3 rules to follow for a successful open relationship from therapist
Open relationships between celebrities — Shailene Woodley, Angelina Jolie, and, perhaps most notably, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith — have been the talk of the town for years. This dynamic is often dismissed as a Hollywood setup that can only be maintained by ironclad NDAs.
However, in recent years, non-monogamy has become increasingly common. According to a 2021 YouGov survey of 23,000 Americans, one in four adults are interested in being in an open relationship.
Opening up a relationship can actually strengthen it, says Avital Isaacs, a therapist at the Manhattan Alternative Wellness Collective.
“In a monogamous relationship, there’s a kind of dispossession,” he says. “A relationship is defined by what you don’t do, and it can feel like a real decline. There’s less that you actively do with your partner.”
Being non-monogamous allows you to explore more experiences that you might not otherwise have in a monogamous relationship. It can also remind a person that their partner is desirable. “Seeing them on dates with other people may give off the feeling that they want to earn this person’s love and care,” says Isaacs. “For some people, that’s a big motivator, rather than taking each other for granted.”
3 rules for a successful open relationship
An open relationship works best if you pursue it thoughtfully, says Megan Hanafi Major, a couples, marriage, gender, and sexuality therapist based in the greater Chicago area.
“Most successful open relationships follow general rules about boundaries, communication, and goals,” she says.
If you’re interested in exploring an open relationship, here are three major tips to get you started.
1. Define which types or relationships are good
Decide if any relationships or people are “off limits,” says Major. If you or a partner have a primary relationship that is a priority, communicate and think about what kind of information you share with other partners.
Openness may mean physical intimacy but not emotional intimacy. Whatever it is, you need to share your boundaries.
“Take time to think about personal boundaries as well as relationship boundaries,” she says. “Know that it’s okay to adjust these things if you need to, but it’s important to respect other people’s boundaries and expect them to do the same for you.”
2. More communication is always better
In any relationship, communication comes first. In an open space where expectations are even less clear, you need to be aware of what you’re negotiating with your partner, says Isaacs.
“When you’re in a monogamous relationship, you’re fulfilling a framework that’s been provided for you by our society and culture,” she says. “We prioritize and understand romantic relationships to be unique. If you are in an open relationship, our cultural structures and systems are not designed for you.”
This can put you in uncharted waters.
For example, he says, you get a “plus” at a wedding or holiday party, not “plus everyone you’re in a relationship with.”
Major agrees that when you break social norms and create a more unique dynamic between you and your partner, clear communication becomes even more essential. “I personally believe that more communication is almost always better than less,” he says.
Be specific when discussing the parameters of your relationship. “Communicating with partners about expectations, logistics, such as time commitments, and demands, allows for trust and vulnerability to be built and maintained over time. This not only helps manage any misunderstandings that arise—they are inevitable.” are—but it also shows your partner that you value you. They, their thoughts, and their time.”
3- Know your goals and communicate with them if they change
Make sure you, your original partner, and potential new partners are all on the same page.
Some questions you can ask yourself, Major says, are:
- Do you hope to spend time doing certain activities?
- Do you want your partners to know each other?
- Are there specific things you want to explore sexually or romantically?
“Goals may vary from relationship to relationship and change over time,” says Major. Being clear about them can reduce hurt feelings and mixed messages.
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