clear “yes” before we do anything.
Our standard is this: If our partner were to walk in on us with another lover and there was any sort of awkwardness in the space, we have moved too fast.
The result is we build relationships with other people extremely slow. We grow in love versus fall in love. We learn to love patience. We slow down and check in with ourselves so we can be honest about where we’re at. We give our partner space so they don’t rush into a decision.
For us, it’s win-win or no deal. That means either my partner is excited about me dating someone else, or we’re not ready yet. My personal opinion is that anything other than an authentic “hell yes” for both partners involved is not sustainable.
We are on the verge of a paradigm shift when it comes to relationships. Just as gay and lesbian acceptance has now become a normal part of society, people having multiple, consensual committed relationships will be the next wave of social change. It’s not going to be easy, because it challenges so many of our fears around security, the notion of “the one” and what it means to really love someone.
For me, the last two years have been about me seeing how in many ways I’ve related to love as possession. My wife is not mine. Instead of holding on to each other for security, we’ve taken steps toward supporting each other’s freedom.