Are Open Relationships a Good Idea?

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Chicago therapist explores open relationships

“Open relationships” are not a new thing. However, in recent years, we’ve been talking about them in a big way: openly! In 2011, Chicago-native and author Dan Savage coined the phrase “monogamish” which got people talking. Now, countless books, movies, and TV shows are exploring the topic.

We’re seeing research released on these “out of the box” relationship configurations. And, let’s be honest, you’ve probably had at least one friend (or friend of a friend, etc.) speak bluntly about the ins and outs of their own non-monogamous relationship.

All of this talk, at one point or another, may have caused you to question: “Do I want to be in an open relationship?”

Perhaps you’re already in an open relationship. Perhaps you’re in a monogamous relationship and you’re considering opening it up to others. Perhaps you’ve considered being in an open relationship and ultimately decided that a monogamous relationship is what you want most.

Or, perhaps, you are single right now and wondering about whether you might want to start seeking out a non-monogamous partner.

All of these scenarios are okay places to be! As a therapist, I encourage everyone to exercise autonomy in creating a healthy and balanced life. However, if you are thinking about an open relationship, it can be difficult to sort out what you want and what you are comfortable with.

Often, people don’t know how to even begin considering it. Further, societal assumptions about the desirability of monogamy can make beginning an open relationship an isolating experience. This needs to change.

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Below, Ive compiled a list of questions that may help as you explore whether an open relationship is right for you. Hopefully, this will help in your decision-making process, or, at the very least, deepen your understanding of yourself and others.

What about monogamy works (or doesn’t work) for me?

What do you think about monogamy? What feels good about it (for example, a feeling of security or consistent approval)? What’s lacking (perhaps sexual or emotional fulfillment, excitement or diversity)?

Many of us default to monogamy because we compare ourselves to societal norms. It’s important to have a good grasp on your feelings and thoughts about monogamy before considering non-monogamy.

What will I feel when my partner is with someone else?

This can be scary – that’s okay. Although you can only imagine it, you must consider what it will feel like for your partner to be with another person (romantically and sexually, depending on the details of your agreement with your partner/s). Play out scenarios in your head.

Ask yourself: How does this make me feel? What fears arise? What excites me? Think about situations which might upset you or cause you to feel jealous and insecure. Get in tune with your anticipated emotions to the best of your ability.

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How do I handle communication in relationships?

All healthy relationships require effective communication. Open relationships are no different. In fact, they may require more committed and honest communication than any relationship you’ve ever been in. Consider how you experience emotions like jealousy, fear, insecurity, resentment and abandonment. Do they come to you easily?

When they do, are you able to manage them and continue to communicate effectively with your partner?

You will need to be able to communicate openly about these feelings, as well as other aspects of your non-monogamous relationship for it to be successful. This includes practical questions about how you will divide time between partners, what types of relationships you can cultivate with other partners, and how much information you will share about these other partners.

Do you have the time and energy?

This is a crucial question. Having an open relationship takes time and energy: to invest in more than one intimate relationship, to balance the sexual and/or emotional needs and requests of multiple people, to commit yourself to fine-tuning your communication skills, to give yourself the opportunity to explore and examine your own emotions, to address (or not) outside pressures and criticism from friends, family and others.

Like all relationships, a deeper understanding of yourself leads to a more intimate and fulfilling experience for you and your partners. While being non-monogamous takes work and commitment, it can also be a rewarding and liberating relationship structure.

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