If you’ve never considered an open relationship, you might be missing out on some of the benefits. Polyamory can be a scary, difficult topic for couples to discuss. Yet boundaries on your commitment are imperative for any couple to talk about—even those who will forever be monogamous.
Polyamory and Open Relationships
Polyamory isn’t just a relationship structure anymore—it’s an identity. Some people value the benefits of polyamory so highly that they simply can’t imagine it not being a part of themselves or their relationships. People who identify as polyamorous don’t always have more than one relationship, but some kind of relationship freedom is central to them as a person, even when they’re single. Sometimes, polyamory is the fullest expression of someone’s innermost, genuine sexual self.
For other people, having an open relationship is a consideration made based on the specific relationship of which they’re a part. If one partner realizes they are asexual, the other partner may seek sex-only encounters outside of the relationship. The same goes for newly discovered bisexuality: one or both partners may open up the relationship so that they have space to explore. Or, if one partner discovers a kink that they need to try out, the couple may agree to outside sexual encounters specific to that kink. One partner could want to go out every Friday night while their partner wants to stay home, and they may decide that casual dating on Friday nights is the only extra-relational activity allowed.
At the other end of the spectrum is a couple who has left the non-monogamy door open. Maybe they would consider a threesome, but if the opportunity doesn’t arise organically, a couple in this situation may never do any sexual exploring. Even so, they could still be considered non-monogamous. In consensual non-monogamy, the people within the relationship are making up the rules based on each partner’s consent. This means that they can be as specific as they want to be as far as what’s allowed and what’s not.
Why You Might Consider Non-Monogamy
One of the benefits of polyamory is that you don’t have to sacrifice any part of yourself to your primary relationship. If you and your partner have different hobbies, levels of sexual interest, schedules, kinks, or fetishes, you can satisfy all of your desires while maintaining a close connection to your partner.
Many people who try polyamory realize that it gave their relationship the air it needed to breathe. Couples who suffer from feeling like they have become roommates and nothing more may find new attraction and desire for their partner once the relationship is open. This phenomenon is because open relationships can help you view your partner as someone you don’t know everything about, someone that you still need to discover.
Structures of Open Relationships
Some people have primary relationships (potentially a marriage, or some other significant commitment) where two partners are predominantly committed to each other. In these situations, the two partners typically have the power to reject certain people that they don’t want their partners to be involved with. This structure creates a kind of hierarchical chain of command where most of their loyalty, and possibly time and affection, goes toward one partner, with other partners either continuously or occasionally in the mix.
Other people prefer a hierarchy-free breed of polyamory, where everyone is equally committed to their partners and free to do what they want.
Communication Within Polyamory
In relationships of any kind, people may use their spouses as an excuse to get out of doing things they don’t want to do. But with polyamory, it’s crucial to take personal responsibility for all your choices so that one partner doesn’t feel abandoned. So, when deciding how to manage your schedule and divide your time up among different dates, you’ll have to be honest with yourself and prioritize. And then, when you let your other partners know that they may miss out on some time with you, you can explain why what you’re doing is important to you.
Self-Esteem and Polyamory
A lot of people who have never been in open relationships wonder what’s in it for the person who isn’t the primary partner. There are many benefits to being a secondary partner, including not having to have difficult discussions about money, occupations, or raising children. The secondary partners get to enjoy dating and sex and leave the tedious parts of the relationship to the primary partner. Secondary partners in healthy polyamorous relationships typically have no lack of self-esteem and feel that they are getting the best version of their partners.
Establishing Trust in a Polyamorous Relationship
People often ask how you can trust someone when you’re in an open relationship. The answer: the same way that you build trust in a monogamous relationship! You have to listen to your gut, let the new person in slowly, and don’t give them trust they haven’t earned yet. Each party must be committed to regulating their emotions, both separately and together, to ensure the relationship stays healthy. Theoretically, it’s easy to imagine you would be able to entertain yourself for an evening while your partner goes on a date with someone else. But without a completely stable foundation, partners can feel abandoned and angry about the sex their partner shares with others. Spend some time introspectively to determine whether or not you have the self-control to manage your emotions through turbulent circumstances that can easily activate unconscious patterns. If you have attachment wounds from the past, pay special attention to your reactions during the beginnings of an open relationship and keep an eye on any feelings of jealousy that arise.
If you want some guidance about your already-open relationship or starting a new chapter in your currently monogamous relationship, reach out to a therapist you trust today.
Bio: Dr. Nazanin Moali is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in the Los Angeles area. She works with various individuals to understand and improve their sexuality. Dr. Moali conducts personal consultation sessions in her Torrance and Hermosa Beach offices, or via a secure, online video-counseling platform. Click here to download the 101 Ways to Keep Your Relationship Hot checklist. Download her new ebook, How to Increase Your Libido – For Women, here.