Can an open relationship work for me and my partner?
This question has arisen in a number of ways and contexts during the years I have provided couples counseling, and it can be a challenging subject for any couple to explore. This article will cover five of the issues I try to examine with couples when they are trying to decide whether a monogamous or polyamorous (involving a consensual and responsible agreement for non-monogamy) relationship is best for them.
Balance of Power
Is the choice to open the relationship something that is shared, or is it something driven primarily by one partner? If one partner wants to make this choice more than the other, are both partners equally engaged in forging agreements about it?
- Can a partner who does not want to make this choice be direct and open about her/his needs in relation to it?
- Can a partner who wants to open the relationship allow time and space to work with new agreements so that any necessary adjustments can be made?
- Can there be open negotiation, compromise, and acceptance?
What are the frequency, quality, and depth of communication that exist on a daily basis in the relationship, particularly when conflict arises? Is there work to be done to improve communication, so that both partners can trust that clear and direct conversation will happen as needed when the relationship is open to others?
Can there be appropriately assertive communication on both sides about needs and desires, so that solid and healthy agreements about opening the relationship can be achieved?
Impact on Intimacy
When the relationship is open, will the primary partners still share experiences with each other that they do not share with anyone else? Are they able to demonstrate vulnerability with one another? Is there an emotional commitment with one another that can be further deepened, whether the relationship is open or not?
Assumption of Risk
Are there agreements about limits on sexual and emotional behavior outside of the primary relationship to reduce risk (physical risk as well as risk to the stability of the relationship)? Is there a plan to manage any risks involved in adding additional sexual and/or emotional partners? Are both partners in agreement about what constitutes risky behavior?
Energy In Versus Energy Out
Are the primary partners still putting enough energy into their relationship to keep it alive, or are one or both allowing more energy to go to outside people/activities? Do both primary partners want to spend time with one another? Do they have shared interests that bring them together? Can they be playful with one another and/or enjoy each other’s company on a regular basis?
In my experience, finding answers to these questions can help a couple understand whether creating an open relationship is a path to deeper trust and acceptance, a means of limiting emotional intimacy, or a way of indirectly ending things between them.
Polyamory is definitely not a choice that works for everyone, but when the subject arises, there are ways to explore it with respect and honesty that can help a couple work through stuck places in their relationship and learn more about the nuances of their connection with one another.