The Most Common Open Relationship Rules and How to Set Yours

Relationships aren’t one size fits all. Times are changing and finally it’s becoming more acceptable to talk about what’s really happening in relationships and different relationship designs. I’ve talked about consensual monogamy in one of my videos “Monogamy what? What is it, really? Is it realistic? Am I normal if I don’t believe in it?? So I was super excited to contribute to Michele’s article in Pure Wow about open relationships. It’s a great piece that highlights some serious points to consider when you’re thinking about becoming open with your partner or already are. Some of my favorite quotes are:

What exactly is an open relationship?

“Open relationships fall under the umbrella of consensual non-monogamous relationships and generally, but not always, tend to focus on sexual activities over emotional with other partners,“ explains clinical psychologist Dr. Catalina Lawsin. “Under this larger umbrella there are many types of consensual non-monogamous relationships, some of which include: polyamory (where partners support one another having both emotional and sexual relationships with other partners with the understanding that love can take many forms and individuals can love more than one person at a time), monogamish (similar to open, but restricted only to sexual activity with other partners), swinging (exploring sexual activities together at social events and meetups with other couples), and relationship anarchy (there are no set rules but instead the relationship is flexible to the needs of each partner).”

She also emphasizes that open relationships are not like affairs, a common misconception. “It’s quite the opposite,” she says. “The core ingredient of an affair is the secrecy of it. In open relationships partners are open in their sexual activity with others and supportive of it.”

The rules of an open relationship

While no two relationships are alike, there are some general guidelines to consider when trying to establish a healthy open relationship. Dr. Lawsin offers the following checklist, adding that any rules or boundaries should be discussed, negotiated and reassessed occasionally throughout the relationship and adjusted as needed.

1. Negotiate your sexual boundaries

Boundaries regarding sex should be explicitly negotiated, such as how often sex can occur (e.g., weekly, monthly, etc.), with how many partners at a time, where (e.g., on business trips) and whatever additional physical or logistical (e.g., time) dimensions a couple wishes to define in their relationship. This includes the type of sex as well. For example, is penetrative sex OK or just oral? What about BDSM? Also, do you prefer your partner to only have sex with strangers who they will never see again or rather with someone you already know and trust. Yes, it might get weirdly specific, but you’ll want to figure this stuff out before you open the flood gates.

2. Define your emotional boundaries

Emotional boundaries can be harder to define and set, but they should definitely be discussed, with each partner being honest about what they can manage for themselves and their partner.

3. Safe sex is a must

When you transition your relationship from exclusive to open, you might be super excited to get started with your new ventures, but don’t let all those safe sex practices fly out the window. Discuss with your partner what you’re both comfortable with and how you’ll actually practice safe sex IRL.

4. Be honest

Open relationships relinquish partners from needing to hide or suppress their sexual needs, therefore honesty about what they’re doing should be maintained. Couples need to specify how many details the other wants to know (if any at all) as well as how often. This should be reassessed as needed (and this also applies to #3).

5. Schedule check-ins with your partner

Transparency about how each partner is feeling about the other’s sexual pursuits should also be negotiated and checked on. Partners can make assumptions in any type of relationship, so it’s important to have check-ins with one another to provide a safe space to process emotions, make any adjustments to negotiated boundaries and assess the health of the primary relationship.

6. Don’t forget your about your relationship

Schedule time and space to nurture the relationship and make sure to maintain this. Date nights, trips away and expressing love need to be prioritized to maintain the relationship foundation.


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