Believe it or not, what goes into creating a healthy and sustainable open relationship is similar to what is needed when practicing monogamy.
The main difference, of course, is that there are more people involved when practicing ethical non-monogamy. This means that one person’s experience has the potential to greatly impact everyone’s experience.
With multiple people and multiple experiences, things can get complicated fast!
Learn more about my helpful approach to open relationships
Below are a few core “dos and don’ts” when considering or actively engaging in open relationships and other forms of ethical non-monogamy.
DO: Own your feelings and emotions and responsibly share them when they come up. For example: “Sweetheart, I know we’ve talked about this before and I can’t deny that I feel a bit of anxiety when we consider seeing other people. I know cognitively this is what I want to do because it makes sense. And emotionally, there’s a part of me that feels young and potentially insecure because I don’t want either of us to feel left out. I think the anxiety is telling me that I just want to feel safe and secure in our relationship. Maybe I don’t have anything to worry about and I want to be upfront with what I am feeling. Would you be willing to sit with me so I can look a bit more into this experience and address any needs we might have individually and as a couple moving forward?”
When we to tap into what we are feeling and consider what we need, we are taking a powerful step in getting that need met. When we share this with others, we are opening the door to be seen, heard, and supported. When we ask for support without attaching ourselves to what that might look like, we give others an opportunity to be with us without expectation. There is a sense of freedom in this sharing space. This space of authentic communication invites connection and creates intimacy in our relationships.
DON’T: Don’t play the blame game. Everyone is responsible for their experience. Everyone is responsible for their feelings. It can be easy to blame someone else for how we feel. Triggering situations bring up painful emotions. It’s very common and natural to resist feeling painful emotions. Remember, feelings are a natural part of being human. It’s okay to have feelings. It’s okay to ask for support.
DO: Take the time to consider the values of everyone involved in each relationship and come up with agreements that support these values. Agreements might include information shared, time spent with others, parameters around kinds of play and sexual protection. Be sure to consider the underlying intentions for the agreements. For example, a couple who is just beginning to open their relationship may agree to see couples only because they have a desire to create experiences together. Another couple may agree not to date other people in the town where they live because they want to protect their privacy. It’s worth noting that agreements can be very personal and will look different for everyone. The key is to communicate, come up with agreements together, and be sure to create an agreement when everyone is on neutral ground.
DON’T: Don’t assume that changing an agreement on the fly is okay. Acting first and asking for forgiveness second is never a good option. The key to maintaining healthy and sustainable open relationships is to be loving and true to yourself and loving and true to others. For me, that means being clear and checking for clarity when creating agreements. Acting with integrity is essential for building and maintaining healthy relationships. When we create agreements that work for us and we trust ourselves and each other in keeping those agreements, we can begin to relax into the container we have set.
Do: Practice safe sex. Take the time to share and discuss what is important to you regarding sexual intimacy. Discuss and share STI status and testing results before engaging in sexual intimacy. These conversations may feel awkward. Remember, feelings are a natural part of being human. Consider sharing how you are feeling before diving into the conversation. Something like this: “I feel a little awkward addressing STI’s and it’s important.” When we share how we feel about the content of a conversation before we share the content, we create space for a deeper sense of connection and authentic expression. I have found that when I do this, I feel more empowered in my experience and more empowered in the delivery.
DON’T: Don’t engage in unsafe sexual practices and behaviors. Don’t lie about your STI status so you can sleep with someone. When we participate in shady practices, we hurt ourselves and others. Sharing information about STI’s creates a safer container for everyone involved.
Keep in mind that being in an open relationship may intensify every aspect of your relationship. People who practice ethical non-monogamy need to understand the importance of taking responsibility for their feelings, their needs, and their actions. I have found that a practice rooted in getting real with what’s happening in the moment, finding healthy ways to communicate what’s happening, and doing so in a way that creates a connection with self and with others is the most effective way of maintaining happy healthy relationships over time.