Open Relationships: What to Expect and How to Make Them Work

If you’re thinking that monogamy might not be for you, you’re definitely not alone. Many people are turning to open relationships or polyamorous relationships, which are becoming less taboo in today’s modern dating world.

As open relationships become more mainstream, many couples are curious if this arrangement could be right for them. Here, we’ll take a closer look at what open relationships are like, how to navigate them, and the potential benefits.

What Is an Open Relationship?

In short, an open relationship is when both partners have the freedom to explore sexual and/or romantic relationships with other people. In practice, open relationships can involve casual sexual relationships in addition to your primary relationship, or long-term, more romantic sexual relationships.


Honesty is the single most important part of any open relationship. If it’s something you truly want to pursue, you’ll need to be open and honest about your emotional and sexual needs, along with any boundaries you need to feel safe and secure. Even if the open aspect of your relationship doesn’t work out, prioritizing honesty in any and all relationships is crucial to the longevity and overall happiness of the relationship.

Approaching the Conversation With Your Partner

You should start by explaining to your partner that opening your relationship has been on your mind, but that you have not acted on these ideas. Explain your argument for being open, while reassuring them that it is not due to a shortcoming on their behalf. It’s also helpful to define what an open relationship means to you — sexually open, emotionally open, etc. The most important part of this conversation is giving your partner time and space to process this proposition and to respond. You shouldn’t pose opening your relationship as an ultimatum! If your partner is not comfortable with the idea, you need to respect their decision and move forward, monogamously.

Do It for the Right Reasons

Some people are not fully satisfied in monogamous relationships, and instead, need the emotional or physical intimacy of more than one person to feel complete. Other people look for open relationships because they want to supplement their current relationship with something different, or maybe they don’t feel satisfied in a straight or gay relationship. These are great reasons to look outside of a monogamous relationship, as long as both parties are on board.

On the other hand, you should not start an open relationship to solve the problems of your current relationship. Your problems will not go away and will likely be magnified if you add in other people. Most importantly, open relationships are not the solution to infidelity! If your relationship is suffering due to infidelity, there is probably a lack of trust that will be the downfall of your relationship, and starting an open relationship won’t change that.

Set Sexual Boundaries

If you and your partner decide that an open relationship is right for you, make sure to create sexual boundaries and what exactly is allowed. Are you comfortable with penetrative sex? Oral sex? Kissing? Experimentation with things you haven’t tried out together? Talking through these boundaries will also help you to hone in on what you want from this sexual exploration.

Discuss Protection

Creating safe sex guidelines is a very important part of any discussion about open relationships. Are condoms required? What about dental dams? Will you both be routinely screening for STIs? Will you require your sexual partners to screen for STIs? Discussing protection will make sure that you and your partner both feel safe about exploring your sexuality.

Set Emotional Boundaries

When you have your discussion about sexual boundaries, make sure you discuss emotional boundaries as well. Are you comfortable with your partner sleeping with the same person for an extended period of time? Are you comfortable with your partner going on dates with other people? Are you comfortable with your partner sleeping with people in your social circle? Be honest about your emotional needs from the start, and create boundaries that respect those needs.

Create Parameters

In addition to setting sexual and emotional boundaries, it’s important to create explicit rules for the arrangement. How many partners can you have outside of your primary relationship? Does your partner have veto power over your partners? How much time will you allocate to your open relationship activities (for example, are Friday nights reserved for you as a couple?)? Should you actively or passively explore new relationships? Is this an indefinite change to your relationship? Or is it a trial run? These parameters can of course change over time, but starting off with some ground rules is always a good idea.

Make a Game Plan for Talking About Your Relationship

Will you have a don’t-ask-don’t- tell kind of policy? Or will you share everything? Some people are completely comfortable being left in the dark about the details. Other people might rather know all the details to prevent paranoia, or to prevent their imaginations from running wild. Finding a happy medium might take some trial and error, but you will eventually get the hang of it, and this type of communication will become natural.

Make a Game Plan for How to Talk to Others About Your Relationship

Just like in a monogamous relationship, it’s good to check in with your partner before sharing private things with your friends. Are you and your partner comfortable sharing your open status with friends and family? Many couples choose to keep their open relationships discrete, while others are okay with talking openly about it. Make sure that you and your partner are on the same page no matter what route you choose to take.

Avoid Lasting Jealousy

Whether your relationship is transitioning from being monogamous to open, or the relationship was open from the start, it’s important to periodically evaluate your feelings of jealousy. Lasting feelings of jealousy will outweigh any potential benefit that comes from an open arrangement. In an ideal situation, initial jealousy will evolve into a feeling of security as you become more comfortable and confident in the relationship. But if this doesn’t happen, it might not be the right thing for you as a couple.

Check In

When you open your relationship up and embrace polyamory, you’re inviting a significant amount of change into your relationship. It’s important to frequently check in with your partner to make sure that they’re still comfortable in the arrangement. It’s crucial to create clear guidelines at the start of the relationship, but make sure to still leave space for things to change or for your partner to change their mind.

The Benefits

Exploring an open relationship can seem like a big risk if things are going just fine between you and your partner. But, believe it or not, opening your relationship can actually help you stay more committed to your partner. According to Chanta Blue, LCSW, a sexuality and relationship therapist, couples in an open relationship tend to have more sex with their primary partner as well as with other people, which can strengthen their connection.

Open relationships require a significant amount of trust, honesty, vulnerability and communication to work. If it’s something you want to explore, remember to be completely open about your needs. While not for everyone, open relationships can work, and as long as you and your partner are on the same page, you’ll be able to navigate it successfully.